International Indigenous Working Group on HIV and AIDS (IIWGHA)

By Trevor Stratton, Consultant and Coordinator of the IIWGHA

Indigenous Circle: Decolonizing HIV & AIDS on Earth at AIDS 2012

You better believe Indigenous People were seen and heard at the International AIDS Conference in Washington, DC, USA this past July. And how…..


Washington, DC is the traditional territory of the Piscataway people now residing in southern part of the US state of Maryland. Chief Billy Tayac, Hereditary Chief of the Piscataway Nation opened the seven day-long International AIDS Conference which hosted 33,000 delegates, the largest conference of its kind in the world.

The next day, at the Indigenous Peoples Networking Zone (IPNWZ) in the AIDS 2012 Global Village, the local drum, Medicine Horse ceremonially opened for us. The opening kicked off four days of diverse programming at the IPNWZ. Just an hour later, Medicine Horse was on the Global Village Main Stage for their Opening Ceremony as well. We were easy to find. We just followed the sound of the drum or looked for our 17 foot (4 meter) teepee. Did you see us? Did you hear us?

The IIWGHA Leaders were heavily engaged in the main International AIDS Conference like never before and even helped influence the AIDS 2012 organizers to invite the Honourable Leona Aglukkaq, Minister of Health for Canada to an Indigenous Bridging Session spanning science, leadership and community. A fascinating Plenary Session took place discussing the intersection between Culture, Law and Religion. Many other sessions involved Indigenous presenters and facilitators as well. Indigenous people were heard.

But that’s not all…..


With very strong support from the Canadian Aboriginal AIDS Network and the National Native American AIDS Prevention Center in the USA, IIWGHA was proud to host a two day-long International Indigenous Pre-conference on HIV & AIDS: TO SEE AND BE SEEN in downtown Washington, DC. None of it would have happened without their dedication and hard work.

Strong Indigenous activists from Guatemala, Chile, Mexico, Bolivia, New Zealand, Thailand, Australia and a host of other powerful people from around the world joined together to decolonize HIV & AIDS while the world watched. Each IIWGHA Leader and most of the Indigenous delegates were interviewed by reporters and international press throughout our time on the Piscataway territory.

And this didn’t happen overnight.

IIWGHA Leaders began planning for AIDS 2012 back in January of 2011.By July 2011; they were already hunting for a venue. Securing funding USA and Canada was a long, hard path to travel and it was not without tears and sacrifice. But in the end, the Indigenous spirit, community service and good humour won the day.


The bar has been raised. The profile of HIV & AIDS in Indigenous communities has been strengthened.

But what now?

IIWGHA invites Indigenous people worldwide to join together and stand up to HIV & AIDS today, in Melbourne, Australia for AIDS 2014 and beyond. In the coming year, the International Indigenous Working Group on HIV & AIDS plans to enhance communications through social marketing. Please look for us on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and the website.

IIWGHA is here to stay. This is now a social movement with hundreds of eager Aboriginal people, demonstrated at AIDS 2012, as we make a huge splash Turning the Tide Together. Let’s plan together for tomorrow and the next 7 generations.

Filed Under: BlogFeaturedSummer 2012 Newsletter

About the Author: Brought to you by the Canadian Aboriginal AIDS Network (CAAN).

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