“Stay Strong, Stay Sexy, Stay Native”: Storying Indigenous youth HIV prevention activism

Taking Action II is about building Indigenous youth leadership in the HIV/AIDS movement.

What is different about our approach, than say… a doctor or teacher telling us stuff?

Lots of public health folks think HIV prevention is about loading people up with information and supplies (e.g., condoms or clean needles). But we noticed that this approach wasn’t really working for Indigenous youth and their communities.

So we decided to try something different.  We wanted to focus on what Indigenous youth were doing right and support their many strengths — ambition, enthusiasm, imagination, open-mindedness, vibrancy, and, above all, creativity!

So we brought 18 Indigenous youth leaders together from across Canada who had something to say about HIV prevention to create digital stories.  We then shared them in/with community at over 2 dozen screenings across the country. One year later, we brought the youth leaders together again to help us think about what the stories all mean. Our youth leaders decided to thematically organize their films for other audiences.

That’s what’s different about Taking Action II compared to the standard sexual health approach: the messages, the stories and the approach all came from youth. In Taking Action II youth are the teachers, the educators, and the message!

This paper shares the key themes that the youth saw across their stories, along with some ideas about how their stories can be used by you and the youth you work with to think about these issues a little bit differently. In contrast to conventional public health messaging, youth produced stories rarely focused on individual harm reduction strategies. Instead, ideas of Indigeneity and decolonization were foregrounded as key strategies for health promotion.  The various topics featured in the digital stories can be used to spark dialogue in many different group settings focusing on HIV prevention, health, and youth leadership. We hope these stories can continue to spark further conversation about what HIV prevention might mean for you and your community.

To learn more about our project: http://www.takingaction4youth.org/

To see the amazing stories yourself: http://www.takingaction4youth.org/digital-stories/

For a copy of our community friendly report and movie night curriculum guide: http://www.takingaction4youth.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/11/1455_TakingAction2_Booklet_LowRes.pdf