On Friday, October 22nd The AIDS Network held its second in our series of virtual workshops. This month, our focus was on Indigenous Health & Wellbeing, and our incredible panel discussed challenges and barriers to Indigenous health and wellness including access to care, representation in healthcare, mental health, harm reduction, and awareness about HIV/AIDS.
If you missed the workshop but want to know more, don’t worry! You can watch the recorded workshop below, via our YouTube Channel
Workshop facilitated by Laura Williams (Six Nations Health Services) and features:
Rene Boucher – Ontario First Nations HIV/AIDS Education Circle
Richard Gibson – Secretary, The AIDS Network’s Board of Directors
Deborah Hill – Brantford/Brant Drug Strategy
Gail Whitlow – Ancestral Voices Healing Centre
Rene Boucher is an Indigenous man Living with HIV/AIDS (IPHA) for over 28 years and has been a strong advocate for other IPHAs just as long. He believes that in order to see change happen in the disproportionately high rates among Indigenous peoples, we need to address the HIV stigma that continues to create barriers to treatment, testing, as well as misinformation about HIV. He looks forward to continuing to create solutions from a GIPA (Greater Involvement of People Living with HIV/AIDS) perspective and support our Indigenous communities with more awareness from an indigenous perspective.
Richard Gibson (Sahdahonyeh – he treats everyone equal)
Richard is Cayuga Nation turtle clan from Six Nations of the Grand River Territory and identifies as a two-spirited person. Richard comes from a traditional background of Haudenosaunee values and beliefs with interest in social justice and human rights issues. His past employment and volunteer experiences include working with homeless and at-risk youth, adults with addictions and persons with disabilities. He currently sits as a Board Member with the AIDS Network and volunteers with Canadian Historical Pride Society as a researcher. Richard recently graduated with an Honours B.A in Human Rights and Human Diversity specializing in international development from Wilfrid Laurier University, in addition to his Social Service Worker Diploma from Fanshawe College. He currently resides in Simcoe, Ontario with his partner and daughter.
They say, It takes a community to raise a child; I was fortunate to be in between two reserves, mom was from Credit of the Mississauga’s and dad was a Tuscarora from the Six Nations of the Grand River Territory. With that said, I am registered as a Mohawk. Confusion was embedded into my journey here. I am the youngest in a blended family, resilience began early.
I was the only sibling that waited a very long time to start my family. By that time came around, my mother had began to get ill and faded away a year after I had my first of four children. My mother was the glue for our family bonding. I didn’t have the continued support as my siblings in raising my children. In addition, I had taken custody of my great nephew when his mom passed away from an overdose.
I worked as a Secretary to the Manager for 12 years. In trying to further my education and raise the children I developed a habit of snorting cocaine to be able to handle all the tasks. I began to lose control, lost my house, lost my license, lost my kids, my job, my life.
I drowned myself in alcohol, drugs, or sex. I did not want to be me anymore because I was disgusting, shameful and guilty. Every night, my thoughts would go to my children, I would cry, why didn’t I do something to see them. Each night was a guilt trip and a shaming to myself for my actions of the day.
It took over 7 years to see that things needed to change in order to see my kids. I went to Addictions Services Initiative at the Ontario Works office. This put me in programs, recreation activities, YMCA membership, new shoes, bus passes and the list could possibly blow you away. The trick was; to make sure that the money was spent on what it was intended for. My mind and body could feel the changes happening, I was beginning to look at me and what the possibilities were.
I finally had a handle on the drinking and would seek out who needed volunteers cause I was ambitious to start to give back. I attended the Brantford – Brant Drug Strategy meetings. I gave out food and coffee at the refreshment booth at the Community health centre. I attended anything that was available for free. My brain was not mush anymore. So I applied to college and was accepted, now complete, Indigenous Wellness and Addiction Prevention. I learned a lot of who I am, what I know, where we should be going and why we are here. I am here to share peace. I am caring and compassionate, I will sprinkle the pixie dust (kidding).
I share what I learn because it makes sense. It is simple. It is who I am. I am a momma, sista, auntie, cuz, friend, neighbour, and survivor. My past does not denote me. My past prepared me.
I am currently working the Van part time. I am the peer support navigator, providing people with supplies they need. Syringes, pipes, bowls, condoms, and whatever else they require at the time of calling. No judgment. No questions. Just support. I really like I interacting with the community members, meeting some of their needs.
I have been a member on the Brantford Community Advisory Board for homelessness. I have taken baby steps many years to change my self. I have been sharing the thanksgiving address at these meetings to bring our minds together as one. It is hope, that even just one word would be remembered into our minds. Gratitude. Give thanks. Nya:weh. Miigwetch
Laura Williams is a Seneca Nation member, bear clan of the Haudenosaunee. A Sister, Mom, Grandma to 10 beautiful human beings and Auntie to many nieces and nephews. She has thirty plus years of experience working with the Indigenous and Mainstream communities of Hamilton, Brantford and her own home community. She’s an honours graduate from the St. Lawrence College Social Service Program.
Laura has many years experience advocating on behalf of Indigenous people past co-chair of Stolen Sisters/Sisters in Spirit committee; past member of the Aboriginal Education Councils of Mohawk, Brock University, Laurier University; strategic member of roundtable groups including Poverty, Homelessness, Suicide Prevention.
Laura has been employed in different helping professions that include youth, elders and those who use substances and its impacts. Currently, employed with Six Nations Health Services as Gedeo Clinician with the Mobile Crisis Rapid Response Team. Gedeo means Compassion in the Cayuga Language. And pronounce GenDow.
Her approachable and outgoing personality help clients become comfortable and trusting with her in order for Laura to help eliminate barriers and assist them to work through the services agencies and systems.