Category Archives: Solidarity Project

Solidarity Project 9 – HIV and Indigenous Peoples: In the Aftermath of Trauma

The Solidarity Project, published online by the Community HIV/AIDS Mobilization Project (CHAMP) from November 2006 to November 2008, is available in pdf format on CHAMP’s website. Issues 8 and 9 can also be viewed on the CHAMP site. Download Issue 9 – HIV and Indigenous Peoples: In the Aftermath of Trauma – here.

En Español: Diciembre de 2008 • Número 9 • VIH y pueblos indígenas
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December 2008 • Issue 9

By Suzy Subways

In this issue:

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HIV and Indigenous Peoples: In the Aftermath of Trauma

—Suzy Subways

December 2008 • Issue 9

When stigma is attached to HIV, people’s vulnerability to the virus is discussed in terms of individual behavioral choices, and a community with disproportionately high HIV rates is blamed for its supposed failures. The injustice that drives HIV is covered up. But when we take the stigma away and look at history, we see that homophobia shapes the epidemic among gay men to a devastating degree, and that sexism makes women vulnerable. In Native American communities, homophobia and sexism also drive the epidemic, but in ways that are deeply rooted in racism, colonialism, and genocide.

“When conducting research among Native Americans, dispossession must be considered as the underlying cause of the many existing health disparities, including those that result in HIV/AIDS,” according to a 2007 research brief by John Lowe for the Journal of the Association of Nurses in AIDS Care called “The Need for Historically Grounded HIV/AIDS Prevention Research Among Native Americans.” Lowe continues: “The policies enacted by the United States government that enforced the dispossession of Native American Indian lands and termination or assimilation of Native American culture have resulted in a trauma of catastrophic proportions with destructive outcomes. Aside from disease, these include disenfranchisement; extermination of tradition, language, and land rights; broken treaties; sterilization of women; placement of children in Indian boarding schools; and other strategies of colonization.”

Lowe explains that many generations have endured this trauma – and it has many symptoms. A Center for AIDS Prevention Studies fact sheet states that HIV in Native communities is linked to high rates of poverty, ill health, family violence, and drug and alcohol use, which are among the symptoms of the intergenerational trauma that Lowe discusses. According to the National Native American AIDS Prevention Center, HIV rates among American Indians and Alaska Natives rank third after those of African Americans and Latinos, and Native peoples’ life expectancy after diagnosis is the shortest of any ethnicity. High imprisonment rates and substandard health care contribute to the problem. The numbers of Native people living with HIV in the United States are significantly under-reported for many reasons, including the misclassification of individuals as white or Latino.

In this issue of Solidarity Project, we look at innovative ways that Native communities are organizing to heal from the intergenerational trauma that has increased their vulnerability to HIV. The Boarding School Healing Project is not only documenting the abuses Native people experienced at government-sponsored Christian schools, but also creating space for community healing and fighting for reparations.

In Oaxaca, Mexico, muxhes, whose assigned sex at birth was male and gender expression is female, celebrate their traditional roles in indigenous culture and lead AIDS activism in their communities. Indigenous rights activists in Oaxaca are challenging massive government corruption, which has crippled AIDS services there, and helping farmers keep their land so they won’t have to seek jobs in the United States, where HIV risk is greater for them and for their partners when they return home.

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Cultural Healing: Native American Activists Say Boarding School Abuses Harmed the Health of Generations

—Suzy Subways

December 2008 • Issue 9

An 1890s photo of Carlisle Boarding School graduates. Carlisle, the first Native American boarding school, was opened by Captain Richard Pratt in 1878.

“Many of the problems of alcoholism and drug abuse now prevalent in Indian country can be traced back to the physical, emotional and sexual abuse suffered at the hands of our keepers in the BIA [Bureau of Indian Affairs] and mission boarding schools,” Lakota journalist and boarding school survivor Tim Giago wrote in the Huffington Post. Government-sponsored boarding schools have created a legacy of trauma among Native American peoples in the United States. The Boarding School Healing Project documents the abuse and demonstrates how it has led to high rates of childhood sexual abuse, family violence, violence against women, alcoholism, and drug use in Native communities. In addition to the homophobia the schools enforced in children from cultures traditionally welcoming of gay and gender-nonconforming people, most of these symptoms of trauma are the same factors that make Native communities vulnerable to HIV. A look at the brutal history of these boarding schools can teach us a lot about the ways that social injustice fuels the epidemic – and how to fight back.

“Kill the Indian, Save the Man”

In the late 1800s, the U.S. government debated how to remove Native Americans from their land – “extermination or civilization,” as one former commissioner of Indian Affairs put it – and it paid Christian churches to run boarding schools as a “civilizing” alternative, Cherokee activist Andrea Smith writes in her book, Conquest: Sexual Violence and Native American Genocide. Army captain Richard Pratt opened the first of the schools in 1879, arguing that they would “kill the Indian and save the man” by destroying the cultural link between children and their communities. Until the 1930s, Native children were forcibly taken from their families at age 5, and parents who resisted were jailed.

For 100 years, from the 1880s through 1980s, about 100,000 Native people grew up at the schools. Abuse was rampant, and children were physically punished for speaking Native languages or practicing their religion. “I want people to know how we were beaten with leather straps, shorn of our hair, and used as child slave-laborers at these boarding schools,” Giago writes. “My eight-year-old sister, along with dozens of Lakota girls the same age, was raped at the mission school …. [she] told me about her abuse on her deathbed and I, along with her three children, finally understood why she had become a violent, alcoholic woman for so much of her life.”

“I agree that the effects are intergenerational on families, primarily in the area of sexual, mental, physical, and emotional abuses,” activist Charmaine Whiteface told the Native Press. “My parents both attended a Catholic boarding school and experienced, as well as saw, all these types of abuses. They refused to speak the Lakota language to us and only wanted us to be ‘white.’ There was alcoholism and major physical, emotional and mental abuse in our home. They knew no other way: They were terrified of being Indian. If it were not for my grandmother who taught me in secret, I might not have even a little knowledge about my culture.”

“The effects are intergenerational on families, primarily in the area of sexual, mental, physical, and emotional abuses.”

Canada forced Native children into residential schools until the 1970s, and abuses there are better documented. According to the Truth Commission into Genocide in Canada, churches and government are responsible for the deaths of more than 50,000 Native children. Survivors tell of witnessing church and school officials murder their classmates through beatings, hangings, electric shock, and other forms of torture. Many children starved because the schools were run on chronically low budgets. Until the 1940s, students were intentionally exposed to tuberculosis. Survivors say they were forced to play and share beds with children dying of the disease. There is testimony that babies born to Native girls raped by church officials were killed and buried on school grounds. The Canadian government issued an apology this year, but activists say that nearly half the survivors will be left without compensation, and witnesses will not be allowed to give the names of perpetrators or describe any misconduct. Continue reading

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Land and Freedom: Indigenous Communities in Oaxaca, Mexico, Fight HIV and Repression

—Suzy Subways

December 2008 • Issue 9

Oaxaca_map
Oaxaca, Mexico

The United States has twice the HIV prevalence of Mexico, so it isn’t surprising that the need to cross the border for work has increased Mexican communities’ vulnerability to HIV. But the reasons for HIV’s increase in some places in Mexico – indigenous, rural communities far from the border – may not be so obvious. “The state of Oaxaca has the highest HIV rate in Southeastern Mexico,” Oaxacan queer activist Leonardo Tlahui says. “One of the primary factors is immigration. The Mixteco people [one of Oaxaca’s largest indigenous groups] have a high population of immigrants to the United States.” He explains that migrating to a country with double the HIV rate makes immigrants more vulnerable to HIV, and that increased vulnerability is then shared with their home communities since most of the immigrants return home to Oaxaca.

Half a million indigenous people from Oaxaca (roughly one-seventh of the state’s total population) live in the United States, according to Rufino Dominguez, a founder of the Binational Front of Indigenous Organizations (FIOB) in Oaxaca. Interviewed by David Bacon for a Truthout.org article called “The Right to Stay Home,” Dominquez said, “There are no jobs here, and NAFTA [the North American Free Trade Agreement] made the price of corn so low that it’s not economically possible to plant a crop anymore. We come to the U.S. to work because we can’t get a price for our product at home. There’s no alternative.”

Treaties and Lovers

Two years after the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) launched its 1994 offensive in the state of Chiapas as NAFTA was implemented, the EZLN won a potential victory for indigenous land rights with the San Andres Accords, an agreement it negotiated with the Mexican government. But in 2002, the government gutted the accords, and now, indigenous activists say that large corporations are buying their peoples’ land. As more young people come to the U.S. to work and send money home, families are separated for years at a time, and individuals far from their partners become vulnerable to HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.

For a new study called “Migration and ruralization of AIDS: reports on vulnerability of indigenous communities in Mexico” [“Migración y ruralización del SIDA: relatos de vulnerabilidad en comunidades indígenas de México”], researchers from Mexico City and California interviewed migrant workers and indigenous women in poor rural areas. Before a young man leaves as a teenager, the researchers report, he often partners with a girl who is also too young for legal marriage and hopes for pregnancy so that she will remain faithful while he is away. Some of the women said that, although they understand the likelihood that migrants have other sexual partners, it is very difficult to ask the men to use condoms when they return. It doesn’t help that Oaxaca’s archbishop condemns the use of condoms [“Condena el arzobispo de Oaxaca el uso del condón”] to prevent HIV.

One Zapoteca indigenous woman in Oaxaca, age 23, told the researchers, “I am here with my in-laws while my husband is in the United States, and he sees that somewhere they pick up other women. Now it is long that my husband hasn’t come, like five years. He already entered [the U.S.] for six years [once before]… When he returns, he always comes looking for another pregnancy.”

In a 2008 poster presentation at the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections (CROI) about HIV risk behaviors of Mexican migrant workers, Melissa Sanchez and other researchers reported that migrants, often struggling with unsafe working and living conditions, generally had more sex partners while in the U.S., and had more sex while using drugs or alcohol. A related study found that migrant men in California were 13 times more likely to have sex with another man than they were before leaving Mexico. Condom use increased while away from home, but migrants were unlikely to get tested for HIV for fear of deportation.

Sanchez also told TheBody.com that young men are being targeted for sex work at day-labor pick-up sites where they wait for construction work. “There are actually Web sites developed now where they give tips to people who want to approach Mexican-migrant, job-pick-up-site workers and actually recruit them,” Sanchez said. “They are told, ‘Go after three o’clock, when there is a clear indication that there is no work coming for the day.’ They target young, young men, thinking, ‘Well, they’re going to be more naïve, they’re perhaps more desperate to make some money given that they’re not going to get a landscape job during the day.'”

Corruption and Repression in Oaxaca

“It was agreed I would sign a document with the government promising…to cease activities concerning HIV/AIDS in Oaxaca.”

In 2001, the Frente Común Contra el SIDA (Common Front Against AIDS), a community organization in Oaxaca, began buying bus tickets for people living with HIV in the countryside to see their doctors at the clinic of COESIDA, the state AIDS council, in Oaxaca City. While meeting this need, activists got to know the people they were serving. The stories they heard – many of the people weren’t getting their medication regularly, were told to come back next month for medicine, or were given only one or two antiretrovirals rather than the standard combination of three – shocked the activists. According to the Frente’s website, this revelation set in motion a clash with COESIDA that culminated in the Frente’s closure amid threats and violence by government thugs in 2006. Continue reading

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TAKE ACTION – What You Can Do

December 2008 • Issue 9

  1. Break the silence about boarding school abuses. Order the 18-minute documentary A Century of Genocide in the Americas: The Residential School Experience by Rosemary Gibbons and Dax Thomas (2002) and host an event to show it with friends, in your neighborhood, school, or organization. After the film, you can hand out paper and pens so everyone can write letters to the editor of your local paper. Pass the hat for donations to the Boarding School Healing Project. Check the Project’s Take Action page and write letters to the United Nations and other authorities to demand investigation of human rights violations. Distribute the video to libraries and media outlets in your community.
  2. Demand sexual assault services for Native women. For most women living on reservations, the Indian Health Service (IHS) emergency room is the only place to go after a sexual assault. But in 2005, the Native American Women’s Health Education Resource Center found that 44% of IHS facilities lack trained personnel to provide emergency services after a rape, including post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) to prevent HIV infection. According to Department of Justice statistics, rape in American Indian and Alaska Native populations is 3.5 times higher than among all other racial groups. 85% of perpetrators are non-Native men, most of them white. The U.S. government is required by legally binding treaties to provide health care to Native communities, which it promised in exchange for land it took. Go to the center’s Action Alert page to send an advocacy letter. For background info on sexual assault and Native women, watch the center’s videos on YouTube: Indigenous Women’s Reproductive Health Rights (2005) and Violence Against Women is Against the Law (2007). Amnesty International also has an Online Action Center page devoted to the issue.
  3. Join or start a Oaxaca solidarity group – like the ones in Austin, Chicago, Flagstaff, Portland, Santa Cruz, and other cities – in your hometown. There will continue to be urgent calls for solidarity with social movements in Oaxaca asking people to demonstrate at their nearest Mexican Consulate, and a group can help people mobilize quickly. Your group can also host speakers and film screenings to educate the community and raise money to support organizing and media work in Oaxaca. If there isn’t already a group in your area, contact one of the existing groups or visit elenemigocomun.net [The Common Enemy] for help starting one.
  4. Research local archives and government and church records for evidence of crimes in Native American boarding schools. If your church or government is responsible for abuses and/or deaths of Native children, take steps to hold it accountable. This could start just by talking with others in your community about it. Then, for example, you could work within your church organization to help (and pressure) it to gather information, release it publicly, and reach out to Native groups to offer restitution.
  5. Protest the Olympics in Vancouver, Canada. The 2010 Winter Olympics will take place on unceded indigenous land from February 12 to 28, 2010. According to the Olympics Resistance Network, the harmful effects have already begun – expansion of sport tourism and resource extraction on indigenous lands; increasing homelessness and gentrification of poor neighborhoods; more privatization of public services; union-busting, especially for migrant labor; the fortification of national security; ballooning public spending and public debt; and unprecedented destruction of the environment. Building on a call by Native activists, the network is organizing a protest convergence between February 10 and 15, 2010.
  6. Stay informed and involved. Visit Intercontinental Cry for frequently updated news, videos, and info about how you can support indigenous struggles around the world to reclaim their lands and protect their lives, their traditions, and the environment.

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RESOURCES

December 2008 • Issue 9

Bilingual Links:
What are American Indian/Alaskan Natives’ (AI/AN) HIV prevention needs? (2002, factsheet)
English: caps.ucsf.edu/pubs/FS/nativeamerican.php
Español: caps.ucsf.edu/espanol/hojas/pdf/IN-NAFS.pdf
This Center for AIDS Prevention Studies (CAPS) factsheet from UCSF links the history of colonization, outlawing Native languages and spiritual practices, and centuries of forced relocation with a disproportionate burden of HIV risk factors.

El Enemigo Común (The Common Enemy)
elenemigocomun.net (website)
News and videos from social movements and media collectives in Oaxaca, Mexico.

Risk Across Borders: Sexual Contexts and HIV Prevention Challenges among Mexican Gay and Bisexual Immigrant Men (August 2008, monograph)
These findings and recommendations from a new CAPS study are an easy-to-read resource for immigrants, gay men, HIV educators, activists, policy makers, and scholars.

English Links:
Native American HIV/AIDS organizations (web page, 2008)
Current list from the UCSF Center for HIV Information.

HIV Cultural Competency within Native American Communities (2005, video)
Native American Women’s Health Education Resource Center video on how to respectfully provide HIV services in Native communities. Viewable on YouTube.

Lisa Tiger, HIV/AIDS educator and motivational speaker (website)
A longtime Native activist speaks about living with HIV and how to fight AIDS in Native communities.

Bay Area American Indian Two-Spirits (organization)
A community-based volunteer organization to restore the role of Two-Spirit people within the American Indian/First Nations community.

Allies of the Lakota (organization)
Donate to the Porcupine Clinic, the only independent Indian community-controlled health clinic in the United States.

Turtle Island Native Network – Focus on Indian Residential Schools (web page)
Videos and documents about the genocidal history of Canada’s Indian residential schools, with healing resources for survivors. Continue reading

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Solidarity Workshop – HIV Prevention Toolkit for Native Communities: Historical and Socioeconomic Health Risks

December 2008 • Issue 9

The National Native American AIDS Prevention Center (NNAAPC) created this HIV Prevention Toolkit for Native Communities to help public health workers better serve Native communities. With this toolkit, we hope to enhance your knowledge, skills, abilities, attitudes, and behaviors as they pertain to HIV/AIDS prevention among Native peoples.

The Toolkit is composed of six stand-alone modules. You can use individual modules to improve a specific area of your agency’s program, to learn more about a section of HIV/AIDS prevention, and/or to learn more about Native people and health care. As a set, the modules progress from basic concepts to more complex strategies for HIV/AIDS prevention. We encourage you to access the toolkit for your specific needs. In each module, you will find links to key terms, websites of health and Native-focused organizations, and other useful resources. If you need further assistance with your program beyond this toolkit, please contact NNAAPC at information (at) nnaapc.org.

The entire toolkit is available online at http://nnaapc.org/resources/toolkit/index.htm.

Module 2: Historical and Socioeconomic Health Risks

Addressing HIV/AIDS isn’t an easy task in itself. Addressing HIV/AIDS among Native populations is even more difficult. It involves the health and psychosocial effects of many other issues: a traumatic history, homophobia and discrimination, poor communication, poverty, and substance abuse. In order to address HIV/AIDS among Native populations, it is essential to understand and respond to these historical and social barriers.

Impacts of Contact and Colonization

Native communities still experience trauma as a result of colonization. Native people suffer from depression, marginalization, alienation, identity confusion, substance abuse, violence, and suicide. All of these traumas play a role in the transmission of HIV/AIDS among Native people.

  • Study the colonization history of your community. How did Native people in your location get to be where they are today? Who did they come into contact with? How were they treated by the colonizers?
  • What type of intergenerational trauma has your community experienced as a result of colonization? Study the diagram above, and think about physical and psychological health problems that seem to transfer from generation to generation. Continue reading

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