‘Culture’ as HIV Prevention: Indigenous Youth Speak Up!




Wilson, Ciann
Oliver, Vanessa
Flicker, Sarah
Prentice, Tracey
Jackson, Randy
Larkin, June
Restoule, Jean-Paul
Mitchell, Claudia

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Gateways: International International Journal of Community Research and Engagement


One rainy spring evening, our research team was preparing for a community report-back session on the Taking Action community-based participatory action research project in Kahnawà:ke, a Mohawk reserve located near Montreal. We presented our major research findings by showcasing several of the arts-based products (e.g. murals, paintings, hip hop songs and videos) produced by youth participants during the project, linking structural inequity to HIV vulnerability (Flicker 2012; Flicker et al. 2014a, b). The event culminated in a conversation with the audience on the issues raised in the project. During the discussion, one man asked: ‘Why are Aboriginal youth into hip hop, wearing baggy clothes and acting Black?’ Many of the youth present were frustrated by the question. They tried to explain that Indigenous cultures are not static; rather they are fluid and change over time. They felt that expression through hip hop and ‘new’ forms of art were mediums as powerful as drumming circles or pow-wows for conveying their health promotion messages to their peers. One of the adults in the room chimed in, stating, ‘Ya, I do photography. That is not often seen as a traditional Aboriginal art form, but what does it mean to be “authentically” Aboriginal?’ Not completely sure if he was satisfied with the answers he had received, the man sat back in his seat mulling over the responses. The discussions in this community exemplify the challenges between representations of Indigenous identity and traditional and contemporary Indigenous cultures. They highlight the ways in which Indigenous identity is often thought to be synonymous with ‘static’, ‘primitive’ and ‘unchanging’ traditions that are often juxtaposed with ‘contemporary’ practices (King 2011). This vignette also demonstrates how Indigenous identity expression has taken on political, historical, racial and nationalist signification and remains a site of much tension, both within and outside Indigenous communities in Canada. In this article, we explore (a) the ways Indigenous youth involved in an HIV intervention take up and reclaim their cultures as a project of defining self, and (b) the way Indigenous culture can be used as a tool for resistance, HIV prevention, and health promotion more generally. Here, we draw on Simpson’s (2011) definition of culture as a series of interrelated processes (e.g. activities, ceremonies) that engage our full beings and require our full presence (mental, physical, spiritual, etc.) in order to survive, live full lives and grow.




Wilson, C., Oliver, V., Flicker, S., Native Youth Sexual Health Network, Prentice, T., Jackson, R., … Mitchell, C. (2016). “Culture” as HIV prevention: Indigenous youth Speak Up!, Gateways: International Journal of Community Research and Engagement, 9(1), 74–88. doi: 10.5130/ijcre.v9i1.4802