Martin Morberg

Healing In Community: HIV and Sexual Health Activist Martin Morberg Gives Back

“[Healing is] an ongoing process. But I'm a lot further than where I was,” says Martin Morberg. He is Northern Tutchone and Tlingit from the Yukon Territory and a member of the Na Cho Nyak Dun First Nation, now based in Vancouver BC, working as the Two-Spirit program coordinator at the Community Based Research Center. He is a Two Spirit filmmaker and activist who’s been living with HIV for 10 years and who creates sexual health campaigns for Two Spirit, Indigenous queer and trans people. 

“I'm not a victim of circumstance or a victim of the chronic illness I live with.”

His healing journey started in Victoria, BC, with sweat lodge, sundance, and 12 step programs after seventeen years of addiction and trauma. He then connected with the Canadian Aboriginal AIDS Network and now he’s giving back to the community through activism and education around addictions, sexual health, HIV prevention, and HIV knowledge.

“What I carry today was gifted to me from other Indigenous leaders, activists, people in recovery, elders, knowledge keepers, mentors that really guided me to where I am today.”

He is also affiliated with the Canadian Foundation for AIDS Research and he’s been doing presentations for Connected North. His training informs non-Indigenous organizations, universities and healthcare students around cultural safety, HIV, safer language and cultural safety practices in working with Two Spirit people. Morberg helps Two-Spirit and Indigenous people in the Downtown Eastside access the health care system safely, addressing stigma and discrimination. 

“To know where I'm going, I need to know where I come from.”

While he contributes to the visibility of Two-Spirit people and the reclamation of their place in our communities, he’s also going to school part time to get into health sciences, inspired by mentors and other activists who share his life experiences. “When I see other Indigenous people that I can identify with that have similar histories as me, and to see them being a living, breathing role model, it shows me that this is possible, that this is something that I can have. I'm coming to believe that I can excel and continue to grow. Part of that is going back to school,” he explains. 

“I've just really taken a lot of my life experiences, which have been some of my greatest teachers, and have used those experiences to prosper and to excel and move forward”

He’s a grassroots activist with a heart for community. “I really resist a lot of the colonial structures and frameworks and hierarchies that are in place in a lot of systems that we have to navigate as Indigenous people, and find that in a lot of the health movements the voices of community are often left out….it's really my hope to elevate, highlight and center, those grassroots and community voices,” he elaborates. 

“You're not as alone as you think you are. There's a beautiful life waiting on the other side of your own healing. Don't be scared to ask for help because the help is there.”

That community care requires selfcare. “You have to take really good care of yourself when you're a liaison between Western organizational structures, and community and grassroots community. We're trying to support, elevate and uplift on one side and then on the other, we're trying to resist the current constructs and the colonialism and the constraints of time and how they approach things,” Morberg relays. 

“I really just needed to know that it was possible to prove to myself that it was possible and understand that there was a whole world outside of the Yukon Territory.”

He encourages youth considering leaving their home community to learn abroad. “I grew up as a Two Spirit person in a rural and remote community with a lack of role models or teachers. A big part of me needed to leave where I was from in order to grow,” he remembers. He found his own community, teachers, mentors and his spiritual practices. He bought a backpack and saved up so he could backpack through Southeast Asia and the experience expanded his horizons.

Illustration by Shaikara David

Morberg wants others to know they can do it too. “If you're ambitious enough, and you're motivated enough… all it really takes is that one time you travel, tour through that university, go into that urban city center that one time and you just catch that vibe, you catch that energy, and you're like, ‘I can do this.’,” he urges.  That sense of self-efficacy can lead to action, planning, applying for funding and opportunities and creating a whole new life.   

“It's like my ancestors and creator opened the door for me and my job was to walk through that door. When I walk through that door, I do the work. I know I'm ambitious and motivated to do it. Then another door opens. This journey of walking through these open doors has led me to a life I really didn't know I could have. Doors are there, opportunities are there, it's really just about making that first jump,” he recounts. 

His ancestors inspire him, like his great grandmother who raised eight children on the trapline in the North. “When I think about that, it's my grandmother coming from the womb of this woman and my mother coming from the womb of this woman, and it's this matriarchal connection of the power and resilience and ancestral strength that I come from. When I'm deprived spiritually, or facing difficulty and challenges, and maybe being exposed to a very colonial world and trying to navigate that, I need to remember who and where I come from to move forward,” he reflects. 

Healing is an ongoing process, but Martin Morberg is a lot further than where he was, and he’s bringing people along with him. Educating and advocating in community while encouraging youth, he’s giving back and moving forward. He had to leave where he was from to find where could end up, but he’s grounded in who he is and who his ancestors were as he does this important work.

Thanks to Alison Tedford Seaweed for authoring this article.

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  • Career
  • Identity
    First Nations
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  • Province/Territory
    British Columbia
  • Date
    February 3, 2023
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