Archive for December, 2011

27th December
2011
written by admin

Breaking Down Stereotypes and Raising Awareness

 

The Native Women’s Shelter of Montreal, in partnership with the Canadian Aboriginal AIDS Network, presented their aboriginal awareness week event last week in Montreal on December 2nd. Emcee’d by Harvey Michel, it brought First Nations together to help support change in aboriginal communities in regards to AIDS. Unfortunately, AIDS is still a four letter word in most First Nations communities. Nakuset, the Executive Director of the Native Women’s Shelter of Montreal, spoke about how little is being done for aboriginal women in regards to AIDS in Montreal, and how important it was to have this particular event to draw attention to the lack of services native women receive in this city.

 

Naturally, change starts with attitude towards a disease that is seriously on the rise in First Nations communities. Aboriginal people in Canada continue to be over-represented in HIV/ AIDS epidemics. The 2010 EPI Update from the Public Health Agency of Canada reports that 4,000 to 6,100 First Nations, Inuit and Metis are living with HIV, including AIDS.

 

The theme for Aboriginal AIDS Awareness week this year was a focus on community. National Chief Sean A-in-chut Atleo commented on the role we all have to play in responding to HIV/AIDS. “Everyone has a part in creating change. The fact that you are gathered here today demonstrates your commitment to addressing how HIV and AIDS are unfolding in First Nations, Inuit and Metis communities. You are leaders in your own right.”

 

Many of the speakers on Friday shared a common message: the situation is getting very, very serious, especially for Aboriginal women. Part of the message was defeating the myth of AIDS as just a gay disease. A big issue of the spread of AIDS is drugs, and how rampant drugs have become in our communities. Also part of the message was the need to get beyond condoms and work on self-healing. The rise in AIDS can be linked back to residential schools, due to the lack of sexual education and the fracturing of the family structures that happened on many First Nations reserves. There are also links to Native youth depression and self-esteem, which have been a factor in the increase of AIDS. Fiona Cook of the Native Women’s Association of Canada had this to add:
“People are scared in the communities[…] there was better work 25 years ago than there is today, which increases the importance of friendship centres. Old myths die hard”! Cook went on to talk about the need for resources and proper investment in First Nations communities. “We cannot combat AIDS if we don’t have the resources.”

 

One of the most powerful presentations of the morning was from Visioning Health: Arts and Positive Aboriginal Women (PAW). Doris Peltier talked about her battle with sexual assault and how she became an activist:

 

“The essence of who we are is beautiful.” Peltier went on to speak about the display of HIV Positive Aboriginal Women’s artwork from all across Canada, proving that being Positive isn’t a death sentence. There is life after becoming Positive.

 

Former Liberal MP Marlene Jennings talked about the importance and much-needed work in both Native and non-Native communities to combat AIDS, and like Chief Atleo, Minister of Health Leona Aglukkaq sent a message talking about how pleased she was to mark the 23rd World AIDS Day and the start of Aborignal AIDS Awareness Week in Canada:

 

“The Government of Canada recognizes that Aboriginal people are over-represented in the HIV/ AIDS epidemic. We are committed to keep working with aboriginal communities to reduce the spread of HIV while providing care and support for those living with and affected by HIV and AIDS.” The government of Canada this year alone has invested more than $72 million in programs, research, surveillance, and a greater awareness under the Federal initiative to address HIV/AIDS in Canada. But when it comes down to it, it’s all about attitude. Attitude towards people with HIV/AIDS and the fear that people still have of people living with these diseases.

 

I recently saw a story on CNN about a non-Native teenager being denied admission to a prep school because of his HIV status. The prep school’s position seemed to be the archaic 1980s point of view about the disease. One of the fears the prep school mentioned was the fear that this child would become sexually active, which was the basis for their denial of an honour student who just wanted to go to a good school.

 

Now, the fact that a non-Native prep school for well-to-do families can still use archaic stereotypes to deny an honour student the right to a good education goes to show that the fear of HIV/ AIDS crosses class lines and culture lines: it can be a community in Canada or it can be a community in the Midwestern United States. These stereotypes are what Aboriginal AIDS Awareness Week are trying to eliminate.

 

In the end, we should be embracing people with HIV/ AIDS and not discriminate against them, and hopefully initiatives like AAAW will help to do that.

 

You can listen to Irkar Beljaars on Native Solidarity News every Tuesday at 6pm on CKUT (90.3 FM) and @Mohawk_Voice (Twitter).

14th December
2011
written by admin

THE Indigenous media arts festival!

 

The 12th annual ImagineNative film and media arts festival took place from October 19-23 with great fanfare. The festival, which promotes the latest indigenous films, videos, radio and new media began in 1998 and has become one of the most important indigenous festivals in the world. It has provided a much needed platform for the sharing of indigenous works and connecting them with buyers and industry execs. ImagineNative, also known as the centre for aboriginal media, continues to grow and reflect the needs and beauty of our culture. The organizers are determined to eliminate stereotypical views of indigenous peoples through indigenous cultural expression.

ImagineNative itself got started on Wednesday the 19th with an opening gathering presented by the Thunderbird centre. There was the traditional opening prayer followed by a meet-and-greet before heading off to the TIFF Bell Lightbox to see the screening of “On the Ice” by director Andrew Okpeaha MacLean which was followed by an opening night party featuring a performance by A Tribe Called Red. There were many other events, including an artist talk and reception event with Jason Edward Lewis on the Thursday night and a curator talk and reception with Cheryl L’Hirondelle on the Friday.

One of the major events was on the Friday, “A discussion with Buffy Sainte Marie,” presented by the CBC and hosted by Wab Kinew. The Cree singer-songwriter, musician, composer, visual artist, educator, pacifist, and social activist took the audience on a tour of her life, beginning with her ground-breaking musical career, her love of teaching, the cradle board project and her many other projects. Buffy also put on an electrifying performance at the Phoenix concert theatre the following Saturday night. Sean Conway and Lena Recollet opened for the icon, and both acts warmed up the crowd considerably before Buffy came in and blew the roof off. Songs included Big Wheel Spin and Spin, Universal Soldier, Up Where We Belong, Cho Cho Fire and No No Keshagesh, both from her recent album.

Executive Director Jason Ryle had this to say about this year’s festival. “I’m happy beyond words with this year’s imagineNATIVE Film and Media Arts Festival. It was our largest Festival ever and I’m so touched by the level of community support. Feedback for our programming and new venue has been immensely positive and I thank everyone for coming out and making this the most successful imagineNATIVE to date.”

As mentioned before, ImagineNative is a film festival and there was no shortage of great films. I was amazed with the level of talent that played on the screen day after day. Here is a sampling of some of them.

“The Creator’s Game”

This documentary provided an in-depth look at the issue of the Iroquois Nationals being refused entry to the 2010 lacrosse world championship in England due to the lack of recognition given to their passports by the UK government. The film was made by Candace Maracle, a member of their nation and community, for a Masters’ thesis. Not only does the film follow the team members, but it also tracks lacrosse stick making and the team’s successful journey to the world Championships in Prague, 2011, where they came 2nd to team Canada. Hearing the use of one of their nation’s traditional songs in place of an American or Canadian national anthem before the team played against Canada was one of the most stirring moments of the film, and represented their struggle for sovereignty that continues to this day.

“International spotlight on the Khoi San III”

These shorts out of South Africa told some fictional, some real-life stories of contemporary Khoi-San communities affected not just by colonization, but by the erasure of their culture from being categorized as black South Africans and a collective loss of culture as a result. The Khoi-San struggle to find their identity while figuring out how to use what they have left of their heritage going forward in post-apartheid South Africa.

“The Uprooted”

Tales from the 1895 Maori forests to modern-day Urban hip hop and its role in the lives of youth play out in this profound collection of shorts. The first film, “OK Breathe Auralee ,”  explored the issue of knowing – or not knowing – where you come from in order to know where to go with your future. Other shorts dealt with themes such as rejecting daily attempts at being defined by your skin colour, to rediscovering your identity in tragedy. All of these shorts spoke to the struggles of identity and self-discovery.

“Bran Nue Dae”

“Bran Nue Dae” is a fabulous romp through 1969 Australia, from Perth to Broome. Combining the priesthood, a road trip, a VW van, bar fights, lots of mistaken identity and musical numbers, this feature-length, irreverent film follows one young man’s journey to find home, love, and acceptance… Oh, and his real dad.

“The Tall Man”

The Story of Palm Island, a paradise with a dark history.  It is the story of an Aborigine man who insults a police officer and is arrested, only to die 45 minutes later under suspect circumstances. This tragic story about racism and hypocrisy within the Queensland police force proves that justice is still very hard to come by in this day and age. “The Tall Man” was preceded by a short documentary called “WoodCarver,” about John Williams, a Totem Carver who was murdered by a Seattle Police officer in the middle of a public street. Bear Witness, the filmmaker, made the short as a comment about the casual brutality of it all and how life went on without anyone saying or doing much of anything about such a horrendous incident. Bear Witness is also a co-founder of A Tribe Called Red.

“Saving Grace”

“Saving Grace,” by the late Merata Mita, tells the story of Maori men in New Zealand; husbands, fathers and brothers who have battled violence in their lives. The story spans the different nations of the Maori men who learn to look within themselves and their culture to battle their inner demons and free themselves of the violence that has plagued their lives. This is a truly beautiful film with stunning scenery and powerful stories that I believe anyone who has anger issues should see. Mita truly created a beautiful work of art.

“Every Emotion Costs”

A feature-length film about two sisters returning to the Rez after the death of their mentally unstable mother. They are reunited with their younger sister, supportive Auntie, violent father, old friends, love interests, and community at large. Their homecoming makes the girls confront their tumultuous shared path and the things they have done to hurt each other as they sought to escape the shadow of an abusive household. The film offered an at times wrenching glimpse into the fallout caused by unstable families, and the tragic choices many have to make in order to carry on with their lives, at the expense of their families and community.

The 12th annual ImagineNative came to an end with the closing awards ceremony. The host for the second year in a row was the flamboyant Billy Merasty, who proved that you can be a star and still be down to earth. The awards show brought the who’s who of the aboriginal arts scene, including Tantoo Cardinal and Alanis Obomsawin, just to name a few. Seeing the performances this past week, I can assure you that the already excellent ImagineNative is only going to get better!

Irkar Beljaars can be heard on Native Solidarity News every Tuesday starting at 6pm on 90.3fm or @www.ckut.ca

Mohawk_Voice (Twitter)

 

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