Programming Connection

Remote Outreach Project 

Blood Ties Four Directions Centre

Why Was the Program Developed?

Aboriginal people in Canada are disproportionately affected by HIV and hepatitis C. According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, 29% of people who tested positive for HIV (in tests in which ethnicity was recorded in 2008) were Aboriginal.

The hepatitis C prevalence rate in the Yukon, where 23% of the population is of Aboriginal ancestry, is estimated at the highest in Canada, though lack of representative data in this region makes even measuring the impact of HIV and hepatitis C a major challenge. While over two-thirds of Yukon’s population lives in the capital of Whitehorse, the proportion of Aboriginal people in remote areas is higher. Populations in these hard-to-reach communities number in the hundreds, not thousands. Sexually transmitted illness in these communities, when acknowledged, carries a heavy stigma.

In 2004, Blood Ties participated in a steering committee for a project that attempted to use workshops and other activities to engage First Nations women to act as leaders in the education of their communities on HIV. It was called Reducing Vulnerability to HIV and was led by the Yukon Aboriginal Women’s Council. An evaluation of the project identified the following ongoing issues in the region:

  1. While there was a general awareness of HIV in remote communities, knowledge of HIV and hepatitis C transmission and risk assessment was lacking.
  2. Community acceptance of people living with HIV was low. 
  3. There was often a reluctance to admit that HIV can affect one’s community.
  4. Local health and social service providers had little or no training in HIV/AIDS and were unprepared to address issues related to HIV in their communities.
  5. Remote Yukon communities required an ongoing outreach program.
  6. Workshops on HIV and hepatitis C were needed for all community members and at-risk populations, not only women. 

Blood Ties Four Directions Centre—having served a dual mandate of providing HIV and hepatitis C prevention education in remote communities across the territory since 2001—was identified as the most suitable organization to address these issues with an educational and capacity-building program.  

In partnership with the Council of Yukon First Nations, Blood Ties, technically a non-Aboriginal organization, established a project steering committee, which included Health and Social Service Directors and other stakeholders from First Nations communities, to ensure that the project activities were relevant. Critical to the project’s effectiveness was the use of communication methods and learning environments that were in harmony with First Nations values and identities.