Young women on the Rise

Most Yukoners will admit they've heard that young women are prostituting themselves for a couch to sleep on in the middle of winter. But ask if they know anybody personally, or if they've done something about it and you might get some blank stares.

Most Yukoners will admit they’ve heard that young women are prostituting themselves for a couch to sleep on in the middle of winter.

But ask if they know anybody personally, or if they’ve done something about it and you might get some blank stares.

“A lot of people act like it’s not happening, but it should be talked about,” said Josie O’Brien. “Like people who have to do nasty stuff for a place to stay or for a ride.”

“It’s really happening. It’s happening all the time.”

O’Brien, a 24-year-old multimedia artist, thinks most Yukoners are in denial over the territory’s social ills.

“People who don’t address it should be really ashamed,” she said. “They walk around with their head up high, but they’re just blocking it out.”

For the women who live in that world, the silence over their plight isn’t a one-time conversation. It permeates their life.

Sierra McIsaac, 14, sitting across from O’Brien at a table in the Baked Cafe late Saturday afternoon, knows about other problems that get the silent treatment.

Bullying usually goes unnoticed, she said. Most victims keep quiet and most witnesses keep away.

“There is anti-bullying stuff, like Sea of Pink,” said McIsaac, referring to the Canadian campaign that features kids wearing pink for a day. “But it’s not enough.”

Now, both O’Brien and McIsaac have added their voices to a growing chorus of women who want to talk about the tough things in life.

They’re part of Rise, a one-night performance show featuring a play, movies, a dance and creative writing, all about issues that we prefer to “block out.”

Under the guise of Many Rivers Counselling and Support Services, the project brings together more than a dozen women who, over the last three months, learned artistic skills from the best mentors in town.

Andrea Simpson-Fowler, a local choreographer, taught dance. Ashley Camara, a photojournalist, helped prepare a picture montage. Patricia Robertson helped develop writing skills.

The goal of the program, funded by Status of Women, Victim Services and Family Violence Prevention and the Canadian Women’s Foundation, was to nurture employment skills like punctuality and scheduling, said the project co-ordinator, Jodi Proctor.

Many Rivers does a lot of project-based work because it’s more exciting for participants, said Proctor.

And adding an activist dimension to it makes the women even more passionate about what they’re doing, she said.

“Before I started, I didn’t know if it was right or wrong to speak about it, to make a show about this stuff, to talk to the media,” said O’Brien.

But the more she excelled, the more her doubts have diminished.

“I feel like I’m doing a favour so that no one else has to go through it,” she said.

The women, who are between 14 and 25 years old, picked several issues they felt weren’t being addressed by society at large, said Proctor.

Violence against women, safe sex, bullying and climate change came out on top.

Proctor, who’s run different youth programs in Whitehorse and Inuvik for several years, then linked the women up with known experts from town and Outside.

Renee-Claude Carriere, a violence-against-women activist from Whitehorse, made a particularly big impression on O’Brien.

During a presentation on gender equality, Carriere offered statistics connecting the dots between life in town and larger trends nationally.

The statistics made a local problem tangible and easy to grasp.

“(Carriere) really opened my eyes to a lot of things,” said O’Brien.

The project was meant to show women that people have made a living off artistic expression, said Proctor.

“There’s pathways for these women now,” she said.

It also helps to know the mentor artists personally, said O’Brien.

“It’s really good for networking,” she said. “It opens up doors.”

O’Brien developed her multimedia skills with Reel Youth, a film-youth advocacy group from Vancouver.

O’Brien and Jamie Lee Miller created a movie called Rise, which ended up being the name of the whole show.

It focused on violence against women and received excellent reviews during sneak peeks, said Proctor.

McIsaac helped develop another movie, Northern Newscast, about climate change.

They might get shown on community television and the women are gunning for an APTN broadcast.

One woman learned to use guitar and sing over the last few months, and there were even sewing classes.

“I finally know how to use my sewing machine,” said McIsaac, who helped sew dresses for the dance piece.

Over the last months, McIsaac has become more open and talkative about important concerns, said her mother, Rhonda McIsaac.

“The one thing I noticed about Sierra is that she’ll come home and she’ll want to talk about something that’s happening in her life,” said Rhonda. “It might be about personalities, it might be about sex, it might be something else personal.”

The performance show’s play, The Stakes, addresses safe sex for women who usually have few outlets on the issue.

“They don’t have parents to talk to them about sex, they don’t have teachers to talk about sex and they’re experiencing it in Grade 8,” said Proctor.

The focus on artistic skills is all about turning a difficult issue into an expressive one.

And it has allowed O’Brien to do things she’s always wanted to do, like hip hop dance.

“It gives me a lot more to look forward to,” she said.

Too often, art is restricted to people whose parents have enough money to afford dance or drawing lessons.

“It takes a certain amount of privilege to do them,” said Proctor.

But Rise is bringing a can-do attitude to women who want their voices heard, no matter what.

“Now I’m happy to raise money,” said O’Brien.

The show opens at 7 p.m. at the Old Fire Hall tonight.

Tickets are available for $10 at Triple J’s Music Store or for the same price at the door. Those who can’t afford to pay don’t have to, but seats will be reserved for ticket buyers. The performance is dedicated to Angel Carlick and all proceeds will go to Angel’s Nest, a drop-in center in Whitehorse for at-risk youth. There will be “lots of free food” and refreshments at the show.

Contact James Munson at

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Mayo-Tatchun MLA Don Hutton sits on the opposition side of the legislative assembly on March 8 after announcing his resignation from the Liberal party earlier that day. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News)
Don Hutton resigns from Liberal caucus; endorses NDP leadership

Hutton said his concerns about alcohol abuse and addictions have gone unaddressed

Crystal Schick/Yukon News
Calvin Delwisch poses for a photo inside his DIY sauna at Marsh Lake on Feb. 18.
Yukoners turning up the heat with unique DIY sauna builds

Do-it-yourselfers say a sauna built with salvaged materials is a great winter project

Wyatt’s World

Wyatt’s World for March 5, 2021.

Yukonomist: School competition ramps up in the Yukon

It’s common to see an upstart automaker trying to grab share from… Continue reading

The Yukon government responded to a petition calling the SCAN Act “draconian” on Feb. 19. (Yukon News file)
Yukon government accuses SCAN petitioner of mischaracterizing her eviction

A response to the Jan. 7 petition was filed to court on Feb. 19

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley receives his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine from Public Health Nurse Angie Bartelen at the Yukon Convention Centre Clinic in Whitehorse on March 3. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
State of emergency extended for another 90 days

“Now we’re in a situation where we see the finish line.”

The Yukon government says it is working towards finding a solution for Dawson area miners who may be impacted by City of Dawson plans and regulations. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Miner expresses frustration over town plan

Designation of claims changed to future planning

Team Yukon athletes wave flags at the 2012 Arctic Winter Games opening ceremony in Whitehorse. The 2022 event in Wood Buffalo, Alta., has been postponed indefinitely. (Justin Kennedy/Yukon News file)
2022 Arctic Winter Games postponed indefinitely

Wood Buffalo, Alta., Host Society committed to rescheduling at a later date

Housing construction continues in the Whistle Bend subdivision in Whitehorse on Oct. 29, 2020. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Yukon Bureau of Statistics reports rising rents for Yukoners, falling revenues for businesses

The bureau has published several reports on the rental market and businesses affected by COVID-19

Council of Yukon First Nations grand chief Peter Johnston at the Yukon Forum in Whitehorse on Feb. 14, 2019. Johnston and Highways and Public Works Minister Richard Mostyn announced changes to the implementation of the Yukon First Nations Procurement Policy on March 3. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Third phase added to procurement policy implementation

Additional time added to prep for two provisions

Crews work to clear the South Klondike Highway after an avalanche earlier this week. (Submitted)
South Klondike Highway remains closed due to avalanches

Yukon Avalanche Association recommending backcountry recreators remain vigilant

RCMP Online Crime Reporting website in Whitehorse on March 5. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Whitehorse RCMP launch online crime reporting

Both a website and Whitehorse RCMP app are now available

A man walks passed the polling place sign at city hall in Whitehorse on Oct. 18, 2018. The City of Whitehorse is preparing for a pandemic-era election this October with a number of measures proposed to address COVID-19 restrictions. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
City gets set for Oct. 21 municipal election

Elections procedures bylaw comes forward

Most Read