FOXY Arctic Inspiration Prize Acceptance Speech

On December 10, 2014, for the first time ever and by unanimous decision, FOXY was the sole Laureate of the annual $1 million Arctic Inspiration Prize.  Read our Acceptance Speech here:

Candice: Hello, my name is Candice Lys, and I’m the co-founder and Executive Director of FOXY. I can’t believe we managed to keep this a secret for the last three weeks. Only my co-founder Nancy knew about this of all the people up here, and I only told her because it was her birthday on the day when Martin called to say we had won.

I’d like to thank the Arctic Inspiration Prize, ArcticNet, our nominator Premier Bob McLeod, Minister Glen Abernethy, Martin, Peter, Arnold, and Sima for inviting us here and for this prestigious honour.

I grew up in a large Métis family in Fort Smith, Northwest Territories, a small community south of Great Slave Lake. I moved to Yellowknife when I started my Masters thesis research in 2008 and quickly met lifelong Yellowknifer and my FOXY co-founder, Nancy MacNeill. Nancy and I had both experienced the sexual health education program in the NWT, and found it lacking even as teenagers. My Masters research involved talking with young women about their needs and experiences with sexual health education. Upon discussing my findings, Nancy and I were struck by how little had changed in the decade since we were in high school, and the absence of opportunities that young Northern women had to express themselves openly and honestly about their sexuality, sexual health, and some of the challenging problems they were facing as teenagers.

Many sexually transmitted infection rates are now at “epidemic” levels across the Canadian North, and we see the highest rates among Northerners between the ages of 15 and 24. Northern Canada also records some of the highest rates of adolescent pregnancy and sexual violence in the country. Sexual health in the North is influenced by several social determinants such as gender, geography, access to health resources, and social support networks. On the individual level, teenagers are dealing with issues like peer pressure, drug and alcohol misuse and abuse, and difficulties in accessing adequate education.

FOXY began in 2012 as my PhD research project and has since evolved into its own non-profit organization, and a phenomenon spanning the Northwest Territories, connecting young women, artists, educators, and elders. We’re teaching sexual health education, but more importantly, we’re helping build the next generation of Northern leaders.

I’d like to introduce my co-founder Nancy MacNeill to tell you a bit about where FOXY has been, and where FOXY is headed.

Nancy: FOXY has reached more than 500 Indigenous and Northern youth from 25 of the 33 communities in the Northwest Territories through our school-based sexual health education program, and on-the-land Peer Leadership Retreats. We’ve been lucky enough to work with young women in every region of the NWT who are smart, engaged, and passionate about making their communities and territory a better place. We’ve worked with an incredible team of artists – musicians, writers, filmmakers, actors, photographers – to create a program that encourages young people to find their talents, however non-mainstream – and express themselves in a safe, non-judgmental way. We encourage them to get angry, because we believe that when we get angry about the problems we see, we also get motivated to fix them. We offer an open, honest, real-life approach that honoured their stories, accepted their realities, and encouraged them to find and build on their own strengths.

The future is FOXY – especially now. With your support, and the help of the women and men standing behind me, FOXY is looking forward to years of educating and empowering young people in the North. We plan to host Peer Leadership Retreats for both young men and young women this summer, offering intensive arts-based education and leadership training. In the winter, our new male facilitation team will join us in visiting dozens of schools around the NWT, Yukon, and Nunavut, ensuring that all Northern youth have access to accurate and complete sexual health information.

But do you all really want to sit here and listen to a boring 31 year-old talk about an awesome arts program for youth? I’d like to introduce Makenzie, our first EVER FOXY Peer Leader, to tell you about what FOXY means to her.

Makenzie: Thanks Nancy. Nancy is the first person I’d ever met who said Vagina in public without lowering her voice.

I’m Makenzie Zouboules, and for me, FOXY has been like a lifeline that I somehow managed to catch in a white out. When I met Nancy in 2012, my relationship to others, my body, and myself was strenuous at best. Nancy and Candice asked me to help facilitate a workshop with them in Inuvik just as I had finished performing as part of the Vagina Monologues in Yellowknife. For the first time I felt that I could have an impact on issues that affected me, and other youth like me in my home community.

Some of the most important conversations I’ve ever had about sexual health and relationships have been with people only two to three years older than me. That’s what Peer Leaders do.

We choose how we lead—we are learning when to step up and when to step back. We know that we still have a lot to figure out. This is why the Peer Leader Retreat matters; for nine days we are able to learn from women who are experts in their field, and from each other about how to be leaders. I would like to also personally thank Mrs. Dragon who is up here on stage with us, and who has us call her Setsuné, which means grandmother in Chipweyan. There is much we can learn from our grandmothers.

But, being FOXY doesn’t stop after a workshop or the Retreat. Being FOXY for me means knowing through body mapping that my hands tremble when I’m in an unsafe situation, that consent is essential to every conversation about relationship boundaries—regardless of relationship status. Being FOXY means having the courage to stand up and proudly announce that I’m Queer in front of an audience… Surprise, mum?

But there are more Peer Leaders than just us on the stage – fifty of us in total. Jessie Shaw’s compassion and sense of humour regularly make discussing difficult subjects easier. Sophie Grogono is a courageous consent warrior. Brianna Shae shone during two Peer Leader retreats, and her intuition and sense of self at 17 years old, is nothing short of inspiring. Together we have Peer Led over 40 workshops across our homes and neighbouring communities.

FOXY has changed my life. FOXY is changing lives. Thank you.

Candice: We have so many people to thank for the FOXY Phenomenon.

First, we thank the Arctic Inspiration Prize for seeing the value in our program, and helping us bring it to all Northern youth.

Thank you to all the girls who have so far been involved with FOXY, and the entire FOXY team who has helped us build FOXY from an idea into the amazing success it is today. Thank you also to the educators, leaders, & community members who have welcomed us into their youth centres, schools, and communities across the North.

We’ve had many government and corporate sponsors contribute to FOXY, helping us get this far and setting us up for even more future success. Thank you to:
• The Public Health Agency of Canada;
• The Canadian Institutes for Health Research;
• The Government of the Northwest Territories;
• The Institute for Circumpolar Health Research for housing FOXY for its first two years;
• Blachford Lake Lodge for hosting our Peer Leadership Retreats in a beautiful, world-class location;
• Canadian North;
• Air North;
• Northwestern Air Lease;
• Field Law Community Fund; and
• Dominion Diamond Corporation.

I’d like to thank my partner and my family, as well as all our families for their constant love and support.

And last but certainly not least, I’d like to say a personal thank you to Arnold & Sima for believing in us. Your vote of confidence is worth a million dollars.

Thank you for this amazing honour and this incredible opportunity to show the world what Northerners are capable of. We’ve got a lot of work to do, and we’re so excited to make you all proud.