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Supporting the strength in Yukon girls

Heather Grantham had great parents and a supportive family and home life growing up. But, like many, it didn't stop her from experimenting with sex, drugs, alcohol and skipping school when she was a teenager.

Heather Grantham had great parents and a supportive family and home life growing up.

But, like many, it didn’t stop her from experimenting with sex, drugs, alcohol and skipping school when she was a teenager.

“My experience as an adolescent, teenage girl was not a good one,” she said. “There’s just a lot of confusion during that period when you’re trying to figure out who you are and what your values are and what you stand for.

“I think I was just vulnerable as a teenager because I questioned who I was or what I stood for. That invited a lot of experimentation into my life without actually having information about what that was going to do to me, physically and emotionally.”

Six and a half years ago, Grantham started a support group for young girls in Faro called Girls Night Out.

“I think that it’s so important for girls to have an adult role model or mentor, other than their parents, to talk about things with and to ask questions and get information and help them through conflict and problems,” she said.

The group of a dozen-or-so 11- to 18-year-old girls meet every Wednesday night.

They go for walks, do activities with other women in the community, sometimes they take trips to Whitehorse, or to the lake. But more than anything, they talk.

“Girls are very vulnerable in adolescence - sometimes even more so than boys,” she said. “Because of issues of dating, relationship violence, unplanned pregnancy, low self-esteem, high drug and alcohol abuse and bullying. Those are things that we talk about at girls night and we just work through them.”

Even when girls grow up and leave Faro, they tend to remember their time at Girls Night Out, said Grantham, mentioning a few girls who went away to school but call her up and ask if they can come out on Wednesday when they are back in the community, visiting or working.

Grantham has big goals for the group.

Eventually, she hopes to develop a head office in Faro for Girls North, a network of Girls Night Out organizations across Canada’s North.

She’s already started.

After the group took a song-writing excursion in the winter, Grantham started planning a summer music camp.

“And then we thought, well, why not dream big and what if it could be a whole Yukon girl thing?”

So Grantham and fellow co-ordinator Kirsten Ryan submitted an application for arts funding.

“And we got it,” said Grantham, laughing, sounds of shock still in her voice. “So this is the first year that the Empowering Girls Through Music Camp is happening.”

Grantham, Ryan and 11 Faro girls are hosting the four-day camp in their community from June 2 to 5.

So far, 43 girls from across the territory have registered.

The total capacity for the camp is 50, but they’ve borrowed and bought enough instruments to go around.

A whole lineup of female, Yukon musicians will be participating in the camp.

Kim Barlow will be teaching the banjo, Kate Weekes, the guitar, Keitha Clark, the fiddle, Barbara Chamberlin, vocals and Kim Beggs will be guiding the girls through song writing.

“Learning to express ideas on paper and in song is a very empowering thing to do,” said Beggs. “Even when you don’t feel like you have a voice in regular conversation, people seem to listen more when the voice is singing. It feels good to have a voice that people can hear. It’s empowering.”

As well, each artist must come prepared with a second ‘teachable,’ said Grantham.

For example, one artist will be teaching yoga as well.

“So they’ll be some different kind of activities mixed up in there,” she said.

But the focus is on music, which tends to form an integral part to every teenager’s life, said Grantham.

The girls will be picking some of their favourite songs and, as a group, will break down the lyrics to analyze what they mean and whether they empower girls or not.

The week will culminate in a final performance on the evening of Saturday, June 4.

The girls will have the opportunity to perform solo work and a group song.

“I think the empowering through music will happen very naturally as the girls write and share music together and learn from these amazing artists who are coming,” said Grantham. “You can probably empower girls through any kind of venue, sport or event.

“But to be able to come to a place and learn an instrument, or learn about your voice and how to sing, or to learn about song writing and poetry and turning your experiences into music is going to be real empowering on their own.”

Girls are very powerful, they just need the chance to acknowledge it, said Grantham.

“I’m trying to take girls, and all of their experiences and their strengths and their weaknesses, and I’m trying to give them the tools for them to take all of that natural talent and turn it into power,” she said. “And to help them be all they can be and realize their dreams and that they have choices, that they don’t have to settle for anything in their life, that they can create change in their life and they can choose the right way - and if they choose the wrong way, they can make another choice.

“I just want to give them the tools so they can stand up for themselves and know what’s right and what’s wrong. I want to create real, powerful, strong-minded women. And I think that we’re doing that.”

There will be a music camp for boys in Faro as well. The boys’ School of Rock will be taking place for the same age range and they too will perform on Saturday June 4, at 7:30 p.m. in the Del Van Gorder School gym.

For more information on either camp, contact your nearest school or recreation centre, or call 994-2006.

Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at