A First Nations support group in Regina hopes to expand on a recent nine-week intervention program for HIV positive women.
From May 10 to July 5, a dozen women who live with HIV participated in a retreat organized by All Nations Hope, aimed at teaching them traditional Indigenous medicines so they can use them in their day-to-day life and build self-esteem.
"Journeying with HIV is not a death sentence. It does not have to be a death sentence in Canada today," said organizer Krista Shore, who herself is HIV-positive.
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Shore has been living with the virus for the past decade and said the introduction of traditional Indigenous knowledge and medicine has taught her about self-care.
"I've really had my dreams come through, even though you think there's no life after HIV, but I know there's life after HIV."
She said that western medicine has provided antiretroviral drugs to slow down the spread of the virus but for Indigenous people, there are cultural ways that people can also start to heal themselves, both emotionally and physically.
Over the nine weeks of the program, the women learned about the four sacred medicines — tobacco, sweetgrass, sage and cedar — as well as how to use them. They participated in a number of ceremonies, smudged and made rattles.
"We realize some of our people are still involved in a lifestyle of substance use, so we really wanted to encourage and give them an experience to be able to reflect on the ways our own people used to care for themselves," explained Shore.
For some of the women, it was the first time participating in their cultural ceremonies, such as going to a sweat lodge.
On the final day of the retreat, participants were gifted with a smudging shell, the four sacred medicines, earrings and gift cards.
Shore said All Nations Hope would like to be able to offer another nine-week program soon, but currently lacks the funds.
Three research assistants also took part in the retreat. Shore said the hope is that the information and experiences gathered during the retreat will help create a culturally centred, gender-specific program model that will become a staple in Regina, as well as other communities, for years to come.
In the meantime, Shore is trying to organize a medicine walk for the 12 participants in order to continue offering support and encouragement to the women.
"Their whole life and their walk is a work in progress."