After 19 years, the annual HIV-AIDS walk at Canim Lake is still strong and dear to the hearts of band members.
On Sept. 28 the annual walk, open to everyone, was held setting off from the Eliza Archie School.
The Tsqlexs re wumec, or “Circle of Life” HIV-AIDS group was started in Canim Lake thanks to a band member, Alex Archie, who faced the disease with a goal of helping others understand.
“He saw too many, so many people not being wanted in their own communities,” says Alex’s mother, Elder Antoinette Archie.
“He didn’t want that for our community. He wanted people to learn about it and know about it so you are not afraid of AIDS. Some people, when their families were infected with AIDS, they wouldn’t even go near them.”
Gail Orr, the community health nurse at the time, spearheaded the group in the community.
In the almost 20 years since the walk’s debut, Antoinette says she’s seen attitudes change.
“We have people who have AIDS and lived on the reserve and weren’t shushed away and their families were able to go there and visit and their families were able to help them out,” she says.
“Our community has learned about it, you don’t have to be afraid of it.”
Alex’s “other mother,” Elder Elsie Archie, is also proud of the Canim Lake community.
“There were people in other reserves that won’t accept their own family, but we treasured him and were there for him and he taught us there is nothing wrong with having AIDS and we should treat it like any other illness and that we could touch him and kiss him and give him a hug,” she says.
“At first there weren’t so many people, it was mostly our committees and now the whole band comes.”
While Alex Archie passed away in 2003, the band still carries on with the Circle of Life group and other HIV-AIDS awareness activities.
Over the course of the AIDS walk day, students at the Eliza Archie Elementary School took part in the walk, and learned about HIV-AIDS as well as made craft frames to honour their loved ones.
Donna Archie, who organized the walk, says that during the event they had a prayer and a moment of silence for a recent community member who had passed away.
T-shirts, with the name of the group on them were also given away by donation. Following the walk, students and guests watched a documentary on the support group and then had a community lunch and craft session.
“I was surprised at the turnout. It was bigger than I had anticipated. I am pretty proud,” she says.
The importance of the group is evident, she says.
“Once a member is affected it affects our whole community because we are all so close, we are all related, it is a tight fit. We all know each other.”
A better understanding of the disease helps lift the stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS and helps with prevention, she says.
“It’s good to know, to get a better understanding of it so there is not that judgement or stigma towards it once a loved one comes home and announces they are affected with it.
“It is not curable yet but one day we hope there will be a cure.”