by Dustin Milligan
“Everything on the earth has a purpose, every disease an herb to cure it, and every person a mission. This is the Indian theory of existence.”
Mourning Dove Salish, 1888-1936 Years of systemic discrimination, years of government inaction, and years where most Canadians have turned a blind eye to the plight of aboriginal peoples are now behind us. Looking back at our infamous wrongs, we can see the tragedy that now surrounds us.
The appalling condition of many Aboriginal peoples in our country portrays perhaps the greatest of Canada’s human rights violations. This injustice is clearly visible when observing the plight of HIV/AIDS in Aboriginal society.
Although less than three percent of the Canadian population is Aboriginal, Aboriginals represent sixteen percent of all Canadians with HIV/AIDS. In fact, each day in Canada, at least one Aboriginal will test positive for HIV. In comparison to their non-Aboriginal counterparts, they are three times as likely to be infected. Aboriginals who
live with HIV/AIDS are some of the most marginalized in Canadian society, and the time is long overdue for a response.
This issue is part of a much larger socio-cultural and historical context. The difficulties presented by the heterogeneous character of aboriginal communities and peoples across the country, the varying jurisdictions that govern Aboriginal affairs, and the multitude of extenuating conditions present clear barriers for immediate
action. An uncomplicated one-approach-fits-all solution will not suffice.
Whether it is through community education and preventative strategies, increased funding for HIV/ AIDS programs, or increased access to quality HIV testing and counseling for Aboriginal people, we must raise awareness and bring our governments and our people to account for these human rights violations.
As Jake Linklater, the Executive Director of the Canadian of the Aboriginal AIDS Network recently stated, “We now need a comprehensive, coordinated response to HIV/ AIDS among Aboriginal people, a response that must start from an understanding of the racism, discrimination, and cultural denigration experienced by Aboriginal people in Canada.”
As citizens from all over gather to reflect on the global state of the AIDS epidemic on December 1st during World AIDS Day, here in Canada we will be commencing Aboriginal AIDS Awareness Week (Dec. 1-5). At this time, we must look forward, reflect and respond. We have a purpose. We have a mission. We need to find the herb.