Misidentification/Prostitution Adds To AIDS Problems!
“You can’t say a Navajo is the same as a Lakota”, Manuelito added. “Federal officials often see Native people as one race and that is not fair.” Above all, that is not accurate because of language, cultural, religious, historical, geographic and demographic differences between tribes.
Former Surgeon General, David Satcher maintains there are many facts working against us as health professionals, in the fight against AIDS. “There are more uninsured people now and states are cutting back on Medicaid, so there is less treatment.
Larry Kairaiuak, a Yup’ik Indian who works with the Oakland -based NNAAPC maintains the number of AIDS cases is undercounted because of racial misidentification.
According Kairaiuak, throughout the southwest areas of the United States many Native Americans have last names like Garcia or Gonzales. Health officials assume they are Latino or Hispanic. There are also interracial marriages where fair-skinned Natives who look like Anglos may be mistakenly Id’d as Caucasians or tribes with members who are very dark-skinned or are Native American/African American who are counted as African-American.
Congressman Jack Jackson, Jr., a Navajo, feels the number of racially misidentified cases may be far higher than anyone knows. “Undercounting cases is a serious problem because they don’t reflect an adequate picture and many people don’t trust the Indian Health Service for confidentiality reasons so they are going off the reservation to be tested.”
Manuelito said the outbreak on the Navajo reservation is a double-edged sword. “Without it the tribe wouldn’t have reached out to the Center For Disease Control and Prevention. Now they are setting the tone for other tribes. We hope this is a lesson learned.
“The CDC report documenting transmission on the Navajo Reservation has jolted the tribe info creating new education programs but Congressman Jackson worries that there is not enough being done to promote the programs.
“I fear the time bomb will go off and it will be devastating to the Indian community.”
The AIDS risk for Native Americans has been underestimated because of lack of educational programs, testing, poor reporting, racial misidentification and both homosexual and heterosexual prostitution.
Why would a Navajo man who had been a male prostitute for 20 some years who had heard about AIDS believe “This is not going to happen to me!”
He became a heavy drinker as a teenager, fell into prostitution and ended up in motel rooms with different men changing partners every other week. Then, met a man from another tribe. The two men were committed to one another and stopped drinking. But it was too late, both men were diagnosed as HIV positive in 1998 and went on standard drug therapy. The Navajo is doing well. “People who see me on the street are surprised to see that I’m still alive. They are surprised to see me sober.”
His partner is not doing well. He developed nerve problems in his hands. Eventually had had to quit work and is fighting for disability.
Both men fight depression. The Navajo agrees there is a lot of disease in the Gallup area. “There are gay men who deny it.” These guys say to me, ’Not me, I’m not going to get it’. I tell them ‘I’ve changed. I changed my life around. I pass out condoms I give them the phone number to Navajo AIDS Network.”
This story has been edited from an article by Judy Nichols a senior enterprise reporter at The Arizona Republic.
The blurring of gender in Native American cultures makes it difficult for AIDS workers to promote a program urging safe sex. Part Three of this series will feature an article entitled “Native Cross-Dressers – Transgenders - Foil AIDS Information”.
Bobbie Hart O’Neill