Replacing bruised faces with healthy minds and hearts
Nunavut school program teaches healthy relationships
After seeing teenage girls coming to school with bruised faces from being hit and punched, a Maani Ulujuk school counsellor in Rankin Inlet started planning a healthy relationships program for the high school.
After two years, the program, a collaboration with the Red Cross, was taught to Maani Ulujuk teachers and last week delivered to about 75 Grade 9 students.
The goal: to teach students and teachers about how to talk to students about healthy relationships, and to give students confidence about speaking up for themselves, confront the other person in the relationship about problems, and know when to ask for help.
“I have seen girls here who I know have been stuck… we try to get them [all students] to understand if I’m in a relationship and its not good, how do I get out of it,” school counselor Harold Peach said.
The healthy relationships program aims to teach students skills and help them to confront harmful situations, taking preventative steps before abuse happens, he said.
And there’s a need to reach youth before the abuse escalates violence.
In Nunavut, the rate of domestic violence is 13 times the national average, according to Statistics Canada figures from 2010.
In a 2007 report published by the Inuit Journal of Circumpolar Health, authors Gwen Healey and Lynn Meadows found that many forms of interpersonal violence, whether sexual or not, remained a big concern for most indigenous communities.
But Maani Ulujuk’s healthy relationship program also touches on issues in any type of relationship, with friends or parents, not just the “kissing” kind, Peach said.
He’s heard kids tell him that they feel as if their parents don’t love them.
And bullying and unhealthy relationships are interrelated, he said.
When it comes to bullying, students should be able to confront the bully, and say how they feel.
“You’re going to try and make it better,” Peach tells his students.
Bullying among aboriginal people is a form of “lateral violence,” that is, harmful behaviour that happens when victims of a situation of dominance turn on each other instead of confronting the system that oppresses them.
That’s according to the National Aboriginal Health Organization. Before NAHO shut down last year, it announced a campaign aimed at targeting bullying among aboriginals.
As the school’s counsellor, Peach spends a lot of time talking to troubled students. He said kids have to learn the hard way about how to deal with unhealthy relationships.
Last week during the program, students at Maani Ulujuk were given black tee shirts with an inuksuk on the front and the words “healthy relationships rock,” on the back.
So far, 18 adults, including social workers and teachers have gone through the program in Rankin Inlet.
“I hope students will realize when a relationship is bad,” Peach said.
“We’re hoping and expect each of the Grade 9 students and teachers put this to use,” he said.