Steps to battle bullying and social media were presented at a youth conference in Driftpile, March 29-31.
“Bullying is common all over and in every race, and Driftpile is just one small community that wants to see change and to see the good in everyone,” says Sandee Willier, coordinator of the event organized by Driftpile First Nation.
About 50 youth aged 13-19 from Driftpile, Sucker Creek, Gift Lake and Horse Lake heard many harsh messages and wise advice from speakers at the event at Mihtatakaw Sipiy school during the school spring break.
“Today, bullying has become a cancer,” says Lakeshore Regional Police Service Cst. Cory Cardinal, who was a bully as a teen because he was bullied.
“Bullying has become such an epidemic that it has become a factor in the Criminal Code of Canada.”
However, it has not become a law in itself.
“We can’t charge someone for bullying, but for underlying factors such as assault and harassment,” Cardinal says.
He adds that people can even be bullied by their family members, girlfriends and boyfriends.
Social media has raised the risk of bullying, some say.
“It should be a tool, but it is actually a weapon,” Driftpile Chief Dean Giroux says.
“With social media, we have a new beast that is a huge contributor to bullying,” says Caroline Isadore-Badger, who served as master of ceremonies.
Teens were touched by the messages and warnings, and signed and posted a pledge to commit to an action to stop bullying.
Youth describe the impact of the conference as they were encouraged to sum it up in one word on a poster page on the final day.
“This makes me belong here,” says one who could not contain it in one word.
Others wrote down the words; encouraged, inspired, confident, grateful, safe, hopeful and courage.
“We want to ensure youth can make a stance against bullying to their peers either in person or online,” Isadore-Badger says.
Local speakers included April Isadore, owner of Kokom’s House group home that she opened in Driftpile in January 2014.
“Bullying is about power,” says Isadore, who shared she bullied in her early years after she was a victim.
“Youth bully to gain power over others.”
She says issues from a person’s childhood grow into adulthood if they not addressed earlier.
“Bullying leads to anger,” Isadore says.
“Bullies bully because they are not happy with what’s happening in their life and want others to feel bad and terrible, too.”
For those who are bullied, she urges victims to find someone to talk to such as various social services in the local community.
“Let the bully know that you don’t want to be part of that,” Isadore says.
“If you feel threatened, phone police.”
First Nations singer/songwriter Nathan Cunningham of Sucker Creek also shared advice.
“Bullying is nothing personal toward you,” Cunningham says.
“Bullies are damaged and afraid, looking only for acceptance, like everyone else.”
He says the aboriginal abuse has deeper roots than bullying.
“As native people, the lateral violence is a result of intergenerational trauma and it can be healed only by sharing with each other,” Cunningham says.
Local community workers and leaders encouraged the youth to make wise choices to love and respect others in their communications.
“Especially with social media, there are so many people hurting, and people are hurting others,” says Colleen Courtoreille, social development director for Driftpile.
While social media has benefits, it has also risks a danger.
Social media has created a wide open source for people to publicly criticize and discredit people without any accountability for the writers, Chief Giroux says.
“Young people need to tell others it’s not right,” Giroux says.
“Don’t put something on there that will haunt you in the long-term future.”
Even local government leaders are bullied through social media, which often includes false information and accusations.
“If you have a vent, keep it private,” Giroux says.
Instead, he advises people to share their concerns with the decision makers.
“Don’t say anything on social media that will hurt anybody,” says Councillor Peter Freeman.
He also advised them on the root of bullying and social media.
“First of all, respect yourself,” Freeman says.
“When you respect yourself, you respect others.”
Organizers plan to host the event annually over spring break to address youth issues.