Engaging Indigenous Youth in HIV Awareness

Engaging Indigenous youth in HIV Awareness to improve health outcomes in their communities.

Recently, I travelled to the Yukon Territory to explore how the Canadian Foundation for AIDS Research (CANFAR) can involve Indigenous youth in our new educational program, One and All.

I visited the town of Haines Junction to interview scholar and activist Harlan Pruden, who is an organizer within the two-spirit community both locally and internationally. Harlan’s influence is far reaching (he advises the Whitehouse on policies and programs related to HIV, as an example), but it was his stories of mentoring youth that impacted me most.

Engaging Youth - 01

Harlan was generous with his time and his counsel. His central message: health and wellness programs for youth will be successful if they provide Indigenous youth with opportunities to explore and celebrate their culture.

In Whitehorse, I attended Cando Conference’s National Youth Panel. The National Youth Panel highlights six extraordinary Indigenous youth and their participation within their communities. (It was at last year’s National Youth Panel where I met Adrienne Larocque, who is featured in our Edmonton story). Each youth (Chantel Wilson, Carl Archie, Robert Beamish, Dakota Lightning, Jordan Peterson, and Sarah Wood) stressed that connection to their culture and the role of mentors and community organizations was critical to their success today.

This was echoed by youth workers I met from the Youth of Today Society and Inner Vibe Youth Centre. They shared with me how important youth-friendly programming is for young people living in Whitehorse. I witnessed this in action during a tour of Yukon Apparel, a print shop that provides mentorship and economic opportunities to young people.

Cultural competency was highlighted by the First Nations Health Program team at Yukon Hospital. Stacey McDiarmid, Cultural Education Coordinator, and Laura Salmon, Director of First Nations Health Programs, who showed me the different ways the award-winning program was culturally appropriate and provided compassionate care.

I am grateful for the opportunity to meet and learn from community leaders, and for the ability to partner with community organizations. This trip would not have been possible without the generosity of the Slaight Family Foundation.

To learn more about One and All, please visit

Authored by Andrea Zeelie-Varga, CANFAR Manager of National Programs