Framework

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Five years ago, the man Elsie Smith loved told her calmly from his hospital bed that it was time for him to go. He died of AIDS and is buried here, in a cemetery on the Navajo reservation.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Barbara Davidson / Los Angeles Times

Elsie Smith, who is HIV-positive, lives in the tiny tribal community of Iyanbito with her two sons and three granddaughters.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Barbara Davidson / Los Angeles Times

Elsie Smith learned of her HIV diagnosis at the Indian Medical Center. Her granddaughters, from left, Keira, 3, Kariann, 2, and Keyanna, 7, assist her with her daily doses of medicine.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Barbara Davidson / Los Angeles Times

Elsie Smith whips dough swiftly between her palms as she makes frybread with Kariann and Keira.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Barbara Davidson / Los Angeles Times

Elsie Smith hugs her granddaughter Keira after she collided with her sister Kariann while dancing in the living room to a Justin Bieber song.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Barbara Davidson / Los Angeles Times

The Navajo Nation is a vast expanse in the Four Corners region where poverty, poor education, alcohol abuse and the hardships of reservation life cultivate an environment in which HIV can spread.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Barbara Davidson / Los Angeles Times

Jerry Archuleta, left, and Emerson Scott, partners who are both HIV positive, volunteer with the Navajo AIDS Network and work with several support groups for HIV and AIDS patients.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Barbara Davidson / Los Angeles Times

Jerry Archuleta with his medication. Should he forget to take it, he can expect a stern lecture from Scott.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Barbara Davidson / Los Angeles Times

Jerry Archuleta and Emerson Scott move effortlessly about the kitchen while cooking breakfast.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Barbara Davidson / Los Angeles Times

Jerry Archuleta, right, helps his sister, who recently had a stroke, walk along with Scott's mother. Both women live with the couple in Gallup.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Barbara Davidson / Los Angeles Times

Here in the Navajo Nation, some learn about HIV and AIDS only once they're diagnosed.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Barbara Davidson / Los Angeles Times

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With HIV diagnoses on the rise, Western medicine and traditional Native American healing converge at the Indian Medical Center in Gallup, N.M., to treat members of the Navajo Nation.

Five years ago, the man Elsie Smith loved told her calmly from his hospital bed that it was time for him to go. He died with a hushed goodbye and a squeeze of her hand.

Smith herself had been feeling ill for a while. Her bones ached and she vomited often. She soon mourned him from her own hospital bed.

A doctor explained to the Navajo woman that her lover had died of AIDS. It was important that they check her blood, he said. She agreed.

Two days later, the doctor told her that she had HIV. Her tired mind became flustered with questions, but she asked only one.

“What is HIV?”

Read the story by Stephen Ceasar

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