Sherri Pooyak is the Community-Based Research Manager, Aboriginal HIV/AIDS Community-Based Research Collaborative (AHA Centre), Canadian Aboriginal AIDS Network. She is a PAN Affiliated Researcher and is the Co-Principal Investigator on the Making It Work Study
Sherri is of Cree ancestry from Sweetgrass First Nation, Saskatchewan and currently resides in Victoria, BC. Sherri Graduated with a Masters’ of Social Work in 2009, her work focusing on Indigenous women involved in sex work, and focused on the positive aspects of familial relationships and the resilience of Indigenous women who are involved in the sex trade. As the Community-Based Research Manager, Sherri assists Indigenous communities in developing their research capacities, managing Community-Research Associates and mentoring Indigenous students who are interested in Indigenous health research.
What first piqued your interest in the HIV/ hepatitis C sector?
I came to HIV by accident or maybe fate. I had just finished my Masters’ and was doing contract work when a mentor of mine passed a job along to me saying I would be perfect for it. I knew about the posting but wasn’t sure I was qualified. After her support and nudging I applied. I knew very little about HIV/Hep C other than what I learned as an 80’s kid growing up with all the education when HIV was new and evolving. I knew the basics! So, it was a lot of learning and reading before that interview. I was so nervous that I had missed something. It’s been 8 years since I first entered HIV CBR work with Indigenous communities and I am grateful to be doing the work. To be welcomed into the work and supported by my colleagues who are HIV positive.
What role do you think HIV and hepatitis C research plays in the “real world”?
For Indigenous people it is more “real” than many of our communities know or realize. I return home to my sister’s community (also my area just not my reserve) and they have learned about the high rates, transmission, medications, etc. from me. They often say: “I didn’t know that” Or they ask me specific questions about the two – that really should be common knowledge, but it isn’t. I see the lack of education in the “real world” and its heart wrenching when in reality we have high rates of HIV and Hep C in our communities and our people are dying. Yet, we also have incredible leaders who are open about their status and are willing to share their stories and provide the education.
How do you engage the community in your work?
For me, this is a given. I would not and could not do this work without the support of the Indigenous communities I work with. I often say “I’m the helper” I’ll help you do the work just tell me what to do and I’ll do it. Of course there are times where I’m like, “ok, I’m only one person”! But for the most part I am in service of. As an Indigenous, non-HIV positive person, my role, my service, as an ally is to try to support and move forward the work that my people want done. To let them know that they are not alone. It has been an incredible gift and honour to do this work.
If you had unlimited funds, which areas of research would you invest in?
Education. So many of our communities still need education about HIV. There are some education programs out there that are Indigenous specific, but it does not allow for Indigenous people living with HIV to go out and tell their story. To share what they know and what they have learned. We are an oral people, telling and sharing of stories is how we connect and learn.
If you were able to choose, what is the natural talent you’d like to be gifted with?
A singing voice. My granddaughter has the most beautiful singing voice.