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by Penny Smoke

Danita Wahpoosewyan remembers the day the Public Health Nurse came to her door. 


“Your name came up as being in contact with someone who has HIV/AIDS," Wahpoosewyan recalls the nurse telling her.



“I was doing drugs with them or I had a sexual relationship with them, it’s all confidential. I will never really know,” Wahpoosewyan said.


The nurse’s suspicion was correct. 


Wahpoosewyan was infected, one of 80 people to be diagnosed in Saskatchewan in 2005.


“To this day I don’t know where I contracted it from,” says the 48-year-old originally from the Sakimay First Nations near Kamsack.


The rate of HIV/AIDS in Saskatchewan has declined in recent years but it is becoming more prevalent among  urban Aboriginals. In 2003, less than 30 people self-reporting as aboriginal were diagnosed with HIV/AIDS. In 2012 that number was 177. 


Wahpoosewyan’s story is similar to others who live “at risk” lifestyles.  She grew up in a home with addiction, eventually becoming like her seven brothers and sisters, a permanent ward of social services at the age of seven. 


After years in foster homes suffering physical, mental and emotional abuse, Wahpoosewyan began drinking in her teens. She became pregnant with her first child at the age of 16. Along the way she reconnected with her sisters and brothers and at one point they decided to live under the same roof.


It was far cry from being a joyous family reunion, things quickly became toxic. The group abused alcohol together and, in later years, drugs.


“I was a good drunk “ Wahpoosewyan says, but the drinking lead to cocaine or as she calls it “needle dope”. It was actually her own teenage daughter who introduced her to intravenous drugs. The cycle of addiction had trickled into another generation. 


A report released by the Saskatchewan's HIV Strategy Task Group, stated ‘that cocaine’ is the most commonly used injection drug, because of the cheap cost and availability on the street.


Saskatchewan has twice the national average and the highest amount of new infections.


Like her mother before her, this lifestyle of addiction lead to Wahpoosewyan losing her two children to social services.


“I looked forward to my highs; it took away my pain, made me forget that my son was in care,” she said.

“When you are addicted you don’t want to feel those feelings, I used it to cover-up my own shame. I just had a lot of shame because of my addiction, like why was I a bad parent? Is it because of my abandonment issues with my mother, why was I abandoning my son like she did to me?”


Wapoosewyan has been sober since December, 2012.  Living healthy has come with its own challenges for Wapoosewyan.


Suzanne Nasewich is a registered nurse, coordinating the Saskatchewan HIV Strategic committee, she met Wahpoosewyan shortly after her diagnosis.


“A lot of folks who are most vulnerable have not ever been in positions where they have worked. So you then no work experience where they felt supported, where they have had a good positive experience with health care and so it’s really challenging sometimes to figure out how to get access, and how the help them have access to care” Nashewich says


“HIV sometimes for people can change their life in a positive way, it can be the moment in their life when they think, ‘I really do need to change things.’ And then they start getting help and its easier for them to engage in care because there are more supports there for people.”


For Wahpoosewyan she found the support  she needed, while others in her family aren’t in the same position.  


Wahpoosewyan‘s sister also has “full blown AIDS” and recently almost died after contracting H1N1. Her sister’s partner wasn’t so lucky. HIV/AIDS claimed his life in January 2014.


“People have this stigma. I think I’m the only one in my family who’s is on meds,” Wahpoosewyan says.

Wahpoosewyan counts on her hand the people in her immediate family who are infected, ticking off her sister, her brother and her three nieces.


She holds up her other hand and silently mouths a couple names, a mental check list to make sure she doesn’t forget anyone.


“Yup, them five and like four nephews… all of them are (HIV) positive”


to  be continued...


Part 1 of 4 Part series.

HIV/AIDS: Journey through the diagnosis.