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Natives cope with HIV

by Chantal Tranchemontagne

Kecia Larkin's shaven head, plain black T-shirt, khaki pants and confident speaking style mirrored her peaceful acceptance of her HIV-positive status.

On October 7, she opened the seventh season of the Concordia University Community Lecture Series on HIV/AIDS. Leslie Roberts, of CFCF 12, and Gazette columnist Josey Vogels introduced Larkin's lecture, titled "Country Living with HIV: Interventions in Non-Urban Native Communities."

Because of poverty and social problems, aboriginal people are over-represented among the HIV/AIDS population. According to Health Canada, in 1997-98, First Nations people represented 10 per cent of HIV/AIDS cases in Canada, up from 1.5 per cent 10 years before. Canada has about 800,000 aboriginal people, 2.6 per cent of the total population, and about 55 per cent of them live in rural communities.

Larkin was diagnosed with HIV a decade ago after working in Vancouver's sex trade. Her experience with HIV has been "an opportunity to grow mentally, physically, spiritually and emotionally," she said. "It's taken me 10 years to accept my life with HIV. To expect people to accept that overnight is to expect a lot."

In 1990, she began touring Canada and the U.S., talking about HIV and AIDS. She also became a front-line worker, but gave it up in July after burning out "like all AIDS activists do." A member of both the Kwa'kwa'wakw and Peigan tribes, she now lives in Alberta Beach, Alberta, where she is a co-ordinator for several aboriginal conferences to take place this winter.

With tears in her eyes, Larkin expressed the sense of peace that has come to her since her diagnosis. "I've been blessed with many gifts -- an audience, a family, a beautiful daughter, a willingness to try a little more, achieve a little more," she said.

Copyright 1999 Concordia's Thursday Report.