NWT Girls get FOXY at Empowerment Camps

Innovative sex-ed workshops sweeping across territory
by Renée Francoeur
Northern Journal, February 12, 2013

What does the new wave of sexual education look like in the NWT?

It wears pink feathered boas and glittering silver wigs. It’s artsy and fun, full of laughter and empowerment.

This is what the workshop program FOXY, also known as Fostering Open eXpression among Youth, is all about and speaks to what today’s young women are looking for when it comes to sexual health discussions.

FOXY uses storytelling, drama and art as venues to engage girls in conversations about sexual health and building empowered decision-making skills. The full-day workshop allows girls to take part in acting out real-world scenarios, such as being approached by older men on Facebook, and positive body image activities in a safe, non-judgemental environment.

Candice Lys, originally of Fort Smith, is a researcher with the Institute for Circumpolar Health Research (ICHR) in Yellowknife and FOXY’s project lead.

The idea for FOXY was sparked by Lys’ master’s degree research on young NWT women and sexual health.

“One of the things that kept coming up was, sure, there are lots of current programs and resourceful websites, but girls were looking for a new and innovative way to talk about sexual health, sexual relationships, sexuality in general,” Lys told The Journal.

FOXY, which ran a pilot workshop in Hay River last March, seeks to fulfil that demand.

Over the past year, the FOXY crew has traveled to almost a dozen NWT communities, including Aklavik, Colville Lake, Fort Good Hope and Tulita, thanks to a partnership with Canadian North airlines.

“FOXY’s evolved since it started…It’s kind of a phenomenon now and it just keeps growing,” Lys said, adding the program is also in the thick of developing its own manual.

“Girls love FOXY. It’s really engaging and hands-on, a different way of internalizing the material,” Lys said. “The first thing we do when we get there is push all the desks aside and make a big open space. They’re on their feet all day long. We do body mapping, theatre, ice breaking activities…I’m always amazed that even the shyest girls throw on a hat and jump right into the drama aspect.”

Lys is currently working on her PhD in Public Health Science through the University of Toronto. Her thesis will be tied to data collected through FOXY, specifically the program’s upcoming phase two.

FOXY’s second phase begins with girls from across NWT gathering at Blachford Lake Lodge in Yellowknife for a week-long peer leadership conference sometime this summer.

The conference will host a series of expanded workshops and include more artistic media, such as digital storytelling. Lys said she’s also trying to set up a drumming session for the conference with Veronica Johnny of the Fort Smith-spawned rock band The Johnnys.

Lys said the whole idea of the conference is to inspire girls to undertake projects of their own when they go back to their communities.

“What those projects are will depend on what the girls want to do. We anticipate a lot of them will have to do with social media. Either way, FOXY will be available to help support them.”

Ultimately, the FOXY goal is empowering young women, Lys said.

“Just having different outlets to learn about sexual health and sexuality is really important to young women. If you give girls a really solid foundation to make good decisions for themselves and open up a dialogue about healthy sexuality, I think it can really go a long way in personal development.”

FOXY is run through ICHR, receives funding from the Public Health Agency of Canada and has fostered numerous partnerships with schools, youth centres and community agencies, including the Northern V Network, a non-profit fighting to end gender based violence.

FOXY has secured funding until March 2014.

Inuvik and Tuktoyaktuk are stops on the FOXY trail this week, followed by Whati.

Lys, FOXY project coordinator Nancy MacNeil and their team of peer leaders plan to make an appearance in Fort Smith towards the end of the month, along with return trips to Fort Resolution and Hay River.
As for what’s next for FOXY after phase two, Lys said the sky’s the limit.

“World domination, maybe?” she joked.

For more information, visit arcticfoxy.com.