Organizers couldn’t be more pleased as more than 200 people attended “Walk My Red Road,” a three-day conference on HIV and AIDS held last week at the Red Dog Inn here.
“I think it went very well,” said Nicola Novak, an RN who runs the HIV and AIDS program at the Fort Frances Tribal Area Health Authority, which co-sponsored the conference with Rainy River First Nations, United Native Friendship Centre, Ansishinabeg Counselling, Riverside Health Care Facilities, and Weechi-it-te-win Family Services.
“People were expecting something dry and boring but people really enjoyed themselves,” she added.
“People went away saying all kinds of good things,” added Al Hunter, a community worker at Rainy River First Nations. “It was informal and open, the way it was organized.
“That really helped.”
The conference attracted both native and non-native people, something which Peggy Loyie, the aboriginal healing and wellness co-ordinator with the UNFC here, was hoping for.
“This isn’t about ethics or territory, this is something that concerns everybody,” she stressed. “Given where we live, we think by our own geographic location, we are given a safety net, and we are not.
“There are people affected and people infected [in the north],” she said.
One of the more notable speakers at the conference was Dr. Sue Johansen of the “Sex with Dr. Sue Johansen” radio and TV call-in show.
Hunter said Dr. Johansen represented one side of the sex and sexuality issue while the aboriginal guest speakers represented the more traditional side.
“It gave it a more holistic view,” Loyie noted, saying the traditional native views add a spiritual element which the modern-day view leaves out.
“I thought it was a great combination,” she added. “To me, it made sense.”
Another high point of the conference was the number of parents, and even grandparents, who attended with their children.
“It was really good to see parents who brought their youth and children,” Hunter said.
“We were geared more towards the youth but I think it was a good educational session for the adults as well as the kids,” echoed Novak.
Hunter said there already is some talk about making the conference an annual event. But for now, organizers hope those who attended the conference remember what they learned.
“We hope people took something home that will make them think as they go through this life,” Loyie said.
“We had a session Saturday afternoon and there were people there who stated they came to the group with preconceived notions and left with their minds changed,” Hunter said.
“They spoke how it helped them expand their own values of acceptance,” he added.