The biggest misconception when it comes to Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, or AIDS, is the fact that you are safe from it and that you could not possibly contract the disease. Well, you’re dead wrong, especially if you happen to be Native.

A recent report talked about the rates Aboriginals contract AIDS and compared them to the rates of our non-native counterparts. The numbers are staggering. Aboriginals number less than 4 per cent of Canada’s total population, yet we account for 16.4 per cent of reported AIDS cases.

Chief Angus Toulouse, the Ontario Regional Chief-Chair of the Assembly of First Nations, announced those numbers during the 16th International AIDS Conference in Toronto in mid-August.

“This is a 500-per-cent increase over the past 20 years, compared to a 24 per cent decrease in the general Canadian-born population,” he said.

Until 1993, reported cases of Aboriginal infection was around 2 per cent of reported cases in Canada. That number soared to 14.4 per cent by 2003.

The question is, what do we do about it?

Gone are the days where the false assumption of the general population was that only homosexuals or intravenous drug users had to worry about the debilitating disease. In reality, our sons and daughters (or mothers or fathers for that matter) are at as much risk as anyone else in the community.

Abstinence is the number-one preventive tactic, obviously, but human nature dictates that condoms are a close second.

Think of what would happen if an AIDS epidemic broke out in Eeyou Istchee. It’s a disease that can decimate a population in a matter of years, especially with the lack of health professionals Cree communities have at their disposal. Aboriginal people haven’t seen a disease this scary since we first encountered smallpox.

In fact, we don’t know at this point how many people do have AIDS and in which communities. It would be unwise to think, because of their small size, it won’t come to communities like Eastmain or Nemaska.

It’s a problem that should always be on our minds, especially before sex with a partner, casual or otherwise. Although there have been major breakthroughs in anti-retroviral drugs that enable people to live longer with the disease, it does not represent a sort of carte blanche for people to be foolish and unsafe.

A major way to fight infections of Aboriginal peoples is to attack the ignorance of the disease in the general public. More public awareness campaigns, free condoms and safe places for drug users to go to inject with clean needles might be a start.

After all, 59 per cent of new cases among Aboriginals from 1998 to 2004 were because of dirty or shared needles.

To top it all off, the Conservative government’s approach isn’t helping matters.

The Liberals made a $5.1 billion commitment at the First Ministers Meeting in Kelowna, BC, last November to help bring Aboriginal living standards in line with other Canadians over the next 10 years. That number included $1.3 billion in new health investments to deal with AIDS prevention. The Conservative government quickly turned around and slashed that number to less than $400 million over the same period.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s message is that the health and well being of Aborginals are not a priority during his tenure. This is a sad message to send to the first peoples of this country.

If Harper doesn’t see your future as a priority, make sure you do.

So if you’re going to have sex ladies, tell him to put a condom on. Guys, be a man and wear one.