Bullying affects all of us, whether you’ve been bullied, know someone who has been a victim, or are the bully.

Pink Shirt Day has been observed on the final Wednesday of each February since 2007. More than 180 countries now participate in the event, which strives to create a kinder, more inclusive world by raising awareness and funds for anti-bullying initiatives.

In Nunavut, we see students don their pink attire, and the Government of Nunavut’s Department of Education provides resources to teachers to help address bullying in schools.

Last March in the Legislative Assembly, then-Iqaluit-Manirajak MLA Adam Lightstone praised Pink Shirt Day as an “amazing initiative to raise awareness about bullying and the harmful effects it can have,” even recommending a second such day earlier in the school year to help bolster awareness among the student body.

Former Maani Ulujuk Ilinniarvik principal Jesse Payne said in a 2019 interview that Pink Shirt Day has definitely had a significant impact for students in Rankin Inlet, helping make students more aware of their actions.

He said 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,” he said.

The actions of our children can have profound impacts on each other.

We’re well aware that Nunavut is in the grips of a suicide epidemic, and while being kinder to one another isn’t the silver bullet to end the problem, identifying the violence between students – physical or emotional – and addressing it compassionately is one way to help build and repair self-esteem in youth.

Curbing this unwanted behaviour in schools has been a hot topic among MLAs and education professionals for years. A reporting tool has been in development for eight years, most recently hitting a stumbling block of privacy concerns requiring an assessment, so a paper system is still in use.

While rates of violence in schools seem to have fallen significantly to 165 violent or physical assault incidents in the 2020-‘21 school year – an 84-per-cent drop from the 1,093 incidents reported in a CBC investigation the previous school year, that may be a reflection of spending so much time outside of class thanks to pandemic restrictions, more than a glowing review of changes made.

Principals do report on a monthly basis to regional school operations, according to then-Education Minister David Joanasie, who stated last year that there are a variety of resources made available to schools, including training, the Safe and Caring Schools handbook and through the Inuusivut Anninaqtuq initiative, which is Nunavut’s suicide prevention strategy.

School counsellors are cited as having one of the biggest impacts on students who are bullying or being bullied by others, providing advice or coping mechanisms and talking with those students. Having counsellors available to all grade levels would certainly help support healthy development. The existence of those positions alone encourages needed conversations with our youth on how to deal with their struggles instead of turning them outward against others or inward in the form of self-harm.

As it stands, without the resources available, talking to each other and supporting one another on special awareness days are still small positive steps we can all take.

“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,” says Payne.

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