I have always lived on the edge of two different worlds. Identifying as Two-Spirit, with a mother of Ojibwe heritage and a father of English heritage. I am a quiet, shy individual – with a very public role in the global fight against HIV and AIDS. As I advocate for Indigenous communities living in Canada affected by HIV, I also work to connect Indigenous communities globally.
I was diagnosed with HIV in 1990 and had to embark on a very personal, and very emotional journey of coping with the news. Through re-connecting with my Indigenous community of the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation, I was able to find the inner-strength required to rise above feelings of isolation and stigmatization.
Establishing a new connection with my Indigenous roots was a spiritual experience for me and resulted in the use of both Western, and Natural Medicines in my healing process. I was very fortunate to have the support of my family and community when I first came out with my HIV-positive status – a luxury that not everyone is afforded.
An Elder on my reserve once told me that they believed I would go on to take up a public position and share my story on the global stage in the fight against HIV and AIDS. I wasn’t sure if I was the right person for the job. Having expressed my anxieties around this with my Elder, the response I received back was, “Who else can do it better than you?” And then said, “If you can’t think of anybody, then you’re the one that’s supposed to be doing it.”
My Elder’s words have stayed with me ever since that day. The power to help make a difference in the world resides within each one of us. We all have an important part to play in ending HIV in Canada, and around the world. If not you, then who?
I have gone on to become an activist, volunteer, and consultant on the global stage, in the fight to end HIV and AIDS. I am the Coordinator for the International Indigenous Working Group on HIV & AIDS (IIWGHA) for its host organization, the Canadian Aboriginal AIDS Network (CAAN), a Board Member of the Global Network of People living with HIV (GNP+), the President of the board of 2-Spirited People of the 1st Nations in Toronto, and I have the distinguished honour of being only one of two North American delegates in the NGO Delegation on the Programme Coordinating Board (PCB) of UNAIDS.
With my unique position and experiences, I’m delighted to also be recognized as a CANFAR Ambassador and help them to continue to raise funds and to share my story with the CANFAR donor family – an organization I’m proud to support.
It’s also important for me to recognize the incredible impact that they have made in funding advancements in HIV research and awareness programs targeted to youth across the country. When CANFAR was first founded over 30 years ago, there were no credible HIV treatment options, strategies around prevention, or awareness targeted to our youth to educate them in safe practices.
Over its 30-year history, CANFAR has funded real results that have helped those living with HIV, such as myself, to be able to live the most fulfilling life possible. However, new infections in Canada are still prevalent, with an estimated 7 new infections transmitted every day. The unfortunate truth is that many of those being disproportionately affected by these rates are those who live within First Nations, Métis, and Inuit communities in Canada.
I am standing with CANFAR to shine a spotlight on this very serious issue that affects my ancestral people. I ask that you please consider donating to CANFAR today to help continue funding their research and awareness initiatives. Your generous gift could help save lives.
I want you to know that our Indigenous communities are resilient and strong. We have youth and traditional people at the forefront of HIV prevention, on and off reserve. These communities are healing from the trauma and making key connections and partnerships with academics, researchers and scientists nationwide. But, we need help. Help from people like CANFAR’s generous donors – people like you.
I would like to repeat the question that my Elder posed to me – If not you, then who?
P.S. Thanks to the generous support of Freedom International Brokerage and CANFAR supporters, Patricia Olasker and her husband Brett Ledger – any donations made from now until Friday, May 18, 2018 will be matched.* This means that when you make a generous gift to CANFAR, your impact will be doubled.
HIV is still very prevalent in Canada with one new infection contracted every three hours. This remains a serious issue, and we need to act now to further fund innovative research and awareness programs. Please donate to CANFAR today and support our vision to end HIV in Canada.
*Your donation will be matched up to $30,000 of accumulated donations.