Strong Voices: Stories of Struggle & Strength Living with HIV

Of Advent, Christmas and January, I can say that there are very few remnants; three empty festive cookie containers on the dining room table…a scented candle in one of the bathrooms and the front yard Nativity that is awaiting a bit of a snow melt before it is dragged back to its retirement next to the studio in the back yard.  Except for these things, what remains are the memories of reading voraciously through extreme cold and looking out on to a very snowy landscape.  Max spent a lot of time on the red couch, leaving the house to do his business, quickly, in the back yard.  If we walked, it was in short spurts and then back under throws, beside the Christmas tree.

Max on Red Couch 2

I continue to partake in the Chapters and Chat Book Club led by Aboriginal Pride with 12CSI‘s Michelle Robinson, once a month.  December saw me completing my first full year with the club, as it was my intention through Canada 150, to become more aware through reading Indigenous authors and expanding my knowledge of the calls to action in a process of Truth and Reconciliation.  Needless to say, this community of readers has become so important to me that I will continue through 2018.

Graciously donated to us at November’s Chapters and Chat, we read Strong Voices: Stories of Struggle & Strength Living with HIV, a short read in graphic novel format published by HIV Community Link.   I think that this book would serve as an excellent educational tool and it certainly brought to light the personal struggle of a representational sampling of four members of the Indigenous community, with HIV.

Strong Voices

Images supplied by HIV Community Link: Prevention + Support + Advocacy and used with their permission.

Strong Voices

The contributors to the project were…

The stories shared in this project are the real-life experiences
of four Aboriginal people from the Prairies. We honour the strength,
courage, honesty and love that our Storytellers Michelle, Krista,
Aaron and Bill have offered to this project and the community.

Special thanks to Cultural Resource Adrian Wolfleg for his wisdom, patience
and kindness. This project would not be possible without his participation.

artists:
Grant Smith – Michelle’s Story
Lydia Prince – Krista’s Story
Tank Standing Buffalo – Aaron’s Story
Keegan Starlight – Bill’s Story
Writer: Adrian Wolfleg
Creative Editor: Cherri Lowhorn
Design & Layout: Kathryn Valentine
Project Coordination: Andrea Carter
The Strong Voices Program is a project of HIV Community Link.
HIV Community Link’s mission is to reduce the harm associated with
HIV and hepatitis C for all individuals and communities that we serve.

To begin with, the reader experiences a most a beautiful prayer (atsimoihkan), followed by an elegant description of the Medicine Wheel.  I think to discuss healing or to discuss struggle in this context, such a beautiful prayer and description are essential and I treasured them both.  As the reader is familiarized with the east, south, west and north of the wheel, the graphic novel naturally transitions into four separate personal narratives.

There is much pain captured in such a brief book, as four brave people share their experiences of contracting and living with HIV in a society that has been built upon colonial footings…so, to negotiate through the existing system further isolates, distresses and challenges members of various Indigenous communities.  This book opens up guidance as it conveys these stories through a strong format.  First, the link is given between the story and the Medicine Wheel’s direction…second, the story is told through art and the graphic novel (approachable and reader-friendly) for such intense and sad remembrances and third, a narrator’s connection with the person and the story.  For example…of Michelle’s story, the narrator writes, in part,…

Michelle’s decision to learn more about living with HIV and the physical effects are in
line with the teachings of the Physical Aspect of the Medicine Wheel: getting to know
yourself and how to help your body’s natural healing processes.

Michelle shares that she grounds herself through Aboriginal teachings and ceremonies
like the Sweat Lodge: “I’ve found my traditions and culture. I smudge and pray every day and I participate in a Sweat Lodge ceremony whenever I can”. Michelle says it brought her back to her senses so she can live life to its fullest. She looks forward to watching her grandchildren grow up.

I think that reading this book allowed us to take pause and think about how all of the societal pressures have contributed to the prevalence of HIV and other STIs in our Indigenous populations.  We need to contemplate how/where we can contribute to the solutions.  This book is a terrific resource, to begin.

From Aids Calgary…this…

The goal of this book is to bring awareness of HIV to the Aboriginal communities, where HIV is currently considered an epidemic. Due to social determinants and stigma, Aboriginal people are often diagnosed with HIV at a younger age and at later stages (with an AIDS diagnosis for example). Since 25% of Canadians who have HIV do not know it, our goal is to promote testing and harm reduction approaches while building awareness and support for those affected by HIV.

Beyond the content, I mentioned in the Chapters and Chat circle that I felt myself reading as an English language arts teacher, in part, while reading this book.  I thought that it needed yet one more edit.  But…I’m starting to really question my hang up on some of my reading; about syntax, proper grammar and spelling.  (I’d love to hear from other English language arts teachers on this.) I’m wondering about ‘voice’ and whether I’m reading from a ‘settler’s’ point of view…I’m really thinking about what it means to be an Indigenous author in a mostly colonial world.  I’m wondering about the place of Indigenous authors in CanLit…I’m questioning fair representation of ALL Canadian voices.

These questions surfaced while reading a recent book by Gitz Crazyboy, when all of a sudden, I was hearing his voice as I tracked the written word and had stopped ‘reading’.  I don’t think that makes any sense and I’m laughing at this place in my own writing, but leaving it all as it is.  At that point in Gitz’s book, I put my pencil down.  I will talk about that process more when I review Secret of the Stars.

The book talk was, as always, very inspiring as we passed the listening stone around the circle.  That evening, we attempted to tape our book talk, so I think we forgot to take a group photograph of the session, a tradition that I’ve grown to look forward to.  The people in the circle are becoming dear and treasured friends for the difficult and lively conversations we have.

Thank you, Michelle for the snacks and the hot tea.  Thank you to Aboriginal Pride with 12CSI!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s