Together with amazing support from the Canadian Women’s Foundation and a core group of volunteers at the community-level, I’ve been blessed and challenged to facilitate a program called Girl Power at Sturgeon Lake Central School on the Sturgeon Lake First Nation.
We offer a safe space for all those who identify as girls, aged 10 to 11. Our focus is to help girls with their self-esteem, finding their voice, and their pathway to becoming young women in a culturally appropriate setting.
In the early years we struggled with finding space that we could call our own. We used classrooms that were available, and that changed almost on a weekly basis. But the girls were eager to participate and so we continued on.
There is always a waiting list of girls wanting to join our group. The need is great! We are limited only by the number of willing facilitators. We use Elders and community women role models to show the girls what is possible to accomplish, even in their small community. I have a group of peer mentors – two girls from high school and three girls from Grade 7 and 8 who help with the programming and supporting the girls. The mentors are girls who have been in the program and volunteer their time to be with the girls both in a formal and informal setting.
Opportunities and Challenges
This past year has seen some amazing highs and some devastating lows. One of our highs came through a contact I have at the University of Saskatchewan. We were able to book a tour at the Engineering Department for the girls. There were three professors who presented different aspects of engineering and two of them were First Nations people. They talked about how Engineering was all about solving problems and showed some First Nations examples of engineering feats that met the needs of First Nations peoples. Two great examples were the Tipi and the Canoe, both of which are still used today for gatherings and travel.
One of my junior mentors even presented her award-winning science fair project to the professors. She prefaced her presentation with the fact that her experiment was a “fail.” They asked her why her project failed, and she explained that she required a rare earth magnet to prove her hypothesis and had been unable to get one. One of them said, “I think I have a rare earth magnet on my desk, I’ll go and get it for you!” My mentor was so thrilled, and asked me if she had to return the magnet to the university. But the professor said she could keep it. She was so excited that she almost cried, and she’s usually a very quiet girl.
The girls also got to print a few items on the 3D printer and they were amazed at the technology. All in all, it was a great learning day!
We had our year-end camping activity a couple of weeks ago. We used the school for this activity. We slept in the gymnasium, made food, and sang and danced to YouTube videos played on a smart board in one of the classrooms. The girls loved the sleepover, although there was very little sleep happening!
My role with the girls is mainly to facilitate learning and foster relationships with their culture. I am cognizant of the fact that there has been a historic euro-centric abuse of privilege and power and that I, as a non-Indigenous woman, must be willing to listen to the Elders’ wisdom, hear the spirit songs and understand that in the Plains Cree culture there are certain ceremonies (rites of passage) that a young girl goes through on her way to adulthood. I see my role as one of trying to reconcile the reality of the girls’ truth today with their rich cultural heritage. I am an open, honest, and lifelong learner – I love the girls and am honoured to be part of this amazing journey.
Creating girls-only safe spaces is critically important to this community. We are working hard at cultivating contacts and developing relationships with groups that can help with these goals and I have a strong group of mentors who understand the challenges the girls face, and care deeply about their success. When we bring girls together for discussions about mental health, we can remind them that there’s a community of women and girls who are there to support them. And when we introduce girls to strong First Nations mentors, we can show them what’s possible with a little bit of girl power.