The locally filmed documentary highlights the Indigenous practices used in the treatment and management of HIV/AIDS Merv Thomas /Canadian Aboriginal Aids Network
A locally-shot documentary that highlights the use of Indigenous practices alongside western medicine in the treatment and management of HIV/AIDS has been nominated for an award.
The film has been nominated for Best Short Documentary and will be shown as part of this weekend's LA Skins Film Fest in Los Angeles. The festival highlights Native North American moviemaking talent.
Merv Thomas directed the 21-minute film Promising Practices in Indigenous Communities in Saskatchewan. It was commissioned by the Canadian Aboriginal Aids Network (CAAN), and he's proud of his involvement.
“I’m really honoured to have worked with all the communities that are in the documentary, especially those living with HIV and who were prepared to share their stories,” Thomas said.
Thomas is now based in the Musqueam reserve in Vancouver but is originally from Pelican Lake First Nation.
“I really have a vested interest in ensuring positive stories are shared and this film does that I think,” Thomas told paNOW.
The film uses powerful interviews with community leaders, First Nations AIDS service organizations and HIV positive activists and family members for a human perspective on the HIV/AIDS crisis. Rates of infection in Saskatchewan's Indigenous communities are around 11 times the national average and among the highest in the world.
“The film itself highlights promising practices," Thomas said. “It’s a story of hope and a story of addressing stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV.”
Moving beyond doctors, nurses and needles The film explores how many communities are taking ownership of their health using promising innovative methods and culturally appropriate practices, addressing the epidemic.
One of the people interviewed describes how she has allowed her HIV positive status to be a great learning experience in her life and uses that to share her story through presentations with schools students. Another highlights how the way to address HIV is not only through doctors, nurses and needles.
Among those who share their thoughts and experiences are staff and support workers at the successful Cree Nations Treatment Haven which is situated on Sandy Lake West of Prince Albert.
The centre opened in 1986 and was the result of the efforts of workers with the National Native Alcohol and Drug Abuse Program and the four Chiefs of the Ahtahkakoop, Big River, Pelican Lake and Witchekan Lake First Nations.
The film is presented as an educational tool and it is hoped it will impress other First Nations communities to address HIV/AIDS and encourage testing, treatment and prevention.
Speaking to the recognition the film will receive thanks to its appearance at this weekend’s LA film festival Thomas said that should go a long way to getting their message out.
“I think it’s going to reach a large audience now that it’s been nominated and that will do wonders in terms of increasing our reach,” he said. Freda Ahenakew, the director of the Cree Nations Treatment Haven will join Thomas and producer Jason Lawrence at the festival. She stressed one of the most important elements of their practice.
“People need to be aware that they’re accepted and that’s what we do here …we build them up when they come in to us," Ahenakew said. The centre can accommodate around 22 patients at a time but Ahenakew said they’re looking at expansion and the sort of exposure the film will get in Los Angeles may be a driving force for that.
“I know that people are really checking out our website," she said. "We want to have a detox unit here as well because we do a lot of travelling to Meadow Lake, Prince Albert and Saskatoon detox and that takes a lot of staff time."