Indigenous people in Canada, including Inuit, Métis, and First Nations peoples, are highly vulnerable to HIV, AIDS and Viral Hepatitis. This population also experiences multiple personal, social and structural barriers to treatment, care and support service access. Much of the vulnerability of Indigenous communities and individuals to HIV relates to the historical trauma that resulted from processes of colonization and dislocation of traditional culture and language. The impacts of colonization on Indigenous people in Canada, particularly the residential school system and appropriation of Indigenous children by Canadian authorities in the 1960’s, has been linked to vulnerability to HIV in Canada.
This history has lead to a mistrust of the healthcare system, authorities and researchers, discriminatory and racist treatment of Indigenous people by services providers, legislative challenges in obtaining treatment coverage, geographic isolation from services for rurally located people and vulnerability to drug use, mental health challenges and homelessness – all of which act as barriers to accessing treatment, care and support for HIV and Viral Hepatitis co-infection.
Tools for Access workshops for both service providers and Indigenous Peoples highlight these obstacles to accessing holistic and culturally appropriate treatment, care and support. Building awareness around the linkages between colonization, intergenerational abuse, incarceration and drug use among Indigenous Peoples helps all players, including service providers and Indigenous Peoples living with HIV, understand the root causes of barriers to treatment access. Tools for Access programming works to help providers serving Indigenous Peoples develop policy and implement best practices for addressing these issues. By working directly with the affected population, Tools for Access helps build the capacity of Indigenous Peoples living with HIV to overcome barriers using their own knowledge, skills and agency.