Just the facts about AIDS

HIV and AIDS have become a growing concern among First Nations people, and education has proven to be the most effective way to prevent this fatal disease.

HIV is a communicable disease which can be transmitted from one person to another through certain behaviors. There is no cure, only medications that slow the obset of full blown AIDS.

AIDS is caused by HIV over time weakening the immune system, leaving the body an easy target for illnesses and diseases.

What is HIV?
· Human Immunodeficiency Virus - The virus that causes AIDS. It weakens the immune system making it difficult, and over time impossible, to fight infections and diseases.

What is AIDS?
· Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome - The advanced stage of HIV infection.

How do I know if I'm infected?
· Overtime, the body produces antibodies to fight the HIV virus. A blood test can tell if you have these antibodies which show you are infecteed.

· It can take up to six months after infection for these antibodies to show. After infection, some people may not feel or look sick for years, but they can still pass the virus to someone else.

· Over time, the nervous and immune systems become damaged and HIV-infected people become sick with different illnesses.
· People with AIDS are more suseptible to diseases such as infections or cancers, which can kill them.

Is there a cure?
· No. Progress has been made, but prevention is still our only defence.

Who's at risk?
· You.

· Everyone can be affected by HIV/AIDS. Male, female, young, old, rich or poor.

How can I get AIDs?
· Sharing needles or syringes with an infected person. Blood contains a high amount of HIV, so any blood rituals including tattooing or piercing is risky if equipment such as razors, knives or piercing needles that are not sterilized or cleaned properly between individuals.

· Unprotected (without a condom) anal or vaginal intercourse with an infected person.

· Performing oral sex on an infected person is a low risk activity. However, open sores on the lips or inside the mouth and bleeding gums increases the risk.

· An HIV positive woman can pass the infection to her child during pregnancy, delivery or through breast feeding.

· Receiving infected blood or blood products (since 1985 in Canada, all blood and blood products are tested for HIV antibodies).

How do I protect myself?
· Abstaining from sexual intercourse and injection drug use, including steroids is the most effective way to protect yourself.

· Do not share needles or equipment. Use clean needles and equipment at all times. If this is not possible, clean with bleach. Fill the syringe with bleach three times, then rinse with water three times. Also use bleach to clean other equipment. Remember to rinse with water.

· Always use a new latex condom for vaginal or anal intercourse. Any lubricant used must be water-based, like K-Y jelly. Oil-based products like Vaseline, hand lotions or massage oils can cause the condom to break during intercourse. Do not use novelty condoms, they will not protect you from HIV infection.

· Avoid alcohol and drugs, or at least use in moderation. They will affect our ability to make wise and healthy choices.

I CAN'T get infected by:
· Casual, everyday contact
· Shaking hands
· Hugging or kissing
· Coughing or sneezing
· Giving blood
· Using swimming pools or toilet seats
· Sharing bed linen, eating utensils or food
· Mosquitos and other insects, or animals

Will my identity be protected if I want to get tested?

· Yes. There are anoynomous test sites available, however you need to make that request to your doctor.

Who will help me cope with the results?
· There is counselling available before and after testing at anoynmous test sites.

Where do I go if I have more questions?
· Your local health unit or community centre
· Your local AIDS organizations
· AIDS hotlines
· Your doctor
· Your family planning clinic

We regret to inform you that the Canadian HIV/AIDS Information Centre, a program of the Canadian Public Health Association (CPHA), has ceased operations, effective March 31, 2008.

As of April 1, 2008, you may contact the Canadian AIDS Treatment Information Exchange (CATIE) for all your HIV/AIDS resource needs at:

Canadian AIDS Treatment Information Exchange (CATIE)
555 Richmond Street West, Suite 505, Box 1104
Toronto, Ontario M5V 3B1
1.800.263.1638 [toll-free]
Fax: 416.203.8242
E-mail: info@catie.ca

AIDS danger made real for Aboriginal youth with video
By Julie Black
Windspeaker Contributor

"Open your eyes and be aware, baby." If you hear young people rapping these lyrics, you can thank Ken Ward, the Enoch Spirit Fire Ensemble and rapper Conway Kootney for raising their awareness to the consequences of HIV and AIDS.

The music video Be Aware follows the story of a young woman on the powwow trail who enjoys the parties and the tipi creeping, but doesn't know how to protect herself from HIV.

Using traditional and modern symbols and storytelling, the video depicts her anguish about who will raise her young daughter when she's gone.

"The video shows what really happens," explained youth participant Michelle White. "It would be easier to say don't do sex, drugs or alcohol, but that's not realistic. It's about responsibility. We're not saying that sex will kill you, it's about unprotected sex," she said.

This music video project was the brainchild of long-time AIDS activist Ken Ward. As the first Aboriginal person to go public with his HIV status, Ward has long been innovative and courageous in his goal of encouraging Aboriginal communities to accept the new challenges of the AIDS epidemic.

"Young people want this information, in this form and fashion," Ward said. "We can't really set up a booth at the powwows and distribute condoms, but this video can bring the message that tipi creeping can get out of hand."

Based on Ward's script and Conway Kootney's song, the video was designed by participants in the Spirit Fire youth at-risk program in Enoch, Alta. Taught video technology, storyboarding, public speaking and the issues surrounding HIV/AIDS, the young people were encouraged to design the video in ways that would reach other Aboriginal youth.

The result is a dynamic video, but equally important, the project increased the self-confidence of the young videographers.

"You hear kids at school singing it, and it makes you feel good," said White.

"We've changed a lot," agreed youth participant Robby Thomas. "We've come a long way and coming to this conference was our first goal."

Thomas was referring to the Alberta Aboriginal HIV/AIDS Conference held in Calgary where the video was presented. Be Aware was shown first to the local community of Enoch.

In hopes of a wider distribution, the video has been submitted to MuchMusic, YTV and the new Aboriginal Peoples Television Network.

Drawing from the success of this pilot project, Ward hopes to run the Spirit Fire youth at-risk program again with other Aboriginal youth, this time in an urban setting.

"Young people really need us," explained Ward. "They need lots of emotional support in terms of the issues and the challenges in their lives. It's an intense experience, but you see moments where they balloon."

Be Aware is available from Duvall House Publishing in Edmonton at (780) 488-1390.



Ken Ward AIDS video is released
By Yvonne Irene Gladue

Nine years ago when a doctor told him he was HIV positive, Ken Ward told his family and friends he had cancer. He hid from the disease and the effects it would have on his life.

Today, Ward has full-blown AIDS, but he no longer hides it. He is an outspoken advocate in the awareness campaign against the disease.

Ward, a member of the Enoch Cree Nation, west of Edmonton, has toured communities, schools, prisons, giving heart-felt messages about the disease.

He has already written a book titled And Who Will Hear Their Cries which contains a collection of poems Ward has written about his battle with the illness and now he has unveiled a new movie, chronicling his life with AIDS.
On Sept. 25, Edmonton's Sacred Heart Church played host to the screening of the video I Will Not Cry Alone, a documentary of Ward's struggle to deal with the disease and create awareness to the public about AIDS.

The film, made with the assistance of the National Film Board of Canada and Bibby Productions focuses on the challenges, friendships and heartache Ward has gone through while carrying the disease.

However, through the help of caring and understanding people ,Ward came forward and disclosed his illness.
The movie shows how Ward eventually came to grips with the disease. It shows how important it is to have people accept you for who you are, and how personal courage can come with that acceptance.

"Today, more than ever, it is necessary to demonstrate that "acceptance can go a long way in life, no matter who you are, even if you are someone with HIV/AIDS, "Ward said to a room full of people ready to watch the emotion-filled chronicle of his struggle.

Like the chilly overcast day outside the church, the atmosphere indoors was also bleak.

As the film played, it was easy to see that the video touched the audience as many struggled to remain composed. Some wept openly.

Ward candidly spoke about the effects of his illness, fears and hurt.

He described the symptoms a person with AIDS goes through, the weight loss, chills, and the depression. He spoke about how people react to the disease and how some AIDS carriers are sometimes ostracized in their communities.

"The pain is great at times," Ward said, "not just physically but emotionally as well."

Ward said he has come a long way since 1989, and he's had his fair share of disappointments, but he's decided to use his illness as a tool to help people understand the dangers of contracting it. His presentations are raw. He tells it like it is, and he won't apologize for that.

"I go out there to tell a story, not to do a show" said Ward.

That raw, natural tone was evident in a poem he read to the audience following the video screening. The poem, entitled "Share The Journey," is about an Aboriginal man who chose suicide to end the pain of AIDS. Ward's voice shook with emotion as he explained that people with AIDS are people too, just like everyone else. Ward stressed that communities should find a way to help their members with AIDS, instead of abandoning them.

His main message throughout the screening was to tell his Aboriginal brothers and sisters who have HIV/AIDS that there is support for them. That support is available from either his own lectures, book or video, or through the larger awareness he is helping to create.

The screening included an opening prayer by Elder Eva Ladouceur and an honor song by The River Cree Drum Group from the Enoch Band.

For information on the video or Ward's book, contact Marcel Pelletier at (403) 422-3052.

Still searching for peace
By Sabrina Whyatt
Windspeaker Staff Writer

Ken Ward won't die peacefully. At least not until Aboriginal communities, as a whole, begin addressing issues that will help fight the growing battle with AIDS.
"We have a disease here in Indian Country and it has to be dealt with," said the 41-year-old AIDS victim.

Dealing with drugs, alcohol and sexual abuse by eliminating ignorance, and learning from victims, are key factors in fighting this battle, he said.

"I wish I could sit back and say my life is at peace, but realistically, I have to contend with this disease. There are so many issues and factors involved. I don't wanna die on this reserve, simply because it's too stressful to die here," said Ward, a band member of the Enoch Cree Nation, located west of Edmonton.

"As a person with AIDS, I need an advocate and to feel secure that our leaders in power are going to act as my advocate. We (AIDS victims) have to use all our energy to do it ourselves," he said expressing concern of leaders' role in addressing issues pertaining to the virus.

Diagnosed with HIV in 1989 and developing AIDS two years ago, Ward was the first Aboriginal in Canada with the disease to go public. Since then, he's visited Aboriginal communities all over the country sharing his story, written a book of poetry entitled And Who Will Hear Their Cries, and directed a film I Will Not Cry Alone, to be released next month. Through these and other projects, he's dedicated his life to educating people about prevention.

With his physical state deteriorating, Ward is more determined than ever to get the message across that leaders of Aboriginal communities have to come forward and take a major role in AIDS awareness and join with the rest of the community to prevent it from spreading.
"It has to be a community effort including the leadership, and we have to cater to the attitude issue. Community denial is still there, strong and breathing. Those who are prone to be at high risk think it's not going to happen to them. People have to recognize their path towards leading to self destruction and decide to change their habits. But there has to be opportunity to do so. If they don't have that opportunity, they won't see this [disease] as a threat," he said.

Ward recognizes that gang problems, alcohol and drug abuse amongst youth at Enoch and other Aboriginal communities, and anticipates such behavior patterns as eventually leading to the not-so-wonderful world of AIDS.
"As an ex-user, I see the patterns. I can see these people being potential sitting ducks, setting themselves up for this disease. We do have a drug and alcohol problem and we need to focus on that."

Raped at 13, Ward knows first-hand how sexual abuse can lead to low self esteem and self-destruction. It was this horrible incident that led to a life of drug abuse that he said "brought death knocking at my door."

As a result, he's convinced sexual abuse has to be dealt with through education in conjunction with proper communication within families.

"Parents, your kids go home from an AIDS workshop and they're armed with information, but they have questions about sexuality and relationships. If the parents close them down and say I don't want to talk about it or it's evil, that circle of education is broken and the kids are left hanging with all these questions. We have a bad communication problem here," he said with frustration.

Initially, fear of rejection forced Ward to lie about his illness, telling people he had cancer. Coming to the reality he was going to die, he broke the news to his brother and the rest of his family. With ongoing support from Elders and other members of the community, he went public promising to educate himself and others about the disease, and for some time he lived in a home for AIDS sufferers.

"That was best thing I ever did, to go live amongst my peers and see what they were doing to survive."

The next step was forgiveness. Ward stresses this is a very important step for any AIDS victim.

"I accept I have this disease and I need to forgive myself because I was responsible for setting myself up for this. I was a junkie years ago. I remember banging (needles) one time with this guy in a hotel room. I remember the phrase one bang won't hurt you - well this one certainly did."

There was an initial struggle about whether to choose modern medicine to treat his illness, but strong positive forces from the Native community led Ken toward traditional methods.

"The journey of cultural and traditional beliefs has certainly been a positive experience for me. This ceremonial walk was important in giving me balance. But you have to be committed to it for the rest of your life," he explained.

After his immune system began to deteriorate in 1995, he chose "white man's medicine." Last year, the drug began to lose its effect and he discontinued use after pondering the fact there was a possibility of becoming very ill.

"I don't know how long I have. To be honest, I'd be surprised if I live past this year. That would be a miracle. I can feel it right now, forgetfulness is happening and the energy level is not there as it used to be," he said.
Although he still continues to work on projects to fight AIDS, including a plan to visit jails where the disease is rapidly spreading, Ward's biggest search now is to find somewhere to spend his final days.

"I have to be realistic and find a home where I can die in peace. I want to die with dignity. Many end up overdosing and I can understand why, but not me.
I am not giving up hope. Hope never dies for me."
Ward said one of his biggest regrets is never having a wife and kids.


Ken Ward is member of the Enoch First Nations located near Edmonton, Alberta. Ken has been living with AIDS for several years and regularly speaks with people promoting Aids Awareness. Each month in Windspeaker, Ken shares with readers his thoughts and feelings of living with such a disease. Sometimes Ken is up sometimes he is down, but he is always compassionate and insightful.


Wilting away, bit by bit

Dear Creator:
I thank you for this day. Lately, I have been examining my fears, trying to be realistic. Acknowledging that, just perhaps, I will die someday is no problem, however it's the process of wilting away that has me concerned.
I recently turned down an opportunity to attend a conference hosted by Rainy River Nation, Man. As we scooted to the airport, fear started swelling, my mind raced, worried about boarding that plane. My thoughts dwelled on the 'what if's,' and recalled my friend's flight's experience - turbulence, malfunctions. Then I realized it was the fear of dying that was at the core of my issue. I offer my deepest regrets to Al Hunter and the committee. Please forgive me.

Just recently, I ran into a friend and his wife. I knew that he was not as open as he is usually. As I proceeded to sit down, his wife spoke to me. He has dementia now (infection to the brain) and he is slowly losing his thought processing ability and his memory, she told me. The HIV virus promotes dementia, then the brain activity becomes hyperactive. He had had no sleep for four days, had become somewhat paranoid and his speech was slower. Dependency becomes the issue, but his wife is there for him. I admire you.

They managed to raise some funds to take him to see the ocean. He had never seen the waters before. I pray that he will have the opportunity, before his time is up.
This is why it's so important to do something memorable while we are alive. To remember a person for their achievements is a healthy part of the grieving process for all.

Incidentally, he went off the same medications I did, and at the same time. The process of deterioration could affect me as well, with changes coming rapidly. This is my reality. Gotta keep on moving. No questions asked, just answers to find . . .

I have never professed to be a strong person, Creator. I only believed that the meek will survive. I do hope I earned that status. I'm just another human being trying to enjoy life while I can.

I am excited and most appreciative that the Lac Ste. Anne Pilgrimage Committee (see Make the most page 30.)

(Continued from page 29.) has endorsed a special evening for those afflicted by this illness HIV/AIDS. For more information call: Sacred Heart Parish of First Peoples in Edmonton, Alberta (403-422-3052). Ask for Marcel Pelletier.

I realize that time is precious in my life and I should take the time to accomplish my goals - now. The journey is not done yet, is it Creator? I believed in my heart that I helped in some ways for you, the readers, of my personal insight of this disease. It's time to mark my journey in another form. I thank you for your comments about this column. I thank Windspeaker for the opportunity just to share.

As I recall, a stranger knocked on my motel room. He entered and shared his appreciation for the work I'd done at a men's wellness conference in Saskatchewan. I was touched by his sincerity. I was touched by the hand drum he passed to me.

"Someday you will earn the victory song and someday you will sing for us," he said. I thank you my new brother in La Ronge, Sask.

My column maybe final but the journey is not. I will sing this song before my time comes. I will sing for you . . . and my Creator.

Peace for Life
Ken Ward

Simple goal for 1998 - LIVE!

Dear Creator:
New Year's has come and once again I wonder what will it bring for me. Many nights of thinking of my personal goals. Have they been met. What new challenges should I welcome? 1997 was a busy year what with promoting AIDS Awareness, participating in conferences, producing a video and book of poetry. Come to think of it, I average 75 to 100 community presentations a year. And to think dear readers, I have AIDS. So what's holding you back in the goals that you seek to achieve?
While there is a desperate search on to find a cure for AIDS, I decided that prayer and the will to survive would show through my work. It certainly has kept my sicknesses at bay.
1997 was the year when I chose to involve myself in bringing the concerns of inmates and prostitutes in regards to HIV and AIDS to your attention. What stories I have gathered! I tell you I am very honored and blessed that I am trusted to hear from you all while being on the road.

My goal for this year is to contend with this disease. Somewhere out there is a medicine person for me. I must keep looking.

There is a very frightening hold that grips our people, even on the reserves. It is the rapid growth of HIV infection in cities as big as Vancouver and as remote as to Prince Albert, Sask. The rise in numbers of people infected with HIV is related to drug use.

You see Creator, I am angry at one particular drug. I allowed it to control me, and my family is affected by cocaine use. I had to let go of my partner who went back to using the drug. I can't fall in love with a needle that has no soul. It's sad because I really loved the person.
One band member calls it, "Devil's dandruff" and it's so true. I can only suggest that a hard core drug treatment centre be developed in the prairies. A blunt straight-forward awareness campaign about the dangers of hard core drugs use, of it's symptoms and the negative effects and consequences of drug use needs to be addressed. Enough is enough - WE HAVE A DRUG PROBLEM people.
With the numbers of people infected with HIV/AIDS in the Aboriginal community and the widespread use of drugs, I wonder when are we to take a stand.

I am at war with this "Devil's Dandruff." When the RCMP tell me young kids are being introduced to cocaine on reserve's as young as 11 and 12 years old, while those who heartlessly prey on children to sell their bodies and feed the drugs to them. I am angry.

Maybe the pimps, the pushers may not like or hear what I do, but lives are at stake.
In good spirit. In good life.

Eagle Boy. Ken Ward

Living in a world of many colors

Dear Creator:
It's been a week-and-a-half since I took myself off these protease inhibitors. It was causing the runs. Hope I don't offend you. I understand that the HIV antibodies will mutate quickly and this ritonavir will no longer be of use to me anymore. Perhaps a surge of sickness could take hold of me. Perhaps death itself. Only you know?
This journey continues with uncertainties. Speaking of uncertainties, I have just returned from Vancouver, the city with the colorful life. The city that prairie Indians go to with hopes and dreams of finding Hollywood North. A city with some notoriety - the capital of North America as the fastest growth daily of HIV. Some reports say that about 1,000 people test positive per month. Drugs and needles have a firm grip on this city. It was quite clear to me how one's life can be swept into the darkness of hopelessness there.

I found it an angry city and greedy. Trying desperately to find some solace or a glimmer of hope, I had to search through this mist of darkness, but I found them. How unique and how special they are.

You see Creator, I have met many warm faces and warm hearts. . . young and old. I believe everyone has touched my heart dearly, including my adopted brother Joshua Bird in La Ronge, Sask.

The rich deprive the poor. The rich despise the poor. How tragic and noticeable in Vancouver. However, I look at the warriors, survivors who find someone to belong to.
For example: At the Greater Vancouver Native Cultural Society I was welcomed and accepted with loving hearts. Despite working with and surviving on a very low income of $500, this special group manages to find some sense in it all by recognizing "unity" and believing in cultural identity. Iris, Alicia, Connie, Bryon, Holly Bear, special friends like Brian Racette, Guy and Doug all contribute. Laurie MacDonald, ironically, is the founder from my home, the Enoch Cree Nation. I am so proud of you all and of the shows that you perform. I was deeply moved.
In the two-spirited world I have stumbled on, I found that this group maintains a sense of family and a sense of dignity. Yes, despite that others condemn them, despite that some of them are forced to live poorly and survive on the streets in the drug world and trade in prostitution, you have managed to keep your heads held high, despite uncertainty.

We do have something in common. You struggle on the cold streets of Vancouver. That is part of your journey. Mine is the search for traditional medicines. We are human and I pray for those who crave for more. Everyone in the world of many colors has one thing in common - our hearts. The heart is unique. It generates life in partnership with the spirit. If the two are neatly balanced, blessed ever so gently by the Creator, life has fulfillment.

I can only ask that prayers for our people on the cold streets of the city, who struggle from the negative forces of drugs and prostitution, that they not spend Christmas alone. For the others who are the rich, perhaps you are not as fortunate as some are.

To those who acknowledge my writings, I thank you. Where there is life... there is always hope.

Merry Christmas to you all.
Ken Ward