Providing youth creative tools to express their identities and develop healthy relationships is at the heart of Timiga, Ikumajuq (My Body, Light Within), a joint project between Qaggiavuut and Qaujigiartiit Health Research Centre.
The two Inuit organizations have been offering the workshops, which use poetry, storytelling, music, dance and mask to build creativity, self-expression and wellness since 2016 for Grades 8 to 12.
“It’s so ultimately important. Through the statistics, we know how high the sexual abuse rates are. And we know how much young people suffer, through the suicide rates. And we know through interpersonal relationships how much trauma families are going through,” said Qaggiavuut’s Laakkuluk Williamson Bathory, who offered the workshop at Inuksuk High School in mid-November.
“To be able to have venues and safe spaces for people to feel like they’re expressing themselves in a constructive and individual way within a group is … really, really, really important.”
The workshop is geared towards teenagers, specifically Inuit teenagers, but also any Nunavummiut youth.
“It’s to provide a culturally sound environment that is safe and open in order for young Nunavummiut to learn healthy expressions of identity, sexuality and relationships,” said Williamson Bathory.
“It’s a combination of us using performing arts as a medium for those expressions, as well research, in order to be able to create the building blocks around the youth to support them.”
Though the workshop is for one day only, Williamson Bathory says it would be amazing to transform it into a year-long class.
“So that the youth performances could be developed into more than just a presentation at the end of the day. For them to be able to use performing arts as a way of exploring so many different subjects would be awesome,” she said.
“But even the one day is quite important. When we’ve done it in the past, they remember it for the rest of their high-school years.”
Williamson Bathory has witnessed the transformation in youth.
“And I don’t just observe it, but a lot of kids will say after, ‘Wow, I’ve never thought about these things before, in this particular way. I feel much more open and safe.’ There’s the aspect of them expressing themselves in a way that they’re being heard and appreciated. Then there’s the aspect of them learning things about sexuality that they didn’t know before,” she said.
That includes discussing safe sex and condom use.
And there is laughter and humour.
Before the workshop begins, youth fill out a questionnaire about their knowledge of sexuality, relationships, and where they are at emotionally. Theatre games then provide the opportunity to open up and be silly.
“We played a game where groups had to find four things they had in common, then everybody voted on who is the weirdest group. Things like that, to encourage youth to know that we’re all unique and we’re all weirdos in delightful ways,” said Williamson Bathory.
Inuit mythology is incorporated.
“From there we do workshops in Greenlandic mask dancing, which is all about being open, exploring sexuality, humour, fear and humility. The youth put on the greasepaint and we let them loose on the school,” said Williamson Bathory.
“After that, we hand the reins to the young people and get them to make a performance of some sort. It could be a play, a poem – they could even draw cartoon strips – about youth sexuality and relationship building.”
Williamson Bathory says it takes a lot of time to develop trust and openness.
“That’s important because what they end up creating is just so remarkable. It’s always remarkable,” she said.
The workshop has also been offered at Inuksuit School in Qikiqtarjuaq. Schools in Arviat, Cambridge Bay and Nunatsiavut have expressed interest in the workshop, said Williamson Bathory.
“But the great thing is we’ve also done train-the-trainer programs, so we have young people that work here at Qaggiavuut now, and other places, that have the equipment to be able to teach (the workshop) as well,” she said.
Schools interested in providing the Timiga, Ikumajuq workshop to their students can contact Qaggiavuut or the Qaujigiartiit Health Research Centre in Iqaluit.