By Jessica Danforth, National Youth and Leadership Coordinator

The Youth Leadership Project and National Aboriginal Youth Council on HIV/AIDS (NAYCHA) had an amazing experience while community organizing and putting global Indigenous youth leadership in action at the International Indigenous Pre-Conference and AIDS 2014 conference held in Australia this past July. Here are some highlights from our journey this year:

1. Formation of Youth Planning committee for the International Indigenous pre-conference

During the initial phases this committee was extremely important to ensure Indigenous youth participation was not tokenized and specific spaces were set up during the pre-conference. We also wanted to ensure Indigenous youth had opportunities to meet, discuss and support each other while also engaging in intergenerational mentorship and support with positive people, Elders and Aunties and Uncles.

The success of this committee was due to a balance of strong leaders and doers with experience at previous conferences, as well as adult allies who implemented and set aside space for specific activities to happen. With separate conference calls and meetings, this ensured enough time was devoted to clear communication, development of ideas and decision making.

2. Indigenous Youth Meet up on Arts and Activism

This event was a huge success! We have found that similarly to having Indigenous pre-conferences, it is also helpful for Indigenous youth to have specific space to meet each other, gather and form relationships that sustain throughout the conference. It was also important to engage the local community in Redfern about what was happening and ask for their input.

The theme of ‘Arts and Activism’ was a way to respond to the stigma associated with HIV and encourage people to think outside the health box of what HIV prevention, care, treatment, education and support can look like. We had great success engaging Indigenous youth in this way as people feel like they have something to contribute even if they don’t know a lot about HIV specifically. It means participants can learn and share together in a space that is fun and interactive.

The success was largely due to local organizing efforts ensuring that the broadened political climate and history was understood as Indigenous youth take up the work of our ancestors in continuing to struggle, resist and rebuild our communities. A visit to the local Tent Embassy was a powerful reminder of the intersectionality of issues around housing, HIV, bodily sovereignty, and Indigenous land rights.

3. Indigenous youth sessions during the pre-conference

We were very grateful and appreciative that many of our sessions were accepted into the pre-conference program. We felt the content and information we were presenting was unique and widely appreciated by participants. This was also a learning opportunity to share other areas of our work with Indigenous youth, and adult allies, present.

4. Launch of ANTHYM and Indigenous Youth leadership plenary

This was definitely a highlight of the Indigenous pre-conference for us! After many months of organizing, lots of local outreach, the Aboriginal Nations and Torres Strait Island HIV Youth Mob (ANTHYM) came together proudly and strongly for the first time. We had organized it so that Indigenous youth plenary also broadcast to the mainstream Youth Pre-conference in Melbourne as well.

Thank you to Tania Monsall from INA in New Zealand for sharing her story as a positive mother, and her son Michael for being a part of this launch and panel!

5. Our continued partnership with ANTHYM and mentorship during main conference and intergenerational sharing spaces

The importance of Indigenous youth leadership in partnership with other youth AND our extended families and mentors in this movement cannot be stressed enough. Intergenerational spaces are key in ensuring that we know our history, can challenge the present and take on the future. While Indigenous youth are indeed future leaders, we are also currently leading the way.

This has become a pattern at International AIDS conferences, to centre Indigenous youth participation and leadership culminating in launching a council (or Mob in this case!) of local young people willing to work together in the legacy work of the conference and beyond.

We feel this is a strong model to move forward with that embodies what it truly means to take action on HIV and ensure our communities are supported to do so.

For frequent updates on all things youth-related, like our page on Facebook, CAAN National Aboriginal Youth Council on HIV/AIDS, or follow us on Twitter, @NAYCHA_CAAN.