In the early 1980s HIV was considered an urban, “gay white man’s disease” which would never reach remote tribal communities and would therefore never affect Native Americans. Risk factors for HIV such as sexual orientations and sexual behaviors are and were topics not easily discussed within Native communities. Therefore, few individuals or organizations were educated about HIV or risk factors associated with infection, especially unprotected sex.
Since its inception in 1999, the Circle of Harmony (COH) has sought to fill gaps in knowledge about HIV infection. Experts familiar with HIV infection, risk factors associated with infection, and Native communities have been recruited to present at the conference. Health care workers, substance abuse counselors, Community Health Representatives, educators, and others who work directly with Native Americans were invited and encouraged to attend the conference. Tribal leaders were also encouraged to attend to learn about factors which put their own community members at risk of HIV infection.