Aging with Wisdom

Indigenous Women Aging Well with HIV/AIDS

This project sought to answer two main research questions:

  • How do Indigenous women aging with HIV experience wellness?
  • What do Indigenous women aging with HIV want and need for wellness (interventions/service provision/programs/healthcare)?

The purpose of our research was to better understand the experiences of Indigenous women aging with HIV/AIDS. The specific objectives of this study were to:

  1. Guide culturally appropriate and land-based wellness activities
  2. Facilitate Elder-led sequential sharing circles on aging with wisdom
  3. Compile, analyze, and synthesize findings into oral and written reports which will be shared with various Indigenous peoples and organizations, health advocates, and researchers in order to better inform and refine future health and wellness practices for aging Indigenous women living with HIV.

The project, using sequential sharing circles with the same participants, was implemented as a four-day event held over the course of two weeks. This process was shown to enhance trust in each other and the research process, build rapport between researchers and participants, nurture a sense of communal connection among the women, as well as facilitate a sense of empowerment through group discussions. We realized that the intrinsic nature of sequential sharing circles as both a trauma and gender- informed method of data collection created a safe and supportive environment for Indigenous women living and aging with HIV. A trauma-informed practice provides choice, collaboration and connection (BCCEWH, 2013; Poole & Greaves, 2007). Trauma-informed means practices that promote cultural, emotional and physical safety, self-determination, autonomy, social inclusion and participation, resulting in women being treated with dignity and respect, where they can determine their level of involvement at any time (BCCEWH, 2013; Poole & Greaves, 2007).

HIV supports and health structures must acknowledge the truths about the intergenerational impacts of colonization and how it perpetuates stigma, discrimination, inequity and on-going abuse and gendered violence to be truly trauma informed (CAAN, 2009; Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, 2016), according to the study. It must also be recognized that — through patriarchy, residential schools, the Sixties Scoop and the many traumas associated with the child apprehension system — trauma is entrenched and remains a reality for all Indigenous women through both their lived experiences and intergenerational impacts (Sasakamoose et al., 2017).

Trauma and gender-informed and culturally-safe HIV services must promote self-determination and autonomy. Purposeful actions taken to decolonize healthcare, services, supports and interventions will be foundational to the approach. This results in the need for the voices of Indigenous women living with HIV to drive and lead in the creation, implementation and evaluation of research and these services.

This project was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) under the Catalyst Grant: HIV/AIDS Community Based Research Program – Aboriginal Stream.