March 20 is National Native HIV & AIDS Awareness Day, when we recognize the impact that the HIV and AIDS epidemic has had on Indigenous communities throughout our country. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Native community had the fifth highest rate of HIV diagnoses in the U.S. in 2015 -- higher than both Asian and white communities. Furthermore, gay and bisexual men accounted for 79 percent of HIV diagnoses among Native individuals.

As with most communities affected by HIV, stigma, substance abuse and limited access to culturally-appropriate programs and services contribute to increased HIV risk within Native communities.  

Today, we recognize Elton Naswood and Michelle Enfield, two Native activists working for better access to preventative and maintenance care for Native individuals living with and affected by HIV and AIDS in the U.S.

Elton Naswood

Elton Naswood is a national advocate who has extensive experience in providing resources and capacity-building assistance to Native agencies to enhance HIV testing, link people to care and provide education on life-saving PrEP.

“Stigma continues to be a prominent challenge in our Native communities. It is still believed that HIV doesn't exist in our reservations and/or villages --  that it's a gay man's disease, and that we are not at risk for HIV because we have medications now. We continue to face additional challenges such as substance use, poverty and limited access to adequate health care.”

My Call-to-Action:

“We need to continue to educate ourselves to protect our future generations. We cannot have this disease further compromise our survival as Indigenous People, our culture, our traditions and cause us to continue to lose our relatives. We need to become educated and access new prevention medications, including PrEP. We need to also utilize our cultural strengths and traditions as its own prevention strategy in order to get tested and know our HIV status.”

Michelle Enfield

Michelle Enfield is the Program Coordinator of Special Initiatives at APLA Health in Los Angeles. She manages The Red Circle Project, which is Los Angeles County’s only HIV prevention program targeting the Indigenous gay, two spirit and transgender communities. The program also offers a platform for participants to share their personal and cultural experiences with HIV and AIDS education as a common thread.  

“The biggest challenge anyone faces, including the Native/Indigenous community, is their own fear. Fear of getting tested, fear of being affiliated with ‘homosexuality’; and fear of medical services that were once used to oppress.”

My Call-to-Action:

“Be adventurous and dive into topics of discussion that you haven’t been a part of before. The world is changing, we’re all getting older, so why not add some new information to your database? This will allow you to hold conversations with new leaders within your family that will assist in connecting with them on a more profound level. And to our young leaders -- be queer! ... By definition, queer is anything that falls out of what is considered normal and that can include challenging the system so that equity is served!”

For more information on HRC Foundation’s work to end HIV and HIV-related stigma, please click here.


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