Hay River students will be marking Pink Shirt Day today, Feb. 23, to combat bullying.
Chief Sunrise Education Centre principal Deborah Reid said the day is important at her school on the K’atlodeeche First Nation reserve because it promotes more healthy and safer ways to deal with conflict resolution.
Typically bullying is defined by activities by one person toward another that aims to hurt, is repetitive and features power and control type of qualities.
On any given Pink Shirt Day, Reid has her students make little pink stickers in the mornings so that everyone can wear them, similar to a poppy.
Because not all students have pink shirts to wear, having a symbolic feature to pin on their clothes aims to be more inclusive and allows everyone to participate.
Throughout the day and week, students engage with a school counsellor and work with books from a British Columbia-based education program called WITS (Walk away, Ignore, Talk it out, Seek help).
Reid said that promoting anti-bullying can be especially important in small, Indigenous or northern communities like KFN where relationships are sometimes much more closely-knit together with longer histories than one may find in a larger Canadian urban setting.
“I think in small communities, (residents) become so much like families and everyone knows everybody else and it’s sometimes hard to live side-by-side like that,” Reid said.
“Whenever something is reported at the school, usually I’ll sit down with the kids and we’ll talk about the situation and define bullying.”
A common phrase that she hears from students involved in bullying episodes is that they were ‘just joking’ often because expressing humour can go too far.
“So we talk about when a situation is no longer teasing and that ‘just joking’ still hurts,” she said. “Even when just joking, you still leave a hole in a person like a piece of wood with a nail in it. “Though you might take the nail off, the hole still exists.”
Conflict resolution and self-advocacy
Reid said that Pink Shirt Day is an important vehicle for educators to promote the need for students to advocate for themselves and to understand that it is natural for relationships to evolve and change over time.
“I think that’s a big thing in a small community that relationships go back and forth where sometimes you’re really close and sometimes you drift away. Marriages do the same thing,” she said.
“So it’s okay for kids to understand that you might not like a person and might not even know them very well, but you have to be respectful to everyone, no matter what.”
Ultimately the Pink Shirt Day messaging aligns and closely complements the Dene law of Love Everyone as Much as Possible and aims to serve young students as they grow to be adults and active members in their communities.
Outbreaks of violence among adults, for example, can hopefully be stemmed with more positive ways of dealing with conflict, Reid said.
“If we can intervene with our children now, when they become adults, and they have a conflict with somebody, we hope they can maybe be better able to choose a solution will work for them, rather than perpetuating that negativity in the community,” Reid said.
Reid said because of Covid-19 and gathering limitations the school cannot hold a full school assembly or activity.
Other schools in Hay River indicated on Monday that they were planning for events on Wednesday, too.
Principal Carolyn Carroll of Prince Alexandra School and Harry Camsell School said that students and staff will be wearing pink shirts to promote the day.
Principal Lynne Beck of Diamond Jenness Secondary School said that her staff and students are being asked to do the same and her Grade 8 and 9 students will be participating in a Pink Shirt Day 2022 live broadcast that features schools across the country talking about reducing bullying and conflict and increasing inclusion.