Q&A with ‘Indian Blood’ author Andrew J. Jolivette

In his new book Indian Blood: HIV & Colonial Trauma in San Francisco’s Two-Spirit Community, Andrew J. Jolivette examines the correlation between mixed-race identity and HIV/AIDS among Native American gay men and transgendered people, and provides an analysis of the emerging and often contested LGBTQ “two-spirit” identification as it relates to public health and mixed-race identity.

Prior to contact with European settlers, most Native American tribes held their two-spirit members in high esteem, even considering them spiritually advanced. However, after contact—and religious conversion—attitudes changed and social and cultural support networks were ruptured. This discrimination led to a breakdown in traditional values, beliefs, and practices, which in turn pushed many two-spirit members to participate in high-risk behaviors. The result is a disproportionate number of two-spirit members who currently test positive for HIV.

Using surveys, focus groups, and community discussions to examine the experiences of HIV-positive members of San Francisco’s two-spirit community, Indian Blood provides an innovative approach to understanding how colonization continues to affect American Indian communities and opens a series of crucial dialogues in the fields of Native American studies, public health, queer studies, and critical mixed-race studies.

We spoke with Jolivette about his book, published this spring.

What inspired you to get into your field?

Andrew J. Jolivette: American Indian studies is in my blood. I felt I had a commitment and a responsibility to give back to my community and I also felt that it was important that more Native perspectives be centered and not just represented or driven by outsiders.

What is the biggest misunderstanding people have about Native American studies and what you do?

AJJ: I think the biggest misunderstanding about the field of Native American studies is that it limits students from working in any field or area that they want and I would also have to say the general sentiment that Native peoples don’t exist in great numbers. What about the millions of people we call Latino or African American or European American—many of them are also Native and this book is also about recognizing how Indigenous peoples of mixed descent are missed in areas like public health because of invisibility and colonial trauma.

Why did you want to put together Indian Blood?

AJJ: This book brings together critical mixed-race studies, public health, queer studies and Native American studies. It’s difficult for students and faculty and community to find empirical research that combines all of these fields. But I was primarily interested in writing this book to share the stories of American Indian LGBTQ and two-spirit people in a new way and to also address the lack of research around HIV/AIDS and mixed race people more generally as a few studies indicate mixed race youth have the 2nd highest rates of infection

Describe the process of putting together the book.

AJJ: A colleague, Dr. Rafael Diaz who is a long-term HIV researcher who presented in my “People of Color and AIDS” course, suggested that I look at mixed-race men and HIV because of a few new studies that came out in the early 2000s. After this I participated in several great research fellowships: the Minority Research Infrastructure Support Program (M-RISP), the RIMI program, and IHART (Indigenous HIV/AIDS Training) at the University of Washington’s Indigenous Wellness Research Institute. Using funds for a pilot study from IHART I formed a partnership with the Native American AIDS Project in San Francisco and conducted five focus groups and community gatherings to recruit and discuss issues of colonial haunting and trauma among gay men, transgender people, and two-spirit individuals who also identify as mixed-race. Their voices matter and sharing them began a healing process of radical love that I outlined in the book.

What was the biggest challenge involved with bringing this book to life?

AJJ: Publishing is a long process, and recruitment of participants was challenging at times given the difficult life circumstances they faced, from homelessness to being HIV positive.

What was the most interesting thing you learned from putting together the book?

AJJ: Honoring and recognizing pain as a collective process can lead to healing and mentoring in urban areas, which is so badly needed for mixed-race American Indians who are also LGBTQ and/or two-spirit identified. Sexual violence is also a huge factor in risk for HIV.

What do you think is Indian Blood’s most important contribution?

AJJ: I think the framework for an intervention model and interdisciplinary approach for studying complex social and cultural issues is an important aspect of the project. I hope it will help anyone who may read it to tell their own story and add to the healing process of many communities, not just the Native community.

How did you come up with the title?

AJJ: I wanted to focus on how blood as a metaphor for racial identity is also a literal factor in intimate sexual contact and in contracting HIV. The book is really an attempt to underscore how colonial trauma continues to impact in multiple ways the experiences of two-spirit people.

What would you have been if not an academic?

AJJ: For years I was interested in the law, and I was a middle school dean for a period as well, but I think if I weren’t in academia I would be a chef. I love to cook and still aspire to one day open a restaurant, Creolicious, that combines Creole and Latin foods and showcases live music as well as poetry and spoken word. I’d love to go further with my cooking and poetry.

What is your next project?

AJJ: My next project will be a poetry cookbook, although I am also interested in studying the co-occurrence of cancer and HIV among aging gay men of color in the rural southern United States.