The Kivalliq region has a glow of special colour Wednesday as Kivalliqmiut join all of Nunavut in taking a stand against bullying by taking part in Pink Shirt Day.
Pink Shirt Day is held annually to raise awareness about bullying in Nunavut schools and communities. By wearing pink, Nunavummiut can show that they will not tolerate bullying of any kind.
The original event was organized by David Shepherd and Travis Price of Berwick, N.S., who, in 2007, bought and distributed 50 pink shirts after male Grade 9 student Chuck McNeill was bullied for wearing a pink shirt during the first day of school
Jesse Payne, who has 33 years of experience as a principal and was then principal at Maani Ulujuk Ilinniarvik in Rankin Inlet, remembers Pink Shirt Day coming to Rankin for the first time as part of the initial RespectEd program about eight years ago. The program is about simplifying and answering complex logistical questions people have about relationships, diversity, conflict, communication and navigating pleasure, safety and consent for themselves and with one another.
Payne said the approach was a way for students and staff members to recognize the importance of an anti-bullying message in school and having respect for one another.
He said at the time the approach wasn’t just about bullying but also included healthy relationship training in regards to students and the relationships they find themselves in.
“That was one of our concerns in school at the time, trying to help our teenage students have healthy relationships and also, maybe even more importantly, be able to recognize when they were in an unhealthy relationship,” said Payne.
“Rebecca Ulrich of Winnipeg was instrumental in all of that training, and it was her who we worked with to get the pink T-shirts done as a school initiative the first time around.
“The training then involved not only the Pink Shirt Day but around that we also had students who were actually trained to become peer instructors in the school.
“So, Pink Shirt Day was actually folded into the RespectEd healthy relationship training at the time and after that Pink Shirt Day has been held at the school every year since to the best of my memory.”
Payne said Pink Shirt Day has definitely had a significant impact because it’s helped make students more aware of their actions.
He said also, instead of just being bystanders, it helps enable students to step in and remind those who may be bullying that this is no longer acceptable behaviour at school or in the community.
“Students became a lot more comfortable with coming forward and letting an adult know that this was happening to a friend or a peer at school.
“We had a really great group of students at the time who embraced it and those who took it on, took it on with a fervour and actually became the ones who would go around to each class and do the presentations on the topic.
“Once you make that big a statement among your total student body, if it makes a 10 per cent difference or a 20 per cent difference, then it was well worth the effort to establish.”