Conference takes aim at ending violence

Peggy Revell

How each person can take steps to stop violence, bullying, and other destructive behaviour was the theme of the three-day “We are all Leaders” conference held in Fort Frances last week.
“Our hope is that through this conference, we have helped people help themselves and to help others to show how we are all leaders in taking responsibility and accountability to stop all forms of oppression and violence in our communities,” said Lori Flinders, director of Nanaadawewinan with Weechi-it-te-win Family Services which organized the conference that ran Nov. 16-18 at the Memorial Sports Centre.
Almost 190 people were on hand for the first two days of the conference, noted Flinders, with these people coming not just from Rainy River District but also southern Ontario, Manitoba, Minnesota, and as far away as Alberta.
Flinders said a large part of the focus of the conference was aiming to end lateral violence, which can include a variety of things like gossiping, undermining, and sabotaging behaviours, and takes place in a peer environment.
This can happen both in the workplace and First Nations’ communities, where “historical trauma has promoted lateral violence,” she noted.
Lined up for the conference was a bevy of keynote speakers, including Jane Middleton-Moz on the opening day.
“She’s a world-renowned speaker, she’s been on Oprah,” Flinders said about Middleton-Moz, who is known for her work with adult children of alcoholics.
“She did a keynote address really talking about what is lateral violence? What is oppression? What is internalized oppression? How do we recognize it in ourselves, because it starts with ourself?”
Following this, there was an interactive workshop entitled “Bullies: From the playground to the boardroom,” which looked at how to change the work environment so it’s safe for everyone.
Dr. Maria Yellow Horse Brave Heart, known as an “academic rock star,” also spoke during the conference.
“She coined the phrase ‘historical trauma,’ and she really has done a lot of research on—especially with indigenous populations on Turtle Island—on how since the history of colonization, how we carry that from generation to generation,” Flinders explained.
The final day of the conference was reserved for youths, with 160 ranging from Grades 8-12 coming out for the day from all corners of the district.
This part of the conference was called “Am I a bully or am I just reacting to my life,” Flinders noted.
“So really helping kids look at negative behaviours and their impact on themselves and others, and how positive behaviours can provide a foundation for a good life,” she explained.
“We spend so much time focusing on the victims of bullying and so, really, the bullies themselves are victims in some way, too, because that’s a learned behaviour.”
This part of the conference was run by educator Dave Jones, founder of the “Turtle Concepts” program, who does “some phenomenal work with you,” Flinders lauded.
The multi-media and interactive program aimed to help youth build self-esteem, self-identity, and confidence in who they are, she said.
“For First Nations’ people especially—and for lots of people—in our childhood sometimes we see or hear or experience things that are abnormal and because sometimes it’s really prevalent, it becomes the norm,” Flinders reasoned.
“So [Jones is] identifying ‘what isn’t normal?
“It’s not normal to get abused in any way. It’s not normal grow up in alcoholism,” she stressed.
“I think it’s pretty good,” local Grade 8 student Cassidy Bruyere said about the youth portion of the conference.
“[I like] the way [Jones is] making it fun,” she added, pointing to how participants at that moment were dancing, and how the conference leaders are making sure participants weren’t just sitting around being bored.
“It’s all about healing,” said local elder Bessie Mainville, who was a part of the conference for the three days, saying it’s “very, very interesting.”
Presenters like the ones who come to conferences are like medicine people, she added.
“Whatever they have to say catches people.”