Canadians are caught up with the problem of bullying. The Manitoba legislature is enacting laws to deal with it in our schools, and research is being conducted to help devise prevention and cessation programs that are meaningful, relevant and effective. This is all well and good.
But all too often in the past, these programs tended to get applied universally. This would be a disaster, or at least a failure, if we do this with First Nations children and youth.
First Nations kids face situations that are unique. First of all, some live in cities and others live on reserves. This is a lot different from the nuances that exist between rural and urban life that other Canadian children face.
From the days of Indian residential schools, it has been well known that children who returned home with their hair cut short and their long braids gone, looking like white kids and unable to speak their own language or participate in the sacred ceremonies of their people, were ostracized, which is just another form of bullying. The multi-generational impacts of the IRS experience and colonization in general can never be discounted, even if it is not identified or articulated in the research we undertake today.
Some studies indicate the biggest risk factor for being bullied on a reserve is to have a father who has a professional occupation. These kids are bullied 18 times more on average, according to a study by the Canadian Journal of Public Health in Saskatchewan. This manifests itself down the line as First Nations kids who do better at school are more at risk of being bullied, and those who exhibit behaviours which can be considered "more white than Indian" are targets. This indicates prevention programs designed for Canadian kids in general can't be applied universally for First Nations children and youth.
We waste so much money when we fail to undertake proper research and study. And speaking of money, while generally, Canadians kids who are poorer endure more bullying, low incomes are almost universal in First Nations communities wherever they live, and therefore, not as big a factor in the incidence of bullying.
Most people would think native kids living in cities would be subject to more bullying than kids who live on reserves, because of racial differences. Yet the study by the CJPH reveals 29 per cent of First Nations kids living in Saskatoon claimed they have been bullied while the percentage of kids on reserves being bullied reaches as high as 36 per cent. Interestingly, only two per cent of the kids in the city said their race had anything to do with the bullying.
Many of our street gangs are based on race and the impact of interracial bullying may pale in comparison with the pressure applied by groups such as the Indian Posse, Manitoba Warriors or Native Syndicate.
But most disheartening is the revelation that success in the white world is viewed so negatively by young First Nations people. The native kids with professional parents, or the kids who do better at school, or who have parents who are involved in their academic progress and expect a lot from them are most vulnerable to bullying. Does this cause a child to become ashamed of parents who should normally be excellent role models? Does it cause a native kid to dumb down in order to be more accepted?
Conventional approaches to bullying prevention and cessation will fail if programs aren't tailored to address specific factors.
This is not to say that we abandon all common sense and ignore experience completely. We still hear plenty of complaints about racism and discrimination at school, from peers, teachers, the administration and in society, where racial profiling remains common. This racism may now be covert instead of overt, but it is still there, and it also may be contributing to bullying no matter what the surveys say.
Bullying is a serious, complicated problem with serious consequences. Let research and study, analysis, knowledge, wisdom and common sense, and above all, honesty, guide us to the most relevant programs possible for all kids, wherever they live.
Don Marks is a Winnipeg writer