Layering trauma on top of trauma.
That’s what it’s like for Canada’s aboriginal people who are already “traumatized” by a history of discrimination and then are diagnosed with HIV, says a Métis man living with HIV.
Duane Morrisseau-Beck, keynote speaker at the Central Alberta Aboriginal HIV/AIDS conference on Friday, said he was lucky to find a doctor in Winnipeg who recognized that his despair and anger went beyond the medical problems associated with HIV.
“He got it. What I think he saw was a history of trauma, not just for Métis people, but Inuit people and First Nation people,” said Morrisseau-Beck, of Ottawa.
Morrisseau-Beck, who grew up with his adopted family in Manitoba, said his doctor realized he needed to deal with his emotions to release his compounded pain.
Morrisseau-Beck challenged aboriginal organizations working with people with HIV/AIDS to develop emotional behaviour programs to help people to go beyond talking about their emotions and to start to process their feelings.
He said providing the right programming can take people from “being a victim to being victorious.”
“Emotional wellness programs allow people that are HIV positive to get past their diagnosis. With medications and emotional support programs, it opened up a door for me, such as getting education opportunities and starting to plan a path for my life.”
In addition to being an activist for aboriginal people with HIV, Morrisseau-Beck now works as an aboriginal labour market advisor in the Aboriginal Program Operations department of Human Resources and Skills Development Canada.
He said the first person he told he had HIV in 1989 was his adopted mother, who immediately rejected him, so he also knows how important it is to be accepted by family and community.
“If a person with HIV doesn’t have that validation, they’re going to keep (their positive status) to themselves and that harms them even more.”
The conference, held at Red Deer College, was hosted by Shining Mountains Living Community Services and the college.