Folk on the Rocks is back – and so are the festival’s purple protectors.

Members of the volunteer-run Sub Arctic Safety Squad (SASS) – who don distinctive, easy-to-see purple garb – are returning for a third year to promote health, safety and consent at the weekend-long music festival.

Squad members will be on site all weekend – handing out water, keeping an eye on dance floors and offering quiet, safe spaces for attendees – in an effort to ensure all festival goers have a happy and healthy experience while rocking out on the rocks.

The Safety Squad was formed after its founders noticed a need for an “arms length” group to reduce harm and increase a sense of well-being and safety at Yellowknife’s biggest music festival.

To ensure “everyone who goes to Folk on the Rocks gets home as safe as they got there,” said Nancy MacNeill, a captain and one of the founders of SASS, the group engages with festival-goers in various ways.

‘When you’re at Folk on the Rocks you’re part of a community,’ says SASS co-founder Nancy MacNeill.
Photo courtesy of Danielle Gillard

“We go around and just chat with people. We make sure they have sunscreen, bug spray, earplugs – make sure they’re hydrated, especially if they’re drinking alcohol or consuming any kind of substances,” MacNeill told Yellowknifer.

The Safety Squad also runs a Sanctuary Tent for anyone feeling overwhelmed at the festival. The space offers a quiet area for people who may be overheated, or for those dealing with the adverse effects of alcohol.

“It’s a safe space where you can just come and chill and we’ll chat and make sure you’re feeling good,” said MacNeill.

Another focus of SASS is bystander intervention – promoting the idea that all festival-goers have a responsibility to look out for one another and to help defuse unwanted or uncomfortable situations if necessary.

Squad members will be hitting the garden stage on Friday, Saturday and Sunday to give folks a rundown on bystander intervention. “How-could-you-respond-if” type activities, along with talks on reading body language, are planned for the public demonstrations.

“It’s nice to give everyone the empowerment to feel like they can be a part of that,” said MacNeill.

While SASS is dedicated to educating people about unwanted approaches at the festival, including sexual harassment and assault, MacNeill said it’s important to remember consent is not just about sex.

“Just because you’re not planning on engaging with somebody sexually doesn’t mean that you don’t have to respect people when they say ‘no,’ or ‘I don’t want to dance with you,’ or ‘don’t smoke that here,’” she said.

“Consent is really about everybody getting to establish their own boundaries and decide what a good time at Folk on the Rocks means to them,” added MacNeill.

To not be a bystander – to be active and engage a situation – doesn’t take a lot of special training, she said. Sometimes, it’s as simple as asking someone if they’re okay or if they need help.

“Just doing the basic thing of checking in with other people is usually enough and that’s what we want people to do,” said MacNeill. “We want everyone to remember when you’re at Folk on the Rocks you’re part of a community.”

Being a part of that temporary community means looking out for each other to “make sure everyone is having as good a time as you are,” she added.


SASS tips on how to stay healthy, happy and safe this weekend:

  • Don’t forget your own basic needs.
  • Bring water – stay hydrated.
  • Find a shady place and take a break from the sun and music if you need to.

Brendan Burke

As the Yellowknifer’s crime reporter, it’s my job to keep readers up to speed on all-things “cops and courts” related. From house fires and homicides to courtroom clashes, it’s my responsibility...