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Isadore Boni

HIV stigma in Native American communities remains so intense even today that when Isadore Boni, a member of the San Carlos Apache tribe, suspected he had been infected he immediately moved away from the Arizona reservation he'd called home his entire life. 'I didn't want people there to know because I was afraid that it would hurt my family, and I didn't know what the reaction would be toward me,' says Boni. But frustrated at the lack of adequate and culturally sensitive HIV services even in such a large city as Phoenix, where he relocated, Boni made it his personal mission to raise awareness of the needs of HIV-positive Native Americans and to break the silence on AIDS issues. 'We're going through the exact same thing today that other communities dealt with 25 years ago'the fear, the ignorance, the stigma, and the thought that AIDS is a white man's disease that will never come to our reservation,' he says. 'But it has come, and someone has to start talking about it.' Since first appearing in a World AIDS Day story on a Phoenix TV news program in 2004, Boni has talked about AIDS issues and his own infection to dozens of groups and several Native American organizations and tribes. He says most of his educational talks and safer-sex and harm-reduction messages have been well-received. In addition, members of his own tribe'whose initial responses ranged from cold indifference to outright shock and hostility'are at last beginning to ask questions about the basic facts of HIV. 'There are presentations at the schools on the reservation now. People are talking about it more,' says Boni, who plans to appear with his nieces carrying a banner about AIDS during a Native American parade in Phoenix. 'If someone can benefit from meeting and seeing and knowing a fellow Native American who is living with HIV, then everything I've had to go through is worth it.'

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