This article explores the ways in which (a) Indigenous youth involved in an HIV intervention took up and reclaimed their cultures as a project of defining ‘self’, and (b) how Indigenous ‘culture’ can be used as a tool for resistance, HIV prevention and health promotion. Data were drawn from the Taking Action Project: Using arts-based approaches to develop Aboriginal youth leadership in HIV prevention. ‘By youth, for youth’ HIV education and awareness workshops were facilitated in six Indigenous communities across Canada, incorporating traditional and contemporary art forms to explore how youth perceived the links between structural inequality and HIV vulnerability. Over 100 youth participated, with 70 partaking in individual interviews to reflect on their experiences at the workshops. Interviews were audio-recorded, transcribed verbatim and analysed using NVivo software. Indigenous youth understood culture as a complex construct that included reconnecting to land, body, history, community and ceremony. For many youth, being Aboriginal and participating in cultural activities was seen as important for intergenerational healing, empowerment, health and combatting HIV. Youth spoke excitedly of their attempts to reclaim their languages and cultures despite barriers. They also understood art as a medium for self-expression and as an important site of cultural evolution.
Our project demonstrates that the incorporation of culture within health strategies is important for effective HIV prevention amongst Indigenous youth. Reclaiming Indigenous cultures, languages and ceremonies may help to nurture future generations, diminish cycles of victimisation and combat hopelessness by reconnecting youth to stories of resistance and survival.
Keywords: Indigenous youth, culture, HIV prevention, arts-based research
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