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Frank’s Legacy: A Tale of Integretity and Courage

During the winter of 2001-02 Frank Iglugug Gooden, an Alaskan Inupiat, had been ill in his native village of Kiana near Kisma. He traveled to Anchorage in May to see doctors. He was diagnosed with an advanced case of AIDS.         Frank and family members debated from his room at the Alaska Native Medical Center whether and how to tell the village about his disease. The parents Harold and Cora Gooden had always taught their children to be honest and do the right thing. Frank made the final decision that he and his family would be open with the people and tell the truth about the virus.        After Frank’s decision, his sister, Selina Moose said, “I think most of us were relived when Frank said ‘yes’, we didn’t have to hide it.” One month later, Selina Moose traveled to Kiana, a village of 385 people, to talk with extended family members, then announced a town meeting over citizen’s band radio.       “When we decided to hold this meeting,” Moose said, “it took all of us stripping our pride with the possibility of being stigmatized and thrown out of the village. Regardless of what stood in the way, the importance of doing this was far more significant because we were talking about people’s lives.”        Moose began the meeting by talking about the honestly and humility of her parents. Prior to the meeting, she had coordinated with the Maniilaq Association, NANA (Northwest Alaska Native Association) Regional Corp. Inc.’s nonprofit health care provider, to offer voluntary HIV testing following the meeting. Forty-five people were tested that day and another 40 in a subsequent visit by Maniilaq. Some people from the village tested positive.       One participant, Ella Jones, Kiana spiritual leader, said, “When the people came together, it was so powerful that we had to accept it and say OK- this is OK. We came together when we realized they stepped out in faith.” Moose later said that a Kiana mother thanked me for saving her son’s life.       “We brought Frank home in October of ’02, and the people welcomed him.” Moose said. “People brought Native foods; they came to visit. He was so happy, it was beautiful.” Moose described him as shy, quiet person a real homeboy from the village, who had loved to hunt and trap.       Gooden died December 1st, 2002 on World AIDS Day. In telling the village about his disease, Moose launched an unprecedented approach to HIV-AIDS education in rural Alaska and spurred the 2003 documentary video, “Breaking the Silence, Strengthening the Spirit” with the logline “Because HIV can wipe out a village, Inupiat shares brother’s story”. The film was funded by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and produced by the Alaska Native Health Board. Moose’s experience has led her to become an AIDS activist. In addition to speaking at local World AIDS Day events and at the Native Wellness Conference in Albuquerque, N.M., she addressed the National Minority AIDS Council at the 2003 U.S. Conference on AIDS in New Orleans.      She is described by health officials as a real hero in trying to stem the spread of AIDS among Alaska Natives as she traveled from village to village telling the story of her brother who died from the virus. The hope is Selina Moose has cracked the code of silence about sex and AIDS in rural Alaska.       “Without Moose’s courage, Frank Gooden might have become just another statistic. Someone from the village who died of AIDS,” said Charles Curtis, Kiana tribal administrator.       “Selina put the village’s well-being ahead of the family. She did the right thing and as a result, a lot of people are more knowledgeable (about AIDS). I think it also has provided hope that no others will get it.”       Anyone interested in obtaining a copy of “Breaking the Silence, Strengthening the Spirit”, the 26 minute video that tells the story of Kiana’s village-led approach to AIDS awareness can contact Cookie Rose, HIV Prevention Program of the Alaska Native Health Board. Her e-mail address is crose@anhb.org. This article was submitted by Cookie Rose and edited from a May 23rd, 2004 story ‘Frank’s Legacy’, byline Rose Cox, Anchorage Daily News.

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