Every week, one Aboriginal person in British Columbia is diagnosed with HIV. This alarming statistic was a key driver in bringing together 19 Chief and Council members in northern BC to attend the very successful leadership forum titled “Leading Your Community through the HIV/AIDS Epidemic” held earlier this year in Prince Rupert.
The forum—hosted by the Northern BC Aboriginal HIV/AIDS Task Force and the Chee Mamuk program at the BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC)—focused on bringing effective and valuable community-based solutions to the challenge of HIV/AIDS. The team has now published a booklet, Leading the Way, that captures participants’ thoughts and recommendations about the HIV epidemic and how best to combat this issue in their own communities.
“By coming together to share ideas and discuss solutions, these forum participants are making a real difference in the lives of their peoples and of all British Columbians,” says Minister of Health Michael de Jong. “This booklet is an inspiring reminder of the power of community leaders to shape their communities for the better.”
“The purpose of this book is to highlight the importance of leaders’ roles in raising awareness of HIV in Aboriginal communities,” says Melanie Rivers, Program Manager, Chee Mamuk, BCCDC, an agency of the Provincial Health Services Authority. “Participants were very engaged and committed to help prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS and create supportive communities and networks for people living with HIV,” she added.
The forum was designed for the Chief and Council members from First Nations communities in the northwest areas of BC. Leadership in First Nation communities can play a critical role in bringing in and supporting HIV programming in their communities. Both the forum and the booklet focus on the important role that Chief and Council members have in their communities.
“To better understand how to approach this issue, we conducted a community engagement scan in 53 First Nations communities over the past two years,” explains Emma Palmantier, Chair of the Northern BC Aboriginal HIV/AIDS Task Force, which has a mandate by the Chiefs of 60 communities in northern BC to advocate and work with the members that are infected and affected by HIV/AIDS.
“The communities recommended that we engage Chief and Council to learn about HIV and AIDS and better understand their role in combating this issue in their own communities. Chiefs, Councilors, and Hereditary Chiefs need to speak publicly about HIV and AIDS, so the community members hear the leaders talking about these issues and begin to take it seriously,” says Palmantier.
Since the forum, the booklet has been presented at the Canadian Aboriginal AIDS Network Annual General Meeting, which was held in Quebec City in June 2011. The official launch and celebration of Leading the Way will take place in Prince George on June 12 at the Northern BC Aboriginal HIV/AIDS Task Force quarterly meeting. The booklet is available through Chee Mamuk or by calling604-707-5605.
Chee Mamuk and the Northern BC Aboriginal HIV/AIDS Taskforce would like to acknowledge the following organizations for their contributions:
- First Nations and Inuit Health for funding the leadership booklet;
- Ministry of Health for funding the leadership forum;
- Northern Health for funding the community engagement scan; and
- PHSA for funding the Chee Mamuk program.
The Chee Mamuk program is a renowned success story of the BCCDC. Chee Mamuk is a provincial Aboriginal program that provides innovative and culturally appropriate sexually transmitted infection (STI), Hepatitis, and HIV training, educational resources, and wise practice models. The Northern BC Aboriginal HIV/AIDS Task Force is vital to Aboriginal communities’ response to HIV/AIDS in the north. The mission of the Task Force is to support meaningful, lasting efforts for Aboriginal peoples and communities in northern British Columbia to address HIV/AIDS and related issues in a culturally relevant manner.
For more information, please visit www.bccdc.ca. For more information on the Task Force, please visit www.csfs.org.