One woman’s campaign for safe sex in Navajo Nation

SHIPROCK, New Mexico — She walked past the rows of folding chairs and into the street with the rest of the parade. Motorcyclists rolled slowly down the street on their machines, tossing handfuls of candy to packs of children. The sound of a high school marching band rat-tat-tat-tatted down the street as the horn section struggled to stay in tune. Then a moment of relative quiet descended on the Northern Navajo Nation Fair Parade. She reached into her bag, produced a handful of condoms and held them up for the crowd to see.

“Free condoms!” yelled Keioshiah Peter. “Protect our bodies, protect our people!”

A few young men giggled at the offer, some older onlookers bristled, and still others held up their hands, took what Peter had to offer and thanked her.

“Free condoms!” hollered Peter again.

The Northern Navajo Nation Fair Parade was in its 103rd year as it made its way down the main drag of Shiprock, New Mexico, last fall. For Peter, it was the second year for the Rez Condom Tour — a student-organized sex education event centered on promoting sexual health and expression on the Navajo Nation. Its primary feature: giving out safe sex supplies and educating the public on how to use them.

“Why?” a man yelled angrily as Peter passed by. “Give me an example of why!”

“So we can protect our bodies and protect our people by creating —”

The man shook his head in an irritated fashion and shushed her.

“Who is the one that gave you permission to give out stuff like this?” he asked as he pointed to the condoms.

“It’s coming from the youth, and it’s coming from an organization —”

The man interrupted her again with a wave of his hand. One of his companions urged him to let Peter continue walking. Then he shooed her away with a dismissive hand gesture.

“You just don’t do that in front of little kids!” the man yelled after her.

“OK,” Peter said as she walked away. Then with renewed vigor she yelled, “Free condoms!”

Read more here at Al Jazeera America.

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tristan ahtone

Tristan Ahtone is an award winning journalist and member of the Kiowa Tribe of Oklahoma. Born in Arizona and raised across the United States, he was educated at the Institute of American Indian Arts and the Columbia School of Journalism. He lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

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