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Workshops teach students about their rights

With rights come responsibilities – this is one bit of notable information youth in the territory are learning thanks to a workshop tour of schools by Representative for Children and Youth staff.

Most importantly, they're learning they have rights.

Know Yourself, an activity led by child and youth advocacy specialist Christa Kunuk Jan. 25, helps Aqsarniit Ilinniarvik students understand the difference between their wants and needs, as well as identify their strengths.
photo courtesy Representative for Children and Youth

"You have the right to speak and be heard. You have the right to be safe, and the right to culture," said Aqsarniit Ilinniarvik Grade 7 student and class president Hayley Groves, about what she learned from a Jan. 25 workshop at her school.

And, along with the right to an education, Groves learned the accompanying responsibilities include learning, doing homework, and communicating.

The workshops offered by the child and youth advocacy specialists are centered on a variety of games, such as the Know Your Rights dice game.

"I learned about 54 rights. It was interesting because I didn't know about all those rights," said Groves.

Grade 8 students Sophie Kokak, Faith Kokak, and Maria Hikhaitok of Kugluktuk High School, who received the workshop in October, answered Nunavut News questions via email together.

"There are things that all kids should have like food, a bed, a clean home, love, a good family that helps each other and teaches each other," they said.

They were surprised to learn that if a child or youth cannot get help at home, from elders, social services, or at school, they can call the office of the Representative for Children and Youth for help.

"They will talk to you on the phone and ask how you’re doing. They can help you get what you should have," said the three students.

Colby O'Donnell is one of several child and youth advocacy specialists, along with Lori Kannak and Christa Kunuk, who deliver the workshop.

So far, along with Kugluktuk and Iqaluit, they've been to Coral Harbour, Cape Dorset, Gjoa Haven, and Kugaaruk.

It's the start of a second round of visits to all communities in Nunavut, after a round of visits when Nunavut’s first Representative for Children and Youth Sherry McNeil-Mulak was appointed in 2014 and her office opened in late 2015.

"We wanted to start ensuring that children are able to use their voice in the best way possible. Through learning to advocate for yourself, we feel children and youth across the territory will be able to share their opinions and views with government agencies, with their families, and with other support networks," said O'Donnell.

O'Donnell says the goal is to empower children and youth and "start the trend where it's normal for children and youth to have a conversation about something that's affecting them."

Aqsarniit Ilinniarvik's Grade 7 teacher Jake Ernewein said the workshops are important.

"And I think, collectively they got a comfort level with the material. The skills they practiced, very important. The things that they learned, very important. But I think one of the most important things that happened is that a face and a name was put to the organization itself," he said. "If they need help, they know who to go to, not a nameless, faceless institution."

For Kugluktuk High School vice-principal Jonathon Lee, it's important for his students to have more workshops.

"To keep the ideas fresh in their minds. Posters, etc., are all over. Kids work well with relationships. Each of the kids remember Colby, his personality, how he came to help – but had a harder time reflecting on the workshop."

Meanwhile, his three students reiterated, "All of our friends should have things like food, a bed, a clean home, if they don’t they can get help. Little by little bit things can get better."

Visual displays at Gjoa Haven's Quqshuun Ilihakvik remind students of their rights and responsibilities following a visit by Representative for Children and Youth staff in October 2017
photo courtesy Representative for Children and Youth