Kwanlin Dun is the first First Nation in the territory to organize a sexual health conference for its youth.
And it’s happening this weekend.
“What I’m hearing, from all the other First Nations, is that they’re just totally thrilled with Kwanlin Dun, because they’ve been waiting for this for decades,” said conference organizer and Kwanlin Dun community health nurse Christina Sim.
“Culturally, First Nations tend not to discuss sex openly or in their home.”
While Sim acknowledges that one weekend will not completely “solve” everything, the hope is to get things started, she said.
Most specifically, to get the conversation – with honesty and knowledge – started, she added.
That is why – along with the numerous workshops on sexually transmitted infections, healthy relationships, how alcohol and drugs play into sex and consent, breaking up and more – there will also be a parents’ workshop.
If parents come and learn how to be approachable about these topics, youth will have someone at home to continue the conversation with, said Sim.
“Sexual health and awareness, especially taught in a culturally sensitive, culturally competent way, is so important,” said Georgia Johnson with the Blood Ties Four Directions Centre.
She points to the legacy of residential school and the lost generations of traditional teachings around sex, relationships and family.
“The education delivered is usually white- or euro-centric,” she said. “There are giant gaps in sexual education for all youth right now, but really the education isn’t getting to certain communities and it’s not necessarily because it’s not being delivered but it’s not being delivered in the right way.”
Blood Ties will be responsible for a few workshops including one on “negotiating condom use,” and how to talk with a partner who refuses to wear a condom.
They will also have a booth set up at the conference where they will be handing out the products of their most recent collaboration with the Yukon’s other urban First Nation: the Ta’an Kwach’an Council.
Snagging the idea from a sexual health promotions group in Montreal, the council and centre decided to do something concrete with their funding to get the word out, rather than leaving something behind on a shelf to collect dust, said Johnson.
They made sneaky placards with cheeky slogans by working with something almost everyone wears – underwear.
A collection of women’s underwear will be handed out that say “Protect your” with a picture of a cat, while the men’s underwear say “Cover your” with a picture of a rooster.
“People from the ages of 11 to 35 were coming and saying, ‘I love those. Can I please have a pair?’” she said. “I’ve had a lot of parents say that they are going to give a pair to their kid because they recognize that it’s kind of cool and cheeky. It’s hard to make the mark with each of the age groups but I think we did it with these and at the same time it has a really cool, positive, healthy sexuality message on them.”
Already, 80 youth from Inuvik, Old Crow, and communities throughout the territory have registered to come for the three-day conference, but Sim realizes not everyone will be able, or want, to come to all the workshops.
Organizers have found creative ways to combat that, however.
There will be prizes and a concert on Saturday night, but for youth to be eligible to win or attend, they have to go to at least five workshops, said Sim.
Youth decide for themselves which workshops. And to help them feel even more comfortable to participate, no parents are allowed at the conference – outside of the parents’ workshop.
As well, counsellors will be onhand if needed, said Sim.
And while there is an obvious focus on sexual health with First Nations culture in mind, non-aboriginal youth are more than welcome to attend.
“First Nation kids have sex with non-First Nation kids,” she said. “It is for all youth.”
Things kick off at 5 p.m. today at the Kwanlin Dun village in MacIntyre. The workshops with multiple “sexperts” start early on Saturday with keynote speaker Jessica Yee.
Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at