HIV conference planned for Prince Albert

Jodi
Jodi Schellenberg
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As HIV cases rise in northern Saskatchewan, All Nations Hope is bringing their HIV conference to Prince Albert.

AIDS awareness

The HIV conference will be held on March 25-26 at the Exhibition Centre. It is the 15th provincial conference the organization has planned throughout the years for Indigenous people.

“We picked Prince Albert for the fact that there is cases of HIV in your city and there are Aboriginal organizations and surrounding First Nations communities who are concerned about the rate of HIV among the First Nations and the Métis people,” All Nations Hope CEO Margaret Poitras said. “(They) are also concerned with the types of services that are available to people who are at risk or are living with HIV.”

The conference is to help at-risk people, whether they are actively using drugs and alcohol, are in and out of correctional institutions, homeless or young people.

“The rate of incarceration and the rate of STIs in the community are numbers that are higher than other populations,” Poitras said.

It is important to bring speakers who can address some of the situations Indigenous people are facing, she said.

“As an organization in the province, a network in the province, we have connections to other groups nationally and internationally that we are bringing into Prince Albert to speak life to the people, to speak on the needs of First Nations and Métis people who are living with HIV and AIDS,” Poitras said.

The conference will bring programming from the perspective of Indigenous people, looking at their culture to help find solutions and treatments to help people and work with existing organizations.

“There are a lot of bandaids out there for people who are risk or living with HIV or AIDS and we want to begin moving forward and addressing some of the real causes that are happening,” Poitras said.

The keynote speaker, Jessica Danforth, the executive director of the Sexual Health Network in Canada, will be bring her perspective from working with youth.

“She is doing it from a manner that is positive, a manner that is grounded in Indigenous knowledge and Indigenous culture,” Poitras said. “As we move forward we are seeing that is what we need to bring to the communities is to understand that as Indigenous people we have our own ways of healing, our own ways of restoration and our own ways of moving forward to address HIV and AIDS.

“It is not to move forward on our own, but to move forward and bring alongside all the existing institutions, systems and organizations that are out there, that are funded by the government to provide services to people are affected by HIV,” Poitras said.

Instead of fighting against other organizations or being separate, Poitras would like to see the different organizations all working together to a common goal.

“It is time to work together in partnership and on the same level so we are addressing HIV in a manner that is going to make a difference in the Indigenous communities and not just provide bandaids for Indigenous people,” Poitras said. “We want our generations to come and move forward to heal, to restore what has been taken from them and give them that feeling of worth within their own communities that they come from, within society and Prince Albert and surrounding areas.”

Poitras said Danforth is a great speaker to address these concerns.

“For us, it is solution-orientated and Jessica Danforth can bring that type of a message to the city of Prince Albert and surrounding area of people who are attending the annual conference,” Poitras said. “She is focusing on youth but it is a message for all generations not just the youth.”

The second keynote speaker is Gary Edwards, the cultural support worker at All Nations Hope.

“He is talking on seven generations past and seven generations future, so wanting to move forward as we are looking at what is happening in our communities,” Poitras said. “Again, another powerful speaker in terms of identifying some of our Indigenous ways, our knowledge and culture as we move forward.”

He will be talking about how some of the ceremonies of the past and present need to be incorporated to help move forward.

“We are looking for deep-rooted solutions that are going to make a difference as we address HIV and AIDS,” Poitras said.

Although HIV and AIDS are the main topic of the conference, Poitras said there are other issues connected to the disease that need to be addressed as well.

“It is not just HIV and AIDS, but a multitude of other health and social conditions that are impacting the people,” Poitras said. “For us, we are looking at housing, we are looking at addictions, we are looking at diabetes, we are looking at a whole variety of our population, not just our young people, not just our youth, but our adults, our elders, our children and future generations.”

They are looking for solutions to problems that exist now, she said.

“This is a generation we are saying is going to make change as we move forward in addressing those,” Poitras said. “We are no longer going to allow the government to heal us because it hasn’t been happening. We need to heal ourselves and look at some of the ways as Indigenous people -- our culture, our language, our traditions, our ceremonies, our medicines.”

During the conference, there will also Indigenous Youth Leadership Rocks program on the evening of March 25, put on by the National Aboriginal Youth Council and the Native Youth Sexual Health Network.

“It is an evening of storytelling, activism, justice and sexual health and prevention work for the youth,” Poitras said. “We want to really promote that for any of the young people who are involved or want to be move involved in the work that is being proposed in a different avenue or venue of what you were addressing.”

She said instead of sitting quietly listening to a speaker, there is a chance for the youth to interact and get involved.

The plan is “to get them involved, to get them interested getting to the solutions that are going to make a difference in the community,” Poitras said.

“(It is) not just focusing on only the disease but on the positive things in young people and bringing out their gifts from the creator, not always focusing on the negative aspects of anything,” she added.

“I really enjoy and support the work Jessica Danforth does through the network,” Poitras said. “It is new, innovative, creative and gets our young people involved in the work.”

Those interested in registering can visit the website at www.allnationshope.ca.

“They can get the registration information, the agenda, a list of keynote speakers and what they are speaking about on our website,” Poitras said. “The conference is coming up in a few weeks so we would ask people to register as soon as possible.”

Organizations: Prince Albert, First Nations, Exhibition Centre National Aboriginal Youth Council

Geographic location: Canada

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