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Girl Power

October 2, 2009

By debraf

The statistics present an alarming picture of life for girls in the Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN): higher than average rates of suicide, addiction, teen pregnancy, obesity, arrests, incarceration.
The only statistic that is lower than average is the level of education.
Aboriginal girls who live in the area that covers about 60% of Ontario’s land mass are eight times more likely to commit suicide than non-aboriginal females. And the incidence of sex abuse in some First Nations is as high as 75 to 80% for girls under eight. Social problems include a “major challenge with youth recreationally or chronically sniffing gasoline,” says Jose Zarate, PWRDF’s program coordinator for Indigenous Peoples Development.
Enter “Girl Power,” a program designed to give aboriginal girls aged 9-16 self-esteem as well as teaching on violence and basic education on a spectrum of health issues. The 25 trainers who initially took the program in 2004 have now fanned out across the Nishnawbe Aski Nation to educate other girls in 49 communities, who in turn will teach their peers. A manual and activity book now supplement the training. A parallel program called Wolf Spirit is aimed at boys.
The Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund has contributed a $90,000 grant over three years to keep the Girl Power program going, and it’s already making its mark in First Nations communities. “Young women need to know that violence is not normal!” stated one participant in the training course.
In the few years since the program has run, the results have been better than anticipated, says Zarate, “because of the drop in the rates of suicides and school dropouts in a majority of the involved communities.”
Monday October 5 is First Nation’s Women’s Day

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