Winnipegger part of Indigenous HIV research project

A two-spirited Métis man from Winnipeg, Albert McLeod, a knowledge keeper and co-director of the Two-Spirited People of Manitoba, is joining five other researchers to create an Indigenous-led HIV research centre at the University of Saskatchewan. DANTON UNGER / Winnipeg Sun/Postmedia Network

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In the 1980’s, Albert McLeod, a two-spirited Métis man from Winnipeg, said he watched his friends die of HIV. Nearly 40 years later, a disproportionate number of Indigenous people are still dying of the disease.

McLeod calls it a failure of the health system, and he’s doing something about it.

McLeod is among six Indigenous researchers who will lead the creation of a new research centre at the University of Saskatchewan (USask) to study, prevent and improve care for HIV in First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities.

The centre is receiving a federal grant of $2.84 million over five years from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

HIV and AIDs are soaring among Canada’s Indigenous communities due to a lack of access and stigma of the disease, McLeod said. According to USask, Saskatchewan and Manitoba have the highest amount of HIV cases in the country, with 2,091 cases reported between 1985 and 2016. Almost 80% of the cases are among Indigenous people, according to USask.

“Canada is a first-world country. There is no reason why people should be experiencing poor health – it is a failure of the health system,” said McLeod. “But, we are survivors, and one of the ways we survive is by our culture.”

McLeod is now a knowledge keeper and co-director of the Two-Spirited People of Manitoba and holds an honorary doctorate of laws from the University of Winnipeg for his advocacy of two-spirit and LGBTQ+ rights. Since the 1980’s, he has been working as a medical professional and consultant in the study of the disease.

While the sexually transmitted disease is not deadly if treated early on, McLeod said not enough people are getting tested due to a lack of awareness. McLeod said by the time they do get tested, it’s usually too late.

“This centre is really a green light to validate Indigenous research, methodologies, and philosophies.” said McLeod. “It’s really saying let’s build on what Indigenous people know.”

Dr. Alexandra King, USask Cameco Chair in Indigenous Health, leads research to address HIV among First Nations, Inuit and Métis in Saskatchewan and Manitoba. David Stobbe/StobbePhoto.ca David Stobbe / StobbePhoto.ca

The centre’s lead investigator, Dr. Alexandra King (MD) of the USask College of Medicine, said the research team will use a method called Two-eyed Seeing. This combines the practices and knowledge of the Western and Indigenous People to study HIV.

“This centre will employ the best of Indigenous and Western capabilities. It will build approaches grounded in Indigenous philosophies and methodologies,” King said in a news release. “For Indigenous people, place, history and social contexts matter and are integral to developing interventions that work.”

King said the centre will address awareness and inequalities in access to screening, treatment, care, and social support. She said the centre will conduct “innovative land-and-culture based research” as well as address the spiritual side of treatment.

The centre will have hubs in each province, and the administrative core will be at USask. King said the location of the centre will be determined by researchers and members of Indigenous communities.

dunger@postmedia.com

Twitter: @dantonunger

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