"We need to embrace the acceptance and understanding that are core values instilled in native people... Living in balance or living well is also affected by HIV and AIDS and we need to be able to understand this because it can affect us." - Elton Naswood
Elton Naswood has been an advocate for HIV/AIDS since 1997, dedicating much of his life to changing the stigma of HIV/AIDS in the American Indian community. This Navajo American Indian began as a Program Manager for the Tribal Law and Policy Institute, an American Indian owned and operated non-profit organization dedicated to creating education, research, training, and technical assistance programs which promote the enhancement of justice within American Indian communities. Here, Naswood developed a number of healing and wellness, and drug court programs designed to help put the institute's clients in the work force and back on the right track.
In 2003, Naswood joined the AIDS Project Los Angeles (APLA) team serving as the Program Coordinator for The Red Circle Project (RCP). The RCP is currently the only HIV prevention program in Los Angeles County that specifically targets the American Indian community through a variety of services and support groups.
As part of its outreach, the RCP hosts informal support group sessions, engages in an active social marketing campaign, and plans an annual retreat for RCP participants where they re-connect with cultural and spiritual understandings of American Indian beliefs and practices. In an effort to educate and raise awareness about HIV/AIDS prevention within Native communities, Naswood regularly presents at conferences, colleges, and a variety of community events on HIV prevention and the history and culture of Two Spirits culture. In addition, he utilizes monthly pow-wows in Los Angeles as educational meeting points, and brings community health mobile units to perform on-site testing. Naswood and his team also used the Native holistic wheel, a traditional American Indian medicine wheel, to create an HIV prevention curriculum that is now utilized by tribes across the nation.
Furthermore, Naswood has worked tirelessly with the city of Los Angeles AIDS Coordinators Office to help fund the RCP in order to expand the program. The funding he finally secured in 2008 marks the first time the city has funded an American Indian HIV/AIDS prevention program. For his hard work and dedication to AIDS advocacy, Naswood was honored by the National Native American AIDS Prevention Center earlier this year.
Outside of his life at the RCP, Naswood serves as a member of the Community Advisory Council for the National Native American AIDS Prevention Center, sits on the Advisory Board for the Office of Minority Health Resource Center, and is on the Board of Directors for the Nakwatsvewat Institute. Locally he is Co-Chair of the American Indian Mental Health Task Force and was elected to the American Indian Community Council in Los Angeles County.
Naswood has traveled the world to bring HIV/AIDS awareness and education to indigenous communities outside of this nation. To name just one example, in September 2010, Naswood attended the Healing Our Worldwide Spirit Conference in Honolulu, Hawaii and hosted the indigenous conference's first HIV/AIDS workshop panel. Long term, Naswood plans to utilize social media and traditional American Indian storytelling to educate American Indian communities.