Programs for Aboriginal People With HIV in Canada
Trevor Stratton and Melissa Egan Source Out Organizations That Foster the Health and Wellness of HIV-Positive Aboriginal People
All Nations Hope
All Nations Hope is bursting with people as its lunch program gets underway. This small agency brings together Aboriginal people living with HIV and/or hepatitis C over meals, workshops and support services. Founded in 1995, the Aboriginal AIDS service organization (ASO) -- the only one in Saskatchewan -- has been steadily increasing its reach around the province.
All Nations Hope has a strong connection to the people who use its programs. When you walk in the door and are greeted by the welcoming personality of community outreach worker Wesley Keewatin, you can't help but feel a sense of family. Keewatin makes those first steps inside easy for even the shyest newcomer.
In addition to community outreach and HIV and hep C education, the organization offers a women's group and a men's group, which both use talking circles, ceremony and arts and crafts as pathways to healing. The Place is a safe space for people to socialize, grab a bite or cup of coffee, get some clean clothes or just hang out. The community also gathers for Friday afternoon matinees, quarterly Aboriginal life-skill sessions and youth leadership training.
306.924.8424 or 1.877.210.7622
2-Spirited People of the 1st Nations
The hectic buzz of downtown Toronto's busy Yonge Street is not the first place you'd expect to find an organization that makes so many people feel welcome, but that's exactly where you'll find executive director Art Zoccole and the dedicated staff of 2-Spirited People of the 1st Nations. This energetic group has been providing services to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Aboriginal people in Toronto for nearly 20 years. The staff is a small and committed group (some have been involved since day one) who make sure that members are always connected to the support they need. More than 80 volunteers drive members to appointments and other services and help the organization collect much-needed donations from around the city.
2-Spirits is there for those who are newly diagnosed with HIV. The client care coordinator helps people access local services; awareness and knowledge are fostered through educational workshops and outreach at culturally relevant events; and someone from the Toronto Aboriginal Care Team is regularly in the office to answer questions. The staff also help people connect with doctors who have experience with both HIV and Aboriginal people.
Labrador Friendship Centre
Happy Valley-Goose Bay
From the street it's easy to miss this unassuming grey building, but the Vancouver Native Health Society (VNHS) has become a centre of support for Aboriginal people in the city. Established in the Downtown Eastside in 1991, this stable and well-respected organization provides frontline care to over 1,500 people living with HIV, many of whom are struggling with issues of addiction, homelessness, mental health and poverty. The Society uses the medicine wheel in its holistic approach to the complex lives of its clients.
The Positive Outlook Program for people with HIV offers activities that address participants' physical, spiritual, mental and emotional needs and guides the creation of trusting relationships between clients and healthcare services around the city.
Every Wednesday, more than 50 women connect over a healthy meal and some lively conversation. A play area for children, free haircuts, manicures and clothing are also part of this supportive program. The Dudes' Group, a unique space for men to trade stories and wisdom while sharing a meal, is another one of the agency's success stories. Offered every second Thursday, it consistently draws nearly 60 male clients. Primary healthcare is offered to all the women and men who attend the groups.
VNHS staff approach their work with a deep respect for First Nations cultures. Its welcoming drop-in as well as its food bank, counselling, a program to help people with HIV stick to their pill-taking schedules and on-site physicians, nurses and social workers allow clients to get what they need in a place they trust.
The Native Women's Shelter of Montreal has been offering shelter and support to Aboriginal women and their children since 1987. As part of its constantly evolving services, it created the Holistic Health Project -- a program to support women affected by homelessness, the sex trade, HIV, substance use and family violence -- that is open to all Aboriginal women, regardless of status. Its activities include a quilting project designed to raise awareness and break stigma around HIV and sessions with Aboriginal Elders who provide traditional teachings on health. "The Project really focuses on finding balance between the four aspects of health -- spiritual, emotional, physical and mental," says project leader Carrie Martin.
Two years ago, the shelter set up an onsite medical clinic, which includes testing for HIV, hepatitis C and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs). When a woman tests positive, Martin works with her to seek medical care at a local clinic. The Project also presents workshops on HIV, hep C and STIs and hosts talking circles for women who use substances.
514.933.4688 or 1.866.403.4688
Aboriginal people living with HIV can also check in with the Native Friendship Centre of Montreal.
www.nfcm.org or 514.499.1854
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