Historically it’s been difficult for Indigenous people to trust western healthcare systems. There have been many specific barriers and intersections of stigma that have made it challenging for us to navigate colonial systems, such as clinic and hospital settings, where we continue to face discrimination and unfair treatment. Indigenous leaders throughout Canada, however, have identified these barriers and are coming together to build relationships with the western world to join the fight against HIV. Our leaders are breaking trail and creating pathways to improve access to healthcare and HIV testing. A good example of this is the Two-Spirit program which was advocated for and designed by Two-Spirit leaders.
CBRC’s Indigenous-led Two-Spirit Program is also working to create new pathways. Most recently, we published “Representation Matters, Especially When it Comes to Sexual Health Access and Awareness,” an analysis on Two-Spirit and GBTQ+ Indigenous data collected as part of the 2018 Sex Now survey. With these findings, we’re able to reclaim control over our sexual health research and create tailored resources and educational tools for our community.
We are also currently working on our Medicine Bundle Pilot which is an Indigenous approach to disseminating HIV self-test kits into Indigenous communities throughout the province of BC. Through consultations done with Two-Spirit community members, we are following their recommendations to create a Two-Spirit Ambassador program to assist in creating pathways to access testing and sexual healthcare. We have also established a Two-Spirit Guidance Committee that will steer the work that is being done with our Two-Spirit Program at CBRC.
Taking a holistic approach to our health and wellbeing, we as Indigenous people can find spiritual nourishment within our own cultural and traditional knowledge. Ceremonies, language, and culture have been gifted to us from our Ancestors, Elders and Knowledge Keepers. It is these Indigenous tools that can lead us into spiritual healing and empowerment of our nations. When thinking of Indigenous ways of knowing and doing, it is important for us to know how to protect ourselves and our communities. Here in the physical realm, there are tools that we can use to keep our communities safe. For example, one of the most effective tools we can use in joining the fight against HIV is to get tested. Knowing our HIV status can prevent transmission within our communities and nations.
This is why CBRC has been working in partnership with leading experts in the HIV field to increase access to testing by making INSTI HIV self-test kits available to those living in rural and remote communities, as well as those who simply want the convenience of an at-home test. We’re providing up to three HIV self-test kits to Sex Now 2021 participants who opt-in to receive them as part of this year’s survey. Participants can choose to either use them themselves or to share with friends or people in their sexual or social networks. Our program will offer direction and support to those needing follow-up care.
HIV is no longer a death sentence. Those who test positive can live healthy, long, and meaningful lives. The advancement in HIV medications is also contributing to HIV prevention efforts in Canada. HIV medications such as PrEP can prevent the transmission of HIV. For more information on Indigenous access to PrEP, please visit https://www.cbrc.net/indigenous_prep_poster.
Through the use of our Indigenous knowledge and western sexual health resources, we can contribute meaningfully to HIV prevention efforts. Join us as we strive toward keeping our communities and nations safe.
For more information on testing and treatment from an Indigenous lens, watch “Strong Medicine.” By weaving together Indigenous knowledge of culture and wellness and Western knowledge of HIV testing and treatment, this video shares accurate information about HIV testing and treatment. It encourages people to get tested and to start, resume or stay on HIV treatment for their own health and wellness.
Written by Martin Morberg, Two-Spirit Program Coordinator, CBRC. For more information on the HIV self-test kit, contact [email protected].