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Conference focuses on HIV prevention among native youth

March 21, 2006

A UMNS Report
By Linda Green*

Native American young people will gather April 6-8 in Oklahoma City for a national conference for native youth on AIDS and HIV awareness and prevention.

Called “Native P.R.O.U.D.,” the conference will focus on prevention, responsibility, ownership, understanding and determination as keys to helping native young people make wise decisions regarding risky behavior. The event is sponsored by the United Methodist Native American International Caucus and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“If one youth becomes HIV infected, it puts the whole community at risk,” Deer said. “We feel that this potential community endangerment is more dangerous to our communities than, say, us worrying whether the bird flu will come to America.”

The intended audience is not just native youth who attend church but those on reservations and in rural communities where AIDS and HIV infections are high as well. Native youth, he said, have the second-highest incidence of sexually transmitted diseases in America. Factors influencing risky behavior include alcohol and drug use and abuse, which result in unwanted pregnancies and other ills.

The three-day conference is also for church leaders, tribal youth program staff, health professionals working in native communities, tribal leaders and church leaders.

With high rates of broken homes on Indian reservations and in Indian rural communities, there are few positive voices out there saying “you can make a healthy choice for your life,” Deer said.

“I also firmly believe that this voice must be coming from our churches,” he said. “We can’t just be ‘preaching stations’ urging young people to make a decision for Christ without also preaching a message of ‘abundant living.’”

The conference is funded through a 2003 faith-based grant the caucus received from the Institute for Youth Development in Washington, to support “at-risk” youth through a nationwide youth network. The total grant was $30,800. The NAIC was the first Native American denominational ministry to receive funding from President Bush’s faith-based and community initiative program.

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The Rev. Alvin Deer
The caucus also received financial support from the Centers for Disease Control to develop and implement a program of HIV/AIDS awareness among native communities. “Teen Empowerment” is an abstinence-based prevention program that provides youth learning opportunities to make healthy choices.

The program will be introduced at the three-day conference. Youth, the significant adults in their lives and health professionals serving in their communities will take advantage of separate educational tracks to become more aware of the dangers and meet the challenges. Participants will explore relationships, sexuality, risky behaviors, abstinence and making decisions that impact their futures.

“Being ‘Native P.R.O.U.D.’ means you take pride in who you are as a person,” Deer said. “God made native people as a distinct and unique people in the whole world. We have a heritage that is something to be proud of, not only culturally but historically. We have a lot to be proud of as a contemporary person.”

Those providing leadership will include Lisa Tiger, a Muscogee Native woman who contracted AIDS in the 1980s. She is an AIDS activist and will speak about her personal experiences and how the disease has affected her life.

For registration and hotel information, contact Deer at (405) 634-2005 or or

*Green is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or

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