Nunavut youth take charge on sexual health
Arviat youth use art to tackle the touchy questions
True or false: gonorrhea and chlamydia are diseases you get when you drink dirty water?
The respondent, who is being interviewed in the middle of a store in Arviat, answers correctly, adding that the infections are only transmitted sexually.
But the person asking the questions might not be who you think.
Ethan Tassiuk, a Grade 12 student at John Arnalukjuak school, is quizzing his mom Laura on sexual health.
True or false: you can re-use an old condom as long as you wash it off, Ethan asks as his next question.
“False. Ew!” his mom responds, laughing, much like a teenager would.
The quiz takes on a more serious tone when Ethan asks “what about if someone is passed out or unconscious, does that give someone the right to have sex with that person?” — to which Laura shakes her head, “No.”
If you ever wondered what community-based, youth-led innovation looks like, look no farther than this Kivalliq community, which has decided to take it sexual health needs into its own hands.
Building on the Government of Nunavut’s plans to beef up its sexual health strategy territory wide, Arviat’s wellness committee is working with researchers and local youth to identify priorities and deliver services.
“Some of the things we were most interested in were what youth know, what they want to know, and where they want that information,” said Shirley Tagalik, the chair of Arviat’s wellness committee.
Noting the prevalence of sexually transmitted infections in Nunavut, graduate student Gregory Corosky decided to focus his thesis on sexual health among Inuit in Arviat, where youth aged 20 and under make up more than half the community’s population.
A year later, Corosky’s preliminary findings show youth in Arviat face a number of barriers accessing sexual health support, from issues of trust, powerlessness or simply feeling scared or shy to ask questions.
Over the summer months, another researcher spent the summer in the community engaging youth aged 15 to 24 through eight arts-based workshops, which featured elders’ storytelling, preparing a meal together and exploring sexual health issues through art and film.
During one session, the group, established as Arviat Youth Art and Film group, mapped their bodies with life-size drawings, facilitating questions and developing super hero personas.
Another day, youth designed signage to go up at new condom dispensers put up around town and the group worked together to produce a film.
And all along, the group videotaped their efforts — including Ethan’s interview with his mom — producing a film that will be screened for the community.
“A lot of the discussion centred on respect and responsibility,” Tagalik said.
“I heard a lot about respecting myself and taking decisions about my own sexual health,” she said. “Most of the participants were girls, so we consider that very positive.”
Many adults can remember that first, awkward conversation they had with their parents — most often a subject broached by parents.
But in this scenario, Arviat Youth Art and Film group members are not only seeking the answers to their own questions, they’re sharing what they learn with the larger community.
Sexual health education is already provided to Nunavummiut students through the territory’s school curriculum, complimented through public health programs complement that.
“But a lot of youth told us that wasn’t enough information available on sexual health,” said Debbie Viel, supervisor of community public health nursing based in Arviat, a partner in the sexual health project.
“The purpose of this was to try and fill those gaps,” she said. “Although it’s youth-focused, this is something we want out community to know about, too.”
The project managed to engage different organizations and community groups at the same time, she added.
Project leaders now say the work done in Arviat so far has a lot of potential to influence how sexual health and education is delivered across the territory.
“The GN is very interested is what youth are saying and the messaging that could come out this,” Tagalik noted.
“Putting all those things together could potentially be a good model for other communities to use as well.”