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Ann Kaciulis has spent most of her life in northern Manitoba, spending her childhood in the communities Cross Lake (Pimicikamak Cree Nation), Wabowden, and The Pas (Opaskwayak Cree Nation), where she remains a status First Nation band member. She has resided in Thompson, Manitoba with her husband for the past decade, and is fluent in Cree and English.
Ann has been personally affected by HIV/AIDS which has led her to become an outspoken advocate in the region for the cause. Her brother died of AIDS in 1992, and at the funeral another brother confessed that he was HIV positive as well. This brother is now in the AIDS stages and struggles against a myriad of medical problems. In 2000, her daughter, her only child, tested positive for HIV. Ann’s son-in-law passed away of AIDS in November 2007.
Ann is raising her three grandchildren as her daughter is unable to care for them, one of whom is special needs. Helping her grandchildren thrive in spite of the stigma and fear of AIDS has been one of her primary motivations to continue in her work in spite of many obstacles. Ann has struggled to obtain appropriate medical care, mental health counseling, and other supports. She has found that AIDS is on the back burner in this region even though Aboriginal people are at highest risk of becoming infected. There is little in the way of resources at all, and that lack of understanding has made many people fearful and discriminatory. Her brother and daughter, both of whom are currently living with AIDS, have been unable to successfully relocate to Thompson to be near family due to the lack of understanding and resources.
As Ann became aware that there was a burgeoning crisis, she began to advocate for awareness and services, not only for her family, but for anyone affected or infected. To better equip herself with the skills and understanding she needed, she returned to school in her middle years and has nearly completed her Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) through the University of Manitoba. In 2004, she took on a contract role at the (now-defunct) Northern AIDS Initiative as the Coordinator for a program designed to determine the role of traditional healing in preventing and treating HIV and AIDS entitled Aboriginal People with HIV/AIDS and Traditional Healing Project (APATH). This involved collecting and interviewing APHA’s (Aboriginal people with HIV/AIDS), APH’s (People with HIV/AIDS), Elders and healers to develop The Best Practice Model. While there, she also co-coordinated Camp Hope 2004, a camp for children who had multiple family members with AIDS.
In 2006, she and a colleague incorporated a non-profit organization called Camp Hope Inc., named in honor of this very successful camp experience. The mandate of Camp Hope Inc. is to provide advocacy and services to people affected by or infected with, HIV. Because advocacy was such a critical aspect of the work, Camp Hope could not be registered as a charity and therefore funding remains an ongoing problem. Camp Hope has not yet received core funding and for the most part, Ann works without a salary. Although there have been some donations from some Aboriginal communities and organizations, as well as Mennonite Central Committee, most expenses such as travel, printing, and utilities are paid by Ann’s family.
She is passionate about this work and is considered the “voice of the north” on this issue. Ann has been the subject of a great deal of media coverage, and has had articles in the Winnipeg Free Press, the Calgary Herald, Grassroots News, The Drum, Opasquia Times, The Thompson Citizen, and the Nickel Belt News. She has also conducted television interviews for the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network and radio interviews with Native Communications Inc. and the CBC.
Ann is in demand for presentations, as lack of education is one of the reasons for the high rates of HIV infection in that region. She presented to the northern Chiefs of the Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO) and passed a resolution to support an arm’s length organization to prevent and treat HIV and AIDS. Camp Hope Inc. fulfills that mandate. She has presented at numerous conferences in Thompson, Calgary, and many northern Manitoba communities. After one conference, the Manitoba Minister of Aboriginal and Northern Affairs, Oscar Lathlin stated to her in a letter:
The role modeling you and other presenters offered was heartening to all who attended the recent Northern Woman’s Conference in the Pas. Not only did your efforts provide an immediate benefit to those who attend the conference, but your message also has long lasting rewards for all women, as they will be watching you in the future. Some will even want to emulate your successes and will indeed become success stories in their own rights. Thank you for promoting women and more importantly providing hope to our youth.
The strength of her presentations lies in her personal experience and authenticity in relating to this disease. She is aware that it is not programs that help people, “people help people”. She has become a strong activist for HIV/AIDS in the northern Manitoba, and often the only voice heard among a population that is often in denial about the high level of risk and infection of HIV among aboriginal people. She has fought against stigma, discrimination, threats, and lack of funding with an eye toward changing the system and raising the level of awareness of government, Aboriginal leaders, local communities, and the mainstream population.