Airdronian Jaadaas Jagwaa of the Haida/Nisga’a First Nations, who is a local artist and advocate is reflecting not only on what Anti-bullying (Pink Shirt Day) means to her, but she is also reflecting on how both adults and youth can better understand lateral violence and how it perpetuates bullying - especially since she herself was the target of lateral violence recently.

The attack came in the form of online bullying after Jagwaa had participated in the Third annual Pirate and Princess Gala. As a First Nations woman herself, Jagwaa decided she would embody a Powhatan woman and volunteered as such to participate as a character from a beloved Disney film, but with her Indigenous knowledge and heritage to be the focus of the participation. The goal of her dress and accessories during the gala was not only an homage to the Powhatan people but also a reverent gesture of respect and want to educate the public. She would spend nearly 12 hours making the buckskin dress, along with a talking stick made of authentic rabbit fur.

"I'm an indigenous woman; I thought that [by volunteering] for this role - I could bring some appropriation into the community and I used the opportunity to do child-friendly land acknowledgement for Treaty Seven," she said. "I spent weeks preparing for this project: practicing lines and interactions and I spend quite a bit of time researching the Powhatan people. I decided to try and use this opportunity to represent this [Powhatan] woman as a strong dignitary and her role as a peacekeeper."

Jagwaa said the evening was wonderful and the kids were more than happy to not only participate with her but also asked astute questions.

"I think to give the kids that indigenous representation was really well received and it did a great deal of good for the community," Jagwaa said. "One thing I've always learned from my elders is that children are the center of the circle of life and you really got to put your focus on the seven generations ahead of you in terms of your present actions." 

However, when a photo of Jagwaa at the event made it to social media, it was then shared out of context and used to attack her in what Jagwaa says was a lashing out of lateral violence. Lateral violence is anger and rage that can be directed towards members within a marginalized or oppressed community rather than towards the oppressors of the community.

"One of my friends had posted a picture of me on Instagram doing the land acknowledgement agreement and I had a big smile on my face because I could see the kids falling along and it was just so sweet. Then another person, a fellow activist, tagged a bunch of other people in the picture and they started using the picture on Facebook and Instagram to trash me for dressing up because they felt it was insensitive towards Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women [MMIWG]."

She added that when it comes to the issue of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, the particular event she participated in, was not an appropriate venue to have that discussion.

"I would say it’s not an appropriate topic for children to learn about until they’re ready to understand rape, murder and kidnapping."

Jagwaa, who herself is a survivor of domestic violence said the entire ordeal was not only shocking, considering that her intentions were to educate young Airdronians on the very real history behind the lore of a beloved character, but traumatizing.

"Lateral violence is something we need to be educated on, and it's not acceptable, but I can't imagine what [youth or kids] go through when they're facing these kinds of things. I'm an adult, and it was still difficult to deal with."

Although she continued to bore the brunt of the online attacks and there has been no satisfactory end to the dispute, Jagwaa said that she would have still participated in the event regardless of the backlash.

"I'm still a warrior by ceremony and most of the work that I do in my life is to improve the lives of indigenous people across Canada and I feel very strongly that I help positively contribute to that; I'm just happy I had the opportunity to bring that kind of experience to the children and I experienced it myself too."

Wednesday, February 22 is Anti-bullying Day, also known as Pink Shirt Day. It originated some years ago when a fellow friend and a student of a Grade 9 boy decided to take a stand against bullying after his friend was harassed for wearing a pink shirt to school. The young man along with a teacher and other students would distribute as well as wear a pink shirt, to stand in solidarity with his friend and all other kids who were bullied. 

Airdrie City Councillor, Tina Petrow said that all adults have a responsibility to help our youth usher in a better tomorrow, by leading with empathy, courage and understanding, not just on February 22nd, but each and every day. 

"Everybody has something going on in their lives that we can't see. When we can start to ask questions instead of making assumptions or accusations, listen more and talk less and find the ability to see from another person's perspective, we gain the ability to understand and empathize with that person," Councillor Petrow wrote. "Finding common ground and being courageous enough to let go of the thinking that we are always right, are important things."

She added that our differences are what makes us so strong together.

"We don't have to all agree on everything or do things the same way, but If we can start to incorporate some of this thinking into our daily lives, we can set a good example for our youth and truly build a better tomorrow."

If you or someone you know is being bullied, there is help:

  • Community Links
  • Family Violence Info Line: 310-1818 to get help anonymously 24/7 in more than 170 languages
  • Child Abuse Hotline: 1-800-387-KIDS (5437) for help 24/7
  • Sexual Violence One Line: Call or text 1-866-403-8000 from 9 am to 9 pm daily for confidential support.
  • Abuse Helpline: 1-855-443-5722 for information on supports related to physical, sexual, emotional, and mental abuse, exploitation or neglect. Help is available 24/7 in multiple languages.

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