In Photos: AIDS Vigil Shines a Light on Indigenous Health

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In Photos: AIDS Vigil Shines a Light on Indigenous Health

What does reconciliation and decolonization mean for people living with HIV and AIDS?

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As part of a larger, Pride-wide focus on Indigenous issues this year—the parade’s grand marshal is Cree artist Kent Monkman and the youth ambassador is Kiley May, a Hotinonshón:ni Mohawk and Cayuga storyteller—Tuesday’s AIDS Vigil featured discussion about reconciliation and the unequal health-care access Indigenous people in Canada are still dealing with.

Pouring rain threatened to put an end to the performances, and meant the event’s hosts drew a laugh when they asked attendees to put their candles in the designated sandboxes or risk a fire hazard. But no lightning accompanied the downfall, and the ceremony went on without disruption.

With poncho-clad volunteers walking through the crowd smudging, co-host Ana Demetrakopoulos explained what reconciliation can mean in the context of people living with HIV and AIDS.

“Above all, [reconciliation] asks us to listen to the realities,” she said. “For tonight, it means supporting the calls for Indigenous people to have better access to care, better access to treatment, and to consider the realities both on- and off-reserve throughout Canada. In the spirit of wellness and healing, this means holding all levels of government—including our prime minister—accountable for the policies and rejecting the continued unequal health service experience for First Nations, Métis, and Inuit people across this country.”

Demetrakopoulos’ co-host, Leonard Benoit, said that spirituality and land are integral aspects of healing, that a Western medical approach cannot be considered sufficient treatment. He urged attendees to consider their connections, to both those around them and the people they’ve lost.

A nurturing nurse or compassionate doctor is not always enough to keep me entirely healthy or to bring me back to health when I fall sick. My spirit needs to connect to the land. My ancestors’ land. The land that has sustained my family since the beginning of time.”

“Who around you day to day keeps your spirit?” he asked the crowd. “Who did you come with tonight? Or did you come alone to honour someone who you’ve lost?”

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