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Aboriginal activist speaks out on AIDS

by The Concordian January 31, 2012

Photo by Navneet Pall

As people slowly filled the Hall building auditorium last Thursday, the sound of the drums hushed, and the room instantly fell silent.
Doris Peltier gave a powerful lecture on the topic of AIDS and its impact on Aboriginal people. The talk was the third lecture in Concordia University’s Community Lecture Series on HIV/AIDS.

Peltier is an Aboriginal woman from the Wikwemikong Unceded First Nations reserve and was diagnosed with AIDS in 2001. Peltier participates in conferences to share her experience and give hope to those suffering from the same disease.

After a difficult childhood of losses and abuse, she decided that she wouldn’t let the disease overcome her. Since then, she has been working as an activist for the Canadian Aboriginal AIDS Network, at the local, national and international level.

Many children in Aboriginal communities experienced traumatic childhoods, explained Peltier. For over 500 years, children were taken from their parents at a very young age and sent to residential schools. This caused severe disorganization in indigenous societies and disrupted their traditional social structures.

Peltier insisted on the importance of talking about HIV and AIDS if we want to see progress in harm reduction in the near future.
“I did not want to just be another statistic. I decided to step out and start speaking about it, and disclose my HIV status publicly because we need to talk about it,” Peltier insisted.

The title of the conference, N’Ginaajiiwimi, is an Aboriginal word that is translated as “the essence of who we are is beautiful.” This relates to Peltier’s message that despite a person’s ethnicity, despite the disease that affects him or her, every single person is beautiful inside and deserves to be heard.

“When we tell our stories, it’s really about taking out those internalized pieces of identities that have been kind of imposed on us, whether it’s junkie, whore, or prostitute, or drunk,” Peltier said. “We internalize those kinds of things, and it’s very hard to heal from those, and part of the healing is about speaking, it is about allowing that voice to come out.”

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