November 29, 2020

Andrew Jolivette, tribal historian, speaks to students about his research on native people and HIV/AIDS

Andrew Jolivette was diagnosed with HIV in 2002. Jolivette said medicine for the virus has improved during the past decade.

“It’s not a death sentence,” Jolivette said. “You can have a good life, but we have to share the responsibility of work.”

On Wednesday, Nov. 28, Jolivette visited Webster University to discuss his personal story. He also spoke about human rights and HIV in relation to Native Americans. The Multicultural Center and International Student Affairs put on the speaker event.

“(Jolivette) sharing his personal experience I believe woke up everybody in the audience as far as, ‘Wow, here he is advocating for his own cause,’” said Natalie Martinez, sophomore journalism major.

If people are diagnosed with HIV, doctors check their condition by looking at their T-cells and viral load. Jolivette said T-cells fight infection and the viral load measures the amount of HIV in blood. Jolivette said the closer the viral load is to 1 million and the lower the T-cell count, the closer the patient is to death.

Jolivette said once a person has fewer than 200 T-cells, he or she is defined as an AIDS case.

Jolivette said he was at 35 T-cells when he was hospitalized with pneumonia. He also had a viral load of 500,000 copies per milliliter of blood. Jolivette said presently, his viral load is undetectable and he has a T-cell count of more than 700.

Jolivette recently completed a study titled “Indian Blood.” He began the study in 2011. “Indian Blood” explains the properties of blood and what it means to be considered a native person. The study included 50 people of mixed races and sexual orientation. The Native American Aids Project conducted the study at the University of San Francisco.

The study used 20- to 60-year-olds, with an average age of about 40. The research data findings by Jolivette revealed high levels of racial and gender discrimination. The data also showed reported sexual violence from the victims in the study. Of all the study’s participants, 60 percent had experienced sexual violence.

Jolivette explained that the native population had higher interracial marriage rates compared to other ethnic groups in the United States. He also said 70 percent of the population is racially mixed.

Jolivette said before he was diagnosed with AIDS, he focused more on race and class issues. He said he never looked at how all the issues intersected until it hit him directly.

“Until we see every community as our community, whether we’re actually a member or not,” Jolivette said. “That doesn’t mean that we own it, but it means that we support people and we encourage that everybody has the right to live a healthy life free of prejudice. We have to see the connections, rather than see the differences in such negative ways.”

During his lecture about Native American people, Jolivette talked about what’s known as two-spirit cultural disillusion. Jolivette said in present day, someone might refer to two spirits as “gay” or “lesbian.” But historically in Native American tribes, it has more to do with one’s gender identity. People were able to have multiple gender identities — a balance between male and female energies.

Jolivette also said it is common to see third-gender identities in tribal communities. Jolivette described third gender as individuals classified — by their will or by social agreement — as neither man nor woman. The word “third” means “other.”

Fred Martinez was a 16-year-old native of the Navajo tribe that lived in Colorado. In 2001, he was murdered for being transgendered. Jolivette believes everybody has the right to respect and dignity.

“If we’re kind to each other, if we accept the idea that just because we are born into different bodies and have different experiences, isn’t that something to be celebrated as opposed to feared?” Jolivette said. “If I see you with love, even though we have different bodies, but I don’t come with an assumption with who you are as people.”

Ultimately, Natalie Martinez said she enjoyed the speaker and learned a lot.

“I thought it was beautiful,” Natalie Martinez said. “It was really inspiring in the sense that I’m more aware of what goes on in other cultures as well as the struggles that the LGBT still have. It was nice to be informed and educated from someone else’s perspective that is currently affected.”

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