Transcript: Amber O'Hara | Aug 04, 1994

(music plays)

The opening sequence begins.
Fast clips show the daybreak on a lake, birds flying in the sky, and a house covered with snow.

A song says TALK TO ME, SO I CAN HEAR
YOUR VOICE LIKE A LAKE
SO DEEP AND CLEAR
SOARING THROUGH THE
TOPS OF THE TREES,
DANCING BY MY WINDOW
LIKE A WIND BLOWING THROUGH
MY DOOR, DISTANT VOICES,
DISTANT VOICES
DISTANT VOICES
DISTANT VOICES

A caption appears on screen. It reads "Amber O’Hara. AIDS Activist." Amber has shoulder-length curly brown hair. She wears a floral red blouse.

Amber says THE BENEFITS I'VE
GOTTEN AS A RESULT OF
TESTING POSITIVE FAR
OUTNUMBER ANYTHING I'VE
EXPERIENCED IN MY LIFE.
THREE YEARS AGO I MAY HAVE
SAT IN THIS CABIN AND
LOOKED OUTSIDE AND SAID,
IS THAT EVER PRETTY?
TODAY I LOOK OUT HERE AND
I JUST SEE THE BEAUTY.
IT'S DIFFERENT.
WHEN I'M OUTSIDE AND
THE BIRDS ARE SINGING,
THE BIRDS ARE SINGING
MUSIC IN MY EARS.
I HEAR THE MUSIC OF THE
BIRD SONG NOW IN THE WIND,
WHEREAS I NEVER DID BEFORE.

(flute music plays)
The title of the show appears in yellow letters. It reads "Distant Voices, with Eva Solomon, CSJ."

Against the background of a lake, a slate reads "Amber O’Hara is a 41-year old grandmother living with AIDS. She was born in Ottawa to a Cherokee father and a French Canadian mother but her father died when she was nine. After a childhood marked by dislocation and upheaval, she herself became the mother of twins at the age of 16. They died in a car accident a year later and that event marked the beginning of a drug and alcohol nightmare in Amber’s life. She had finally found sobriety through the 12 Steps, but in the early 1990s tested positive for HIV. She now works educating the Native community about AIDS. Laurie MacLeod, also featured in this interview, has worked as the AIDS Co-ordinator for the Union of Ontario Indians. This federation deals with 42 First Nations across the province."

Amber says WHEN I WAS JUST
DIAGNOSED, I SAT ACROSS FROM
THIS DOCTOR WHO SAID YOUR
TESTS CAME BACK POSITIVE.
AND I SAID, WHAT
DOES THAT MEAN?
AND HE SAID IT
MEANS YOU HAVE HIV.
I'D HEARD ABOUT AIDS, BUT
I'D NEVER HEARD ABOUT HIV.
I DID, BUT I THOUGHT
IT WAS THE SAME.
SO I SAID, WHAT
DOES THAT MEAN?
HE SAID IT MEANS YOU'RE
GOING TO GET AIDS AND DIE.
SO GO HOME AND TAKE
CARE OF YOUR AFFAIRS.
AND TO BE HONEST WITH YOU,
AT FIRST I LAUGHED AND I
THOUGHT, 'AFFAIRS'?
WHAT DOES HE MEAN AFFAIRS?
WHO'S GOING TO
SLEEP WITH ME NOW?
THAT'S THE FIRST
THING I THOUGHT.
THEN I REALIZED WHAT HE WAS
SAYING, GO HOME AND START
PLANNING FOR YOUR FUNERAL.
AND I REMEMBER I WALKED
AND WALKED AND WALKED AND
WALKED THAT AFTERNOON.
AND I WENT OUT AND BOUGHT A
RED RIBBON AND I PINNED IT
ON MY COAT, OR MY SHIRT.
THEN I WENT HOME THAT NIGHT,
MY INITIAL REACTION WAS SHOCK.
I WENT HOME, I TOOK A BATH,
AND I HAD SOME STEEL WOOL.
AND I TOOK IT AND I
SCRUBBED MY BODY WITH IT.
I JUST SCRUBBED IT.
AND, SUBCONSCIOUSLY, WHAT
I WAS DOING WAS TRYING TO
WASH AWAY THIS
HIV INSIDE OF ME.
I WAS IN SHOCK, AND
I DIDN'T TELL A SOUL.
IT WAS HORRIBLE.
I FOUND MYSELF, IT WAS ABOUT
SIX WEEKS WHERE I HAD GONE,
I DIDN'T ANSWER MY PHONE,
I DIDN'T SEE MY FRIENDS,
I STOPPED GOING TO
12-STEP MEETINGS.
I JUST DIDN'T DO ANYTHING.
I WAS IN MY HOUSE.
I DON'T THINK I ATE.
I LOST A LOT OF WEIGHT.
AND OF COURSE I LOST WEIGHT
AND THEN I THOUGHT, OH, MY
GOD, I'VE GOT AIDS ALREADY,
I'M DYING 'COS I'M
GETTING SKINNY.
I FORGOT IF YOU DON'T EAT
YOU LOSE WEIGHT, RIGHT?
She laughs and continues BUT MY MIND, I WAS
LIKE IN A CLOUD.
I FELT LIKE MY
LIFE WAS OVER.
AND THEN I CAME TO THE
POINT, TO THE CONCLUSION I
WOULD BE BETTER OFF DEAD
AND DYING WITH AIDS.
SO I FOUND MYSELF IN
ROCHESTER, NEW YORK.
AND THERE'S A BRIDGE THERE
CALLED THE DRIVING PARK BRIDGE.
IT'S A SUICIDE BRIDGE.
AND I SAT ON THE BRIDGE
AND I WAS ABOUT TO JUMP.
I JUST THOUGHT I'D RATHER DIE
THAT WAY THAN DIE OF AIDS.
AND I WAS ABOUT TO JUMP WHEN
I REMEMBERED WORDS THAT MY
FATHER TOLD ME WHEN I
WAS VERY, VERY YOUNG.
THESE MEMORIES COME BACK
WHEN WE NEED THEM MOST,
I THINK, IT'S JUST A
MIRACLE OF LIFE, I THINK.
WHEN I WAS REALLY TINY, HE
SAT ME DOWN AND TOLD ME IF
EVER I DOUBTED THE LOVE OF
THE CREATOR, GO AND HUG A TREE.
JUST GO HUG A TREE.
SO HERE I AM SITTING ON THIS
BRIDGE, ABOUT TO SUICIDE.
AND THERE WAS THIS BIG OLD
TREE OVER ON THE RIVER BANK.
Smiling, she continues AND I THOUGHT, WELL, I'LL
HUG THE TREE, AND I CAN
ALSO KILL MYSELF
AFTER I HUG THE TREE.
AND I GOT OFF THE BRIDGE,
AND I WENT AND HUGGED THIS
TREE, AND I CRIED, AND
I CRIED, AND I CRIED.
AND IT WAS MY FIRST REAL
TEARS AFTER THE DIAGNOSES,
AND THIS WAS
SIX WEEKS LATER.
AND I FELT SO GOOD AFTER I
HUGGED THAT TREE, AND I HAD
THAT GOOD CRY, I NEVER
WENT BACK TO THE BRIDGE.

Eva says IN YOUR EXPERIENCE
OF HAVING AIDS AND THE
REACTIONS THAT PEOPLE HAVE,
DO YOU HAVE THE SAME KIND
OF EXPERIENCE IN TERMS OF A
LOT OF NON-NATIVE PEOPLE,
OR ARE THE NATIVE PEOPLE
ANY DIFFERENT IN THEIR
EXPERIENCE OR RESPONSE
TO YOU WITH AIDS?

Amber says IN SOME WAYS THEY ARE
DIFFERENT, I THINK BECAUSE
I EXPECT DIFFERENT REACTION
FROM NATIVE PEOPLE, THAN I
DO FROM NON-NATIVE PEOPLE.
IT'S INTERESTING.
FOR ONE THING, WHAT I'M FINDING
IS THAT MANY NATIVE PEOPLE,
MANY NATIVE COMMUNITIES
DON'T BELIEVE IT'S AFFECTED
US YET.
ESPECIALLY A LOT OF THE
ELDERS DON'T UNDERSTAND
THAT IT'S REALLY
AFFECTED OUR PEOPLE.
SO IT'S REALLY DIFFICULT TO
GET, TO MAKE IT CLEAR THAT
WE ARE INFECTED,
WE ARE AFFECTED.
AND IT'S DIFFICULT MAYBE
BECAUSE OF OUR HISTORY,
I DON'T KNOW.
IT'S REALLY DIFFICULT TO
HAVE PEOPLE REALIZE WE ARE
AT RISK, WE'RE ACTUALLY
HIGH RISK, AND TO MAINTAIN
SOME OF OUR TRADITIONS, AS
WELL, IN DOING THE WORK
THAT WE'RE DOING.
AND WHAT I TRY TO DO WHEN I
DO AIDS AWARENESS WORK IS
TRY AND DO SOME OF OUR
TRADITIONS INTO OUR
PRESENTATION SO THAT THEY
KNOW THAT THERE'S HEALING.
IT IS A DISEASE THAT
AFFECTS THE MIND, THE BODY,
AND THE SPIRIT.
AND IF WE DON'T HEAL ALL
THREE, WE'RE NOT GOING TO DO
WELL WITH HIV OR AIDS.

The slate changes to "212 First Nations people in Ontario had been diagnosed with AIDS in 1993. With 130 reserves in the province, that meant close to two people per reserve were infected."

Amber says IN MARCH I RECEIVED A
PHONE CALL FROM SHAWANAGA
FIRST NATION.
AND THEY ASKED IF I WOULD
COME AND DO AIDS AWARENESS
WORK IN THEIR COMMUNITY
BECAUSE SOMEBODY IN THEIR
COMMUNITY, IT WAS
DISCOVERED HE HAD AIDS,
AND THE COMMUNITY
WAS TERRIFIED.
AND SOME PEOPLE IN THE
COMMUNITY WANTED HIM
AND HIS FAMILY TO MOVE.
AND I WENT THERE.
I SAID, SURE I'LL BE THERE.
I WAS MORE CONCERNED TO BE
THERE TO GIVE THIS YOUNG
AND HIS FAMILY SUPPORT.
BUT I SAID, YEAH, I'LL GO.
I WENT UP THERE.
WE WERE THERE TWO DAYS.
AND THE FIRST DAY WE WERE
THERE, THIS COMMUNITY,
I COULD FEEL THE HOSTILITY.
I MEAN, I COULD JUST
CUT IT WITH A KNIFE,
IT WAS SO THICK.
PEOPLE WOULDN'T
COME NEAR US.
THEY KNEW WE WERE THE PEOPLE
FROM TORONTO WITH AIDS.
THEY REALLY DIDN'T WANT TO
HEAR WHAT WE HAD TO SAY.
I COULD TELL BY
BODY LANGUAGE.
THEY WOULDN'T EVEN SHAKE
OUR HAND, LET ALONE HUG US,
YOU KNOW?
AND I NOTICED WHEN ONE
FRIEND TOOK A SIP OUT OF MY
PEPSI, THEY LOOKED, OH, MY
GOD, WHAT IS THAT PERSON DOING?
AND WE JUST EDUCATED
AND EDUCATED.
AND WE DID THAT IN A
VARIETY OF DIFFERENT WAYS.
WE HAD AIDS 101 WORKSHOPS
DONE WITH PEOPLE OF ALL
AGES, INCLUDING
THE YOUNG CHILDREN.
I BELIEVE PEOPLE OF ALL
AGES SHOULD BE EDUCATED.
AND WE HAD PIPE CEREMONIES,
AND WE HAD DRUMMING, AND WE
SHARED OUR PERSONAL STORIES
ABOUT THE LIFE THAT WE'VE
LIVED, AND THE LIFE
WE'RE LIVING NOW.

A clip shows people attending a workshop.

Amber continues AND WHAT IT'S LIKE TO NOT
HAVE LOVE AND SUPPORT,
AND HOW PEOPLE DIE FASTER
WITHOUT THE LOVE AND
SUPPORT OF THE FAMILIES
AND COMMUNITIES.
AND AT THE END OF TWO
DAYS, SOMETHING REALLY
WONDERFUL HAPPENED.
THAT COMMUNITY, IT WAS LIKE
WATCHING A GARDEN GROW.
IT WAS JUST SO SPECIAL.
THEY WERE ABLE TO OPEN THEIR
HEARTS AND THEIR MINDS,
YOU KNOW?
WHEN I LEFT, EVERYBODY IN
THAT COMMUNITY HUGGED ME.
I GOT KISSES AND
TEARS AND STUFF.
BUT MORE IMPORTANTLY, THAT
YOUNG MAN AND HIS FAMILY
WERE ABLE TO STAY IN THEIR
COMMUNITY, AND HAVE THE
UNCONDITIONAL LOVE AND
SUPPORT THEY NEEDED
AND THEY DESERVED.

Eva says IS THERE ANY TRUTH TO
THE SAYING, OR WHAT I'VE
HEARD, THAT WITHIN THE
NON-NATIVE COMMUNITY THERE
IS MORE HETEROSEXUAL
TRANSMISSION, OR OUR
EXPERIENCE OF AIDS, AND
THAT IS MAKING A SEVERE
IMPACT ON THE COMMUNITY.

The caption changes to "Laurie MacLeod. Community Worker." Laurie is in her twenties with curly brown hair. She wears earrings, necklace, purple turtleneck sweater and patterned shirt.

Laurie says ON A WORLDWIDE
SCALE, 80 PERCENT OF THE HIV
TRANSMISSION IS
HETEROSEXUAL.
AND THAT'S HAVING A LOT OF
AFFECT ON OUR COMMUNITIES
BECAUSE IT IS THE SAME, TOO,
IN NATIVE COMMUNITIES, THE
HETEROSEXUAL TRANSMISSION IS
THE HIGHEST WAY PEOPLE ARE
BECOMING POSITIVE.
SINCE OUR PEOPLE ARE HIGHLY
TRANSIENT, EITHER IN SEARCH
OF EMPLOYMENT, MANY OF OUR
FIRST NATIONS HAVE REALLY
HIGH UNEMPLOYMENT RATES,
SO IF PEOPLE WANT TO BE
EMPLOYED, THEY HAVE TO
LEAVE THE FIRST NATIONS
AND GO TO THE CITIES.
OR IF THEY WANT A POST
SECONDARY EDUCATION,
THEN THEY HAVE TO
GO TO THE CITIES.
AND OFTEN WHEN PEOPLE ARE
AWAY FROM HOME, THERE ARE
OTHER FACTORS THEY
BECOME INVOLVED IN.
THEY HAVE TO LEAVE THEIR
FAMILIES SO THEY COULD
BECOME VERY LONELY OR
ALIENATED ENVIRONMENT,
AND TO DESIRE FOR SEX AND
INTIMACY, TO FEEL THAT
WARMTH WOULD BE
VERY NATURAL.
SO THE KIND OF IMPACT THIS
COULD HAVE IS ONCE PEOPLE GO
BACK HOME, AND THEN HAVE
RELATIONSHIPS WITHIN THE
COMMUNITY, IT ALLOWS FOR HIV
TO ENTER OUR COMMUNITIES.

Fast clips show the woods, a river and city traffic.

Eva says BOTH AMBER AND LAURIE
ARE CONVINCED THAT PEOPLE
WHO ARE SOBER AND HEALTHY,
DUE TO GOOD NUTRITION AND
HAVING ACCESS TO CLEAN
WATER, ARE LESS LIKELY
TO CONTRACT AIDS.
AMBER ALSO THINKS BECAUSE
MANY GAY PEOPLE MUST LEAVE
THEIR COMMUNITIES TO SEEK
EDUCATION OR WORK, THAT
THEY ARE MORE AT RISK WHEN
IT COMES TO CONTRACTING
THE DISEASE.

Amber says I'M FINDING A LOT OF
TWO-SPIRITED, ESPECIALLY
TWO-SPIRITED MEN WHO ARE
LEAVING THE COMMUNITIES ARE
MOVING INTO THE CITIES
BECAUSE THEY THINK IN
THE CITIES THEY'LL
GET ACCEPTANCE.
AND THEY FIND THEMSELVES
IN THE GAY BATHS AND THE
PARTIES, AND THE DRUG
HOUSES AND STUFF.
AND BEFORE YOU KNOW IT,
THEY'RE COMING SAYING,
I'M HIV POSITIVE.
SO THEN THEY HAVE A DOUBLE
WHAMMY BECAUSE FIRST OF ALL
THEY WERE EITHER ASKED
TO LEAVE THEIR COMMUNITY
BECAUSE THEY WERE TWO
SPIRITED, OR THEY FELT THEY
BETTER LEAVE BEFORE
PEOPLE FOUND OUT.
AND THEN ALL OF A SUDDEN
THEY HAVE HIV, AND THEY
HAVE TO GO BACK AND
DISCLOSE BOTH THINGS TO
THEIR FAMILY AND
THEIR COMMUNITY.
A TWO-SPIRITED PERSON IS A
PERSON WHO IDENTIFIES AS
EITHER GAY OR LESBIAN
OR BISEXUAL, OKAY?
AND IN OUR COMMUNITIES, FOR
SOME REASON, THERE'S A LOT
OF DIFFICULTY IN
ACCEPTING THIS LIFESTYLE.
WHICH I DON'T UNDERSTAND
BECAUSE I DON'T BELIEVE
THE CREATOR MAKES MISTAKES.
I BELIEVE WHATEVER WE ARE IN
LIFE, WHOEVER WE TURN OUT
TO BE, IS THE WAY
IT'S SUPPOSED TO BE.
AND IT'S NOT SUCH AN
ABNORMAL LIFESTYLE
THAT'S SO UNUSUAL.
AND PEOPLE BECOME TWO
SPIRITED FOR A NUMBER OF
DIFFERENT REASONS,
I BELIEVE.
THERE'S A LOT OF
PSYCHOLOGICAL DEBATE ABOUT
WHY PEOPLE ARE
TWO-SPIRITED.
IS IT BECAUSE
THEY WERE ABUSED?
OR BECAUSE THEY REALLY WANT
TO BE A DIFFERENT SEX
OR WHATEVER?
I THINK TWO MUCH
EMPHASIS GOES INTO THAT.
I THINK PEOPLE ARE WHO
THEY ARE BECAUSE THAT'S
WHO THEY ARE.
AND WE SHOULD ACCEPT
PEOPLE FOR WHOEVER THEY ARE.
I KNOW THAT A LOT OF PEOPLE,
ESPECIALLY A LOT OF PEOPLE
THAT I KNOW WHO SURVIVED
RESIDENTIAL SCHOOLS OR
CHILDHOOD SEXUAL ASSAULT,
OR EVEN ADULT RAPE, HAVE
BECOME TWO-SPIRITED
LATER ON IN LIFE.
THEY SEEM TO FIND MORE
PEACE, MORE COMFORT,
MORE SAFETY THERE.

Black and white pictures of schoolchildren appear.

Amber continues AND WHAT I NOTICE WHEN I'M
DOING AIDS AWARENESS WORK,
IF I'M DOING AIDS 101, AND
THEN TELLING MY STORY.
WHEN I'M DOING AIDS 101,
PEOPLE ARE RESTLESS BECAUSE
THEY ARE NERVOUS.
THEY DON'T WANT TO
HEAR THIS STUFF.
IT'S SCARY STUFF TO HEAR.
AND IT'S EMBARRASSING.
IT'S REALLY EMBARRASSING TO
HAVE TO, I MEAN, THE WAY
SOME PEOPLE DO IT, THEY
GIVE EACH PERSON IN THE
AUDIENCE A WOODEN PENIS,
AND THEY SHOW THEM HOW TO
PUT A CONDOM ON.
ESPECIALLY THE MEN ARE VERY
EMBARRASSED ABOUT DOING THAT.
WE AREN'T TAUGHT
TO TALK ABOUT SEX.
WE AREN'T.
IN MY GENERATION WE
CERTAINLY WEREN'T.
IN MY MOTHER'S GENERATION
THEY CERTAINLY WEREN'T.
WE HAVE TO TALK
OPENLY ABOUT SEX.
ABOUT WHAT'S OKAY, AND
WHAT'S NOT OKAY, AND HOW
TO DO IT SAFELY.
THIS IS VERY
DIFFICULT FOR US.
WE'RE NOT USED TO TALKING
OPENLY ABOUT SEX.

The slate changes to "The Ontario First Nations AIDS Survey found that as many as 45 percent of northern communities had no knowledge of the disease."

Laurie says ONE OF THE THINGS
THAT CAME OUT OF THE SURVEY
THAT WE'VE KNOWN FOR QUITE
A LONG TIME, BUT NOW IT
SORT OF BACKS US UP, IS THAT
IN ORDER FOR EDUCATION TO BE
EFFECTIVE, IT MUST BE
DEVELOPED BY FIRST NATIONS
PEOPLE, FOR FIRST
NATIONS PEOPLE.
SO ONE OF THE THINGS WE ARE
UTILIZING IS THE MEDICINE
WHEEL AND DIFFERENT THINGS
THAT PERTAIN TO NATIVE PEOPLE.
THERE'S A LOT OF EDUCATION
MATERIALS OUT THERE
REGARDING AIDS, BUT VERY
FEW ARE EFFECTIVE IN
NATIVE COMMUNITIES.
THEY'VE BEEN PRIMARILY
DEVELOPED FOR PEOPLE IN THE
URBAN SETTING, OR NON-NATIVE
SETTING, AND THEY AREN'T
NECESSARILY AS EFFECTIVE
WITH OUR PEOPLE.

Eva says I HAD THE OPPORTUNITY,
IT WAS A WONDERFUL OPPORTUNITY,
TO ACTUALLY GO TO ONE OF
THE MEDICINE WHEELS
THAT ARE STILL IN EXISTENCE
IN SHERIDAN, WYOMING.
AND I REALIZED THE MEDICINE
WHEEL IS A VERY SACRED
PLACE IN ONE SENSE, BUT IT
IS ALSO MUCH MORE THAN THAT.
AND THE WAY I SEE THE
MEDICINE WHEEL IS THAT
IT'S LIKE A MIRROR OF LIFE.
AND IT REFLECTS BACK MANY
DIFFERENT THINGS FOR US.

She holds a feathered medicine wheel and continues
FOR EXAMPLE, OUR PHYSICAL,
OUR EMOTIONAL, OUR
INTELLECTUAL, AND SPIRITUAL
ASPECT OF WHO WE ARE.
OR IT CAN TALK ABOUT THE
PHASES OF LIFE AS INFANCY,
CHILDHOOD, ADULTHOOD
AND OLD AGE.
OR IT CAN SPEAK TO US OF THE
SEASONS AND CYCLIC PATTERNS
THAT ARE THERE.
BUT IT'S LIKE A MIRROR OF
LIFE THAT REFLECTS BACK TO
US SOMETHING DIFFERENT
EACH TIME WE LOOK AT IT.
JUST LIKE WHEN WE LOOK IN
THE MIRROR, YOU CAN LOOK
AND ONE DAY YOU SEE YOUR
PIMPLES, AND THE NEXT DAY YOU
SEE YOUR SMILE, AND THE NEXT
DAY YOU SEE YOUR GREY HAIRS.
WHEN YOU TALK THE DIFFERENT
STAGES, WHAT ARE YOU SAYING
WHEN YOU SAY THE
YOUTH STAGE OF AIDS?
WHAT DOES THAT EQUATE TO?

Amber says WELL, WHEN YOU START,
ON THE EAST HERE, THE CHILD
STAGE, HIV IS JUST
A BABY INSIDE YOU.
IT'S JUST BEGINNING TO GROW.
YOU DON'T NECESSARILY
HAVE ANY CHANGES.
YOU DON'T KNOW YOU'RE
AFFECTED, AND WHY YOU ARE
AT RISK WITH YOUR COMMUNITY.
WHEN YOU GET TO THE YOUTH
STAGE, THAT'S WHERE YOUR
BODY IS GOING THROUGH SOME
CHEMISTRY CHANGES, AND YOU
KNOW SOMETHING IS GOING ON,
BUT YOU DON'T REALLY KNOW
WHAT IT IS.
AND YOU'RE JUST COMING
OUT OF THE WINDOW PERIOD
AT THAT POINT.
YOU MIGHT HAVE SOME SYMPTOMS
THAT WE DON'T KNOW AS
SYMPTOMS, LIKE FLU, OR TIRED
ALL THE TIME, OR YEAST INFECTION
IF YOU'RE A WOMAN, OR
SWOLLEN GLANDS OR WHATEVER.
THEN WE TALK ABOUT THE ADULT
STAGE WHERE IT'S STARTING
TO GROW, WHERE YOU'RE
SYMPTOMATIC, AND YOU'RE
SICK, AND YOU HAVE
TO DEAL WITH IT.
AND USUALLY THAT'S WHEN
THINGS LIKE ANGER COMES IN
AND DEPRESSION.
BETWEEN YOUTH AND ADULT,
DEPRESSION AND SUICIDAL
FEELINGS AND ALCOHOLISM,
DRUG ADDICTION AND
VIOLENCE, WHETHER IT BE
INTERNALIZED VIOLENCE, OR
PHYSICAL VIOLENCE AGAINST A
FAMILY MEMBER OR WHATEVER.
AND THEN APATHY.
THE GOVERNMENT OWES ME ALL
THIS, AND I DON'T CARE
ANYMORE ABOUT ANYTHING.
AND THEN SOMETHING HAPPENS
BETWEEN THE ADULT STAGE AND
THE ELDER STAGE, WHERE
YOU BEGIN TO ACCEPT IT.
YOU REACH OUT TO OTHER
ORGANIZATIONS, AND YOU LOOK
AT YOUR RESOURCES,
AND YOU GET SUPPORT.
YOU MIGHT DISCLOSE TO YOUR
COMMUNITY, OR YOU MIGHT JOIN
A TALKING CIRCLE OR
WHATEVER, YOU MIGHT SEE A
TRADITIONAL HEALER OR
WHATEVER, OR FINALLY SEE
A DOCTOR, EVEN,
FOR SOME PEOPLE.
AND THEN YOU'VE BUILT THIS
PARTNERSHIP WITH YOUR
HIGHER POWER.
AND THEN ONCE YOU'VE DONE
THAT, ONCE YOU'VE ACCEPTED
IT TOTALLY, YOU'RE
NOT AFRAID OF DEATH.

Eva says HOW WILL RETURNING TO
TRADITIONAL VALUES CHANGE
THE SOCIAL CONTEXT OF AIDS
IN THE NATIVE COMMUNITIES?

Holding the medicine wheel, Laurie says ACTUALLY, I THINK
WHEN YOU'RE DISCUSSING
SOMETHING LIKE THAT, IT'S
REALLY IMPORTANT TO MAYBE
THINK ABOUT WHERE WE HAVE
BEEN, AND HOW WE GOT THERE.
PRIOR TO THE COMING OF THE
EUROPEANS, OUR CIRCLE WAS
STRONG AND HEALTHY.
OUR PEOPLE WERE
SELF-SUFFICIENT NATIONS.
AND WHEN THE EUROPEANS
CAME, THEY BROUGHT
WITH THEM CERTAIN...

Old footage shows native people in a reserve doing daily activities.

Laurie continues DISEASES, ISSUES THAT HAVE
REALLY HAD HISTORICAL
LANDMARKS OR IMPACTS
UPON OUR PEOPLE.
AND ONE OF WHICH
WAS THE GOVERNMENTS.
ONE OF THE FIRST THINGS THE
GOVERNMENTS DID WAS THEY
CREATED RESERVES.
OUR PEOPLE WERE RELEGATED TO
OFTEN WHAT WERE WORTHLESS
TRACTS OF LAND, AND NEEDED
TO HAVE THINGS LIKE
PERMISSION TO LEAVE.
WELL, THE GOVERNMENTS
ALSO CREATED WELFARE.
AND AT CERTAIN TIMES OF THE
YEAR THEY WOULD DOLE OUT
BLANKETS AND THINGS.
SO THAT HAD AN EFFECT ON OUR
SELF-SUFFICIENCY, NOT BEING
ABLE TO PROVIDE FOR OUR
CHILDREN IN THE WAY THAT
WE HAD BEFORE.
ANOTHER THING THAT HAPPENED
TO US WAS THE IMPOSITION OF
CERTAIN RELIGIONS WHERE
THE BUNDLES, THE MEDICINE
BUNDLES OF NATIVE PEOPLE
WERE CONFISCATED, AND MANY
OF THEM WENT UNDERGROUND.
AND WHENEVER NATIVE PEOPLE
WANTED TO PERFORM CERTAIN
CEREMONIES, LIKE SWEAT
LODGES, THEY WOULD HAVE TO
DO SO WAY DOWN IN THE
BUSHES IN THE MIDDLE OF
THE NIGHT WHEN THEY
WOULDN'T GET CAUGHT.
AND THE THIRD THING THAT HAD
A GREAT IMPACT UPON THE WAY
WE LIVE OUR LIVES IS THE
INSTITUTIONS, THE CREATION
OF RESIDENTIAL SCHOOLS AND
CAS, AND THINGS LIKE JAILS
THAT CAUSE THE BREAKDOWN OF
THE EXTENDED FAMILIES THAT
WE RELIED UPON SO HEAVILY.
AND OF COURSE THE LAST
THING WAS ALCOHOL.
WHEN THE SETTLERS FIRST
CAME, OFTEN THEY WOULD GIVE
NATIVE PEOPLE ALCOHOL.
AND WHEN THEY WOULD GET
DRUNK AND BE FALLING ON
THE GROUND, THEY WOULD
BE LAUGHING AT THEM.
THEY WOULD BE A FORM
OF ENTERTAINMENT.
AND IT WAS A LONG TIME LATER
THAT ALCOHOL BECAME LEGAL
THAT NATIVE PEOPLE
COULD DRINK ALCOHOL.
AND THIS HAS HAD AN AFFECT
ON ALL RACES OF PEOPLE.
BUT A REALLY DETRIMENTAL
AFFECT ON OURS IN PARTICULAR.
I GUESS IT'S ONE OF THE
PROPHESIES THERE WILL BE
A RESURGENCE TOWARDS
NATIVE CULTURE.
AND A LOT OF THE ELDERS
FEEL AIDS IS HERE
TO TEACH US SOMETHING.
THAT PERHAPS IF WE WERE
FOLLOWING OUR CULTURE AND
TRADITIONS, MAYBE THINGS
LIKE AIDS AND SEXUALLY
TRANSMITTED DISEASES
AND ALL KINDS OF THINGS
WOULDN'T BE A PROBLEM.

(music plays)
Local white tents sit in an open area.

Eva says MUCH OF WHAT AMBER
KNOWS OF HER TRADITIONAL
CULTURE WAS TAUGHT TO HER
BY HER FATHER WHEN SHE WAS
A VERY LITTLE GIRL.
ALTHOUGH SHE WAS ONLY NINE
YEARS OLD WHEN HE DIED, HIS
AFFECT ON HER REMAINS TODAY.

Amber says WHAT I REMEMBER ABOUT
MY DAD IS THAT HE USED TO
SIT ME ON HIS LAP A LOT
AND TELL ME STORIES.
HE WAS AN ALCOHOLIC,
BUT HE WAS A GENTLE MAN.
UNLIKE MY MOTHER, WHO
WAS VERY ABUSIVE WHEN
SHE WAS DRINKING.
HE WAS A VERY GENTLE MAN.
AND HE USED TO TELL ME STORIES
ABOUT THE TRAIL OF TEARS.
I REMEMBER HIM TELLING ME THAT
STORY OVER AND OVER AGAIN.
AND I JUST THOUGHT IT WAS
A HORRIBLE STORY, AND IT
COULDN'T POSSIBLY BE REAL
BECAUSE IT WAS SO HORRIBLE.
AND HE USED TO TELL ME, I
MUST ALWAYS HOLD MY HEAD
HIGH AND BE PROUD
OF WHO I AM.
AND HE TOLD ME I MUST ALWAYS
RESPECT ALL THAT BREATHES.
AND I MUST NEVER FORGET THE
PRICE THAT OUR ANCESTORS PAID.
NEVER.
AND HE USED TO DRILL
THAT INTO MY HEAD,
OVER AND OVER AGAIN.
AND THEN WHEN I WAS NINE,
MY FATHER WAS KILLED.
HE WAS KILLED IN A FIGHT
IN A BAR IN TORONTO.
AND I REMEMBER THE DAY THE
DETECTIVES CAME TO THE HOUSE
AND SAID THAT HE WAS DEAD.
AND THE DAY OF THE FUNERAL,
MY MOTHER SAT ME DOWN,
AND SHE SAID, DON'T TELL
ANYBODY YOU'RE INDIAN.
YOU DON'T LOOK INDIAN,
SO DON'T TELL NOBODY.
AND I FELT, AT THAT TIME,
LIKE MY CULTURE HAD BEEN
STOLEN FROM ME.
AND I WAS VERY ANGRY.
AND I WAS VERY,
VERY REBELLIOUS.
I WAS ALSO A
VERY GOOD KID.
WHEN I LOOK BACK NOW AT MY
CHILDHOOD, I DID THINGS THAT
I WAS CONDITIONED TO DO.
LIKE I LIED BECAUSE I
WAS TOLD DON'T TELL THE
NEIGHBOURS WHERE THOSE MARKS
ON YOUR BODY COME FROM.
DON'T TELL ANYBODY
WHAT GOES ON IN OUR HOUSE.
IT'S NONE OF THEIR BUSINESS.
SO I WAS TAUGHT TO
LIE, SO I LIED A LOT.
I LEFT WHEN I WAS 13.
ONE OF MY YOUNGER SISTERS
ALSO LEFT WHEN SHE WAS 13.
SO I WAS SORT OF LABELLED
THE TROUBLE PERSON IN THE
FAMILY, AND THE
PROBLEM-MAKER, AND STUFF.
I HIT THE STREETS
IN TORONTO.

Fast clips show various animals and skyscrapers.

Amber continues ENDED UP IN AND
OUT OF FOSTER HOME.
FINALLY THEY SENT ME OFF
TO RESIDENTIAL SCHOOL.
DIDN'T LIKE THAT
VERY MUCH AND I LEFT.
I CAN'T SAY I RECALL REALLY
HAVING HORRIBLE EXPERIENCES
WHEN I WAS IN
RESIDENTIAL SCHOOL.
THE WORST EXPERIENCE WAS
WHEN I RAN AWAY THEY LOCKED
ME UP IN THE INFIRMARY.
I WAS IN LIKE A LITTLE CELL
FOR LONG DAYS, DAY AFTER
DAY AFTER DAY.
THAT WAS THE WORST
EXPERIENCE THAT EVER
HAPPENED TO ME
WHEN I WAS THERE.
MY HOUSE MOTHERS AND SISTERS
THERE REALLY DID TRY TO DO
THINGS WITH ME.
BY THAT TIME, I WAS TOO
DAMAGED, I WAS TOO TARNISHED.
I WOULDN'T LET ANYBODY IN.
I WOULDN'T LET ANYBODY IN
BECAUSE IF I LET PEOPLE IN,
THEY ENDED UP HURTING ME.
I WAS REALLY MESSED UP,
VERY, VERY CONFUSED.
SO I ENDED UP FINALLY
LEAVING, AND HITTING THE
STREETS IN TORONTO AGAIN.
AND I MET AN OLDER MAN.
THIS OLDER MAN AND
I BECAME PREGNANT.
AND I GAVE BIRTH TO
TWIN SONS WHEN I WAS 16.
A YEAR LATER THEY WERE
KILLED IN A CAR ACCIDENT.
AND THAT WAS THE BEGINNING
OF MY ADDICTION.

Eva says YOU'VE OBVIOUSLY
BEEN ABLE TO DEAL WITH YOUR
ILLNESS AND BEEN ABLE TO
OVERCOME A LOT OF BARRIERS
THAT WOULD BE A PART OF IT.
AND I WONDER HOW YOU SEE
YOURSELF AS A ROLE MODEL
IN BEING ABLE TO
BRIDGE BOTH CULTURES?

Amber says IT'S DIFFICULT.
IT'S REALLY DIFFICULT.
WELL, FIRST OF ALL LET'S
DEAL WITH THE OVERCOMING
THE BARRIERS OF
THE HIV INFECTION.
I ONLY WAS GIVEN A YEAR WITH
HIV BEFORE I WAS DIAGNOSED
WITH AIDS.
SO I WASN'T GIVEN
VERY MUCH TIME.
BUT I THINK WHAT I DID WITH
THE TIME WAS I ALLOWED
MYSELF TO GO THROUGH THE
STUFF I HAD TO GO THROUGH.
THE FIRST YEAR WAS HORRIBLE.
I MEAN IT GOT BETTER AS TIME
WENT ON, BUT THE FIRST YEAR
WAS VERY PAINFUL.
I HAD TO GO THROUGH ALL THE
ANGER AND THE FEAR AND THE
DENIAL, AND THE RAGE,
AND THE SADNESS, AND THE
FEELINGS OF GRIEF
AND LOSS AND STUFF.
UNTIL I WENT FULL CIRCLE
AND GOT TO THE POINT
OF ACCEPTANCE.
TODAY, LIVING WITH AIDS IS
ONE OF THE BEST THINGS THAT
EVER HAPPENED TO ME.
IT'S A JOY TODAY IN A LOT
OF WAYS BECAUSE MY LIFE
HAS CHANGED SO MUCH.
MY LIFE IS SO MUCH FULLER
NOW AS A RESULT OF HAVING
AIDS, THAT IN SOME WAYS
IT'S A REAL GIFT FOR ME.
THE CROSS CULTURAL STUFF
IS MORE DIFFICULT FOR ME
BECAUSE MY WHOLE LIFE I
GREW UP THINKING THEY STOLE
MY CULTURE FROM ME.
THEY STOLE IT FROM ME.
AND THERE WERE SO
MANY RESENTMENTS.
TODAY MY RESENTMENTS
ARE MORE OF A MORE
DOWN-TO-EARTH LEVEL.
I REALIZE TODAY NOBODY
EVER STOLE MY CULTURE.
NOBODY IS CAPABLE OF
STEALING MY CULTURE.
WHAT THEY DID WAS THEY
TRIED TO DISILLUSION ME
FOR MANY YEARS.
THEY TRIED TO UNDO THE
THINGS MY FATHER WAS DOING.
BUT I KNOW TODAY I WAS BORN
CHEROKEE, AND I'M GOING TO
DIE CHEROKEE.
NOBODY CAN STEAL
MY CULTURE FROM ME.
I DON'T IDENTIFY AS A MIXED
PERSON, I IDENTIFY AS
A CHEROKEE WOMAN.
I AM CHEROKEE.
I'VE ALWAYS IDENTIFIED
AS CHEROKEE.
I HAD A DREAM JUST BEFORE
I WAS DIAGNOSED WITH AIDS,
SO IT WAS ABOUT A YEAR, YEAR
AND A HALF AFTER MY INFECTION.
AND IN MY DREAM, THE CREATOR
CAME TO ME, AND HE SAID...
THIS DREAM TERRIFIED ME.
AND HE SAID TO ME, I CAN TAKE
AWAY THIS THING CALLED AIDS.
AND I SAID, OH YEAH?
I HAVE A VERY SORT OF FUN
LOVING RELATIONSHIP WITH
MY HIGHER POWER, OKAY?
I CAN JOKE AROUND
WITH HIM A LOT.
AND I SAID, OH YEAH?
WHAT'S THE PRICE
I'VE GOT TO PAY?
Laughing, she continues I KNOW IF YOU'RE GOING TO
TAKE THIS AWAY THERE'S
SOME PAYBACK, RIGHT?
AND HE SAID, ALL YOU HAVE
TO GIVE UP IS THIS NEWFOUND
LEVEL OF SERENITY YOU HAVE,
AND THIS FEELING OF LIFE ON
A LEVEL I'VE NEVER EVEN
KNOWN POSSIBLE, AND YOUR
ABILITY TO HEAR PEOPLE, HEAR
PEOPLE'S PAIN AND BE THERE.
THAT'S ALL IT
WILL COST YOU.
AND YOU'LL NEVER
HAVE AIDS AGAIN.
AND I SAID
NO THANK YOU.

(music plays)
The end credits roll.

Produced by Jim Hanley and Jim Hyder.

Co-produced and Written by Patricia Michael.

Directed by Daniel Robinson.

Photographed by Mark Mackay.

Edited by Patrick Malone.

Title theme by Rodney Brown.

Closing theme by Lawrence Martin.

Executive Producer, Jim Hanley.

A co-production of TVOntario and Sleeping Giant Productions in association with Vision TV.

Copyright 1994, The Ontario Educational Communications Authority.

Watch: Amber O'Hara