The people of Watson Lake, Yukon (Canada), and nearby Kaska First Nations populations in Two Mile area, Upper Liard, and lower BC, identified a need to reach out to their youth to empower and include them in bringing awareness to the issues of violence against indigenous women.
Problems and Purpose
The community of Watson Lake, which identifies as 50% Aboriginal peoples, has a significantly disproportionate margin when it comes to the issue of violence against Aboriginal women and girls in their community. The community came together with local aboriginal organizations to create the Youth for Safety project: a three-year project promoting youth empowerment and community awareness of issues facing aboriginal women.
Background History and Context
Aboriginal women and girls are three times more likely than non-aboriginal women to report having been a victim of violent crime. 55% of missing and murdered aboriginal women involve women and girls under the age of 31, with 17% of these being 18 years of age and younger. Compared to the provinces, rates of sexualized offences against women are two to three times higher in the Yukon (Cook, "Dene ā’ nezen (Dignity and Respect): Youth for Safety (“Youth For Safety", 2017, p. 4). Violence against aboriginal women and girls has been identified as a national crisis in Canada. There has been significant pressure for action from aboriginal and women’s rights advocates (Case Studies 2017, 2017, p. 50-51). In response, in September 2016 the government of Canada launched an independent national inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. This national inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls is independent from federal, provincial and territorial governments, Crown corporations and Indigenous forms of government. The goal is to offer effective recommendations that will enhance and ensure the safety of their local women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA individuals (National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, 2018). In Watson Lake compared to other Yukon communities, reported crime rates have historically been significantly higher and as a small remote community with a population of about 800 (half identifying as aboriginal), Watson Lake has under-resourced and over-subscribed social development services. These services are generally geared toward adults and thus youth are under-serviced (Case Studies 2017, 2017, p. 50-51). This series of events is what led up to the initiative that is Youth for Safety. By providing the youth with the knowledge and skills needed to assume a leadership role in promoting safety and justice for women and girls, both youth-to-youth and in the community at large, this process will result in a community filled with well-educated individuals (Case Studies 2017, 2017, p. 50-51).
The Youth for Safety project was initiated by the Liard Aboriginal Women’s Society, a non-profit, charitable, community-based Indigenous organization, in collaboration with Watson Lake community organizations, external facilitators, and an evaluator. The Liard Aboriginal Women’s Society provided social development services to the Kaska Nation in Yukon and northern British Columbia (Case Studies 2017, 2017, p. 50-51). They initiated this program to bring attention to the increased cases of missing or murdered indigenous women and girls, starting with the youth in their community. This is the first time this participatory method of involving the youth and educating them is being used in this area.
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
Youth for Safety was funded by a three-year contribution agreement from Status of Women Canada, a “federal government organization that promotes equality for women and their full participation in the economic, social, and democratic life of Canada” (Who We Are, 2018). As such, one of their priority funding objectives focuses on ending the violence perpetrated against women and girls. The Youth for Safety initiative grew out of the “Together for Justice” movement that had been organized by the Liard Aboriginal Women’s Society in collaboration with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and local Kaska women. This non-profit, grassroots organization is dedicated to providing programs of social development in Watson Lake and the surrounding area. (Beringia Community Planning, 2016, p. 3)
The Liard Aboriginal Women's Society advocated the response-based approach from the inception of Youth for Safety as they recognized the same principles were rooted in their native Kaska cultural ideal of Dena Au'Nazen (dignity). Participants were thus encouraged to get in touch with this central tenet of their heritage.
From the outset, the organizers knew that in order to make a real impact, young people would have to be the target in order to turn the tide of violence. They proposed a three-year, five-module component-based curriculum to be implemented with cooperation of the Watson Lake Secondary School during the 2015 to 2017 school years. The youth of aboriginal and non-aboriginal backgrounds were encouraged to participate on a yearly, self-selected basis by means of a large school assembly, providing information on the initiative and the opportunity to sign up. Many of the youth participated all three years of the project. No dedicated staff were hired, as the goal was to enable youth to have a voice and direct role in the development of the initiative using the response-based approach via workshops tackling social justice and violence against females.
The organizers of the initiative worked closely with the Centre for Response Based Practice to select facilitators, who planned and wrote a report after every session (A. Raider, personal communication, October 17, 2018).
Participant Recruitment and Selection
The process of recruitment focused on engaging the local youth in the school system of Watson Lake, mainly from the Watson Lake Secondary School. The participants ranged from grades 8 through 12. The Youth for Safety project targeted youth specifically to act as an outreach engagement to the local community and work with them to address the epidemic of violence against women in the Watson Lake area. This began by creating a platform for dialogue and efforts by the youth to become aware and face the issue of violence against women directly. The Liard Aboriginal Women's Society provided facilitators and speakers for the Youth for Safety project.
The recruitment of the youth participants was a community outreach which was facilitated through the Watson Lake Secondary School. This was a voluntary program that the students chose to take part in. The sample of participants reflected the indigenous and non-indigenous people of the Watson Lake area. During meetings and workshops participants had access to foods and drinks provided by the Liard Aboriginal Women's Society. This allowed participants to share community meals while attending the Youth for Safety workshops.
The experts and speakers came from Liard Aboriginal Women’s Society. Many of the speakers and experts that presented had first hand experience with violence, both physical and sexual in nature. This in turn allowed them to speak about the issue of violence against women to the participants. The dialogue process was lead by the facilitators but allowed the youth to create dialogue and deliberate decisions for the Youth for Safety project.
Methods and Tools Used
Speaking circles were used to guide the participatory process. Welcoming aspects of effective dialogue included eye contact, an environment of equality (everyone on the same level, nobody as the head of the table), inclusivity, and equal opportunity for contribution to the dialogue. The project also used a response-based approach that included tools such as: interactive school workshops, surveys, community safety audits, team-building activities, youth-led art campaigns, guest speakers, quizzes, youth presentations, brainstorming, youth-led petitions, elder storytelling, radio/news broadcast, interviews, dotmocracy, etc. (The Society, 2017). Session reports and attendance lists were used to track the rate of attendance, describe the focus and summary of content with results for each module. Most interactions were face to face, although some were through media outlets such as radio and news. Feedback from both the community and youth was used as a tool to initiate thoughts and ideas on how to effectively engage youth.
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
The Youth for Safety initiative had a four-part curriculum: (1) Together for Safety and Justice, (2) Building a Safer Community, (3) Participatory Evaluation, and (4) Sustaining Youth Leadership (Liard Aboriginal Women’s Society, 2018, p. 65). The ultimate goal was to give youth more responsibility and ownership as the curriculum was implemented. Those who graduated served as mentors to younger students.
Two preliminary school assemblies were held in November and December 2015 to introduce students to response-based practice. During this orientation, participants explored their ideas of safety and expressed their preferences by creating posters, brainstorming, and participating in group discussions.
The initiative was officially launched in 2016 by five 2-day modules between January and May, and continued through 2018. During these sessions participants focused on relationship building, gendered and sexualized violence, privilege, oppression, addiction, dignity, safety concerns, and campaign ideas. Tools employed included team building activities, surveys, community safety audits, quizzes on sexual violence and assault, dotmocracy, video interviews, and presentations. (Liard Aboriginal Women’s Society, 2018, p. 66)
The initiative used a group facilitation style and was based on the core principles of respect and dignity. Facilitators were key to keeping the project on focus and enabling participants to engage in small-and large-group dialogue. The facilitation techniques were intentionally chosen to promote relationships and trust between the participants and facilitators, native elders and youth, and peer to peer. Every workshop included a Kaska Elder in some capacity to witness the work and share insight on the topics being discussed. Team-building games were incorporated into these sessions to promote energy and give youth the opportunity to build new connections.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
Youth for Safety has influenced, impacted, and changed the lives of many people in this community so far already. The intended results, as provided by the initial case study and the Beringia PDF (Cook), for this case study was to engage a group of male and female youth community members in learning about issues of violence and getting involved in changing their community. In terms of whether or not the initiative had its intended results or not, it is safe to say that the results do align with the project’s intended results. Through learning to describe issues relating to sexualized violence, becoming engagement leaders and leading community discussions on violence, gaining the ability to identify concrete actions they can take to respond to violence against women and girls, and through many more engagement activities, the youth has been provided with the knowledge and skills needed to assume a leadership role in promoting safety and justice for women and girls.
Evaluations revealed that new bridges were built between age groups as well as cross-culturally (aboriginal and non-aboriginal). This peer-to-peer connection has proven to be imperative as a “protective factor against the long-term psychological effects of childhood violence” (Greenfield & Marks, 2010).
The multi-year agenda was meant to foster relationships and connection that have deepened with time. Challenges and considerations were addressed in subsequent years to ensure success of the program. Youth demonstrated their ability to speak about sexual violence with their peers and facilitators. Male participants were actively engaged and showed a more active role in activities and leadership in confronting violence in their communities (Youth for Safety, 2017)
At the end of the third year, many students also expressed wanting to use what they learned in Youth for Safety for the future. This indicates that the program had an impact on students’ consciousness and desire for social change. It also presents the opportunity going forward to support youth networks and ensure that youth are connected to the resources they need to address violence outside of Youth for Safety.
Through this project, the community became more informed on the issue of sexual violence. Community members were increasingly drawn into the conversation by youth, helping people acknowledge the scope of the issue, and more effectively address the need of victims. (Youth for Safety, 2017)
Analysis and Lessons Learned
The short-term goals of this project included giving participants an increased understanding and ability to identify issues involving sexual violence against women and girls and to respond to these issues within their communities. The medium-term goals included helping men and boys actively engage in leadership positions, and address and combat sexual violences against women and girls, and for community members to become aware of gender-based violence issues (Youth For Safety Evaluation Report, 2018). The final evaluation showed that the Liard Aboriginal Women’s Society was able to accomplish the goals of their three-year plan. The students were able to engage older adults about issues in the community. There was evidence of more involvement from students during the third year.
Building relationships between aboriginal and non-aboriginal people was also a success reflected in the involvement of non-aboriginal students within the program. External facilitators and experts added depth to the curriculum. Momentum increased through final presentations. Inter-agency excitement and commitment to the project’s continuation led to youth taking initiative outside of the program.
Since the program was student led, students learned skills to be better able to engage with the community. The elders that joined in on the program saw the youth were benefiting from the process as well as growing in their awareness with an ability to come together and express their voices on these issues. The process allowed students to become more active and involved in addressing solutions along with their perspective on how to implement a plan for safety. One thing that was a disappointment on behalf of the youth was in terms of addressing substance use/abuse in line with the topic of violence (Youth For Safety Evaluation Report, 2018). Many youth voiced that they would like to see something added to the program geared toward alcohol and substance use. Youth went into the program with the intention of learning about violence and coming out more aware of the statistics and realities of violence mainly sexualized violence against females. Youth also found ways of accessing culture and using it to combat and confront such violence. They learned about tools and outreach programs geared at aiding those who have endured sexualized violence.
In addition to the many successes, there were also challenges. One challenge the program encountered during Year 3 was keeping community members involved and enthusiastic about the program. Some teachers weren’t as supportive. Also, the busy lives of students posed challenges with scheduling. Some of the students’ reasons for involvement affected how actively they were involved. A lot of the students were slow to respond, thus communication with them in-between sessions was difficult. Maintaining active and direct involvement of Liard Aboriginal Women’s Society leadership was also a challenge (Youth For Safety Evaluation Report, 2018). However, the youth were satisfied with the process overall and the insight it gave them in identifying potential issues regarding violence.
This case demonstrates the importance of including everyone, on every level, including youth. Throughout this process the youth were able to bring incredible insight and authority to the table of discussion when addressing sexualized violence and ideas for safety. Using a response-based approach gave the community as a whole the opportunity to enlist the feedback of everyone. A response-based approach bolsters the unity and trust within such a community that may otherwise be divisive. Research has demonstrated repeatedly that when people are brought together, especially young people, in discussion/dialogue and decision-making that will directly affect them, they are more likely to become engaged and contribute throughout the entire process
Beringia Community Planning. (2016, Oct. 15). Youth for Safety Program Model. Retrieved from http://www.liardaboriginalwomen.ca/index.php/about-3/projects-and-programs/youth-for-safety-and-justice/50-laws-youth-for-safety-program-model-report-final-draft-1/file
Find the truth. Honour the truth. Give life to the truth. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.mmiwg-ffada.ca/
Greenfield, E. A., & Marks, N. F. (2010, May 6). Sense of Community as a Protective Factor against Long-Term Psychological Effects of Childhood Violence. The Social Service Review, 84(1), 129-147.
Liard Aboriginal Women’s Society. (2018, Sept. 21). Youth For Safety Evaluation Report: Year 3. Retrieved from: http://www.liardaboriginalwomen.ca/index.php/about-3/all-documents/projects-and-programs/youth-for-safety-and-justice/70-youth-for-safety-y3-evaluation-report-2018-sept27/file
Who We Are. (2018, Jan. 31). Retrieved from https://www.swc-cfc.gc.ca/abu-ans/who-qui/index-en.html
Youth for Safety. (2017, May 10). Retrieved from https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B-X3U0XoYSsfUUIxVmJta1dpb2M/view