Students paint a rainbow crosswalk in front of Fort Smith's elementary school. Sarah Pruys/Cabin Radio
Students and teachers in Fort Smith are establishing an on-the-land camp to help youth create gay-straight alliances in every South Slave community.
Organizers of the Rainbow River Retreat include Heather Villeneuve, a teacher at the town’s Paul W Kaeser High School, where a gay-straight alliance (GSA) has been in place since last April. Around 25 students are members.
Villeneuve told Cabin Radio students requested an alliance after returning from a workshop in Yellowknife.
A poster for the retreat states it will “provide a safe and inclusive environment where students can develop leadership skills, personal resilience strategies, and a sense of belonging to a community by building connections with youth from other communities that may have faced similar challenges.
“Our goal for staff and community volunteers is to provide them with the information, inspiration and support needed to get GSAs started in their own school/communities,” the poster continues.
“We want to help establish a GSA in every South Slave community,” said Villeneuve.
The retreat will be open to students in grades 7 to 12 from all South Slave schools and will last for 48 hours. Participants will learn how to start a gay-straight alliance alongside workshops on self care, fishing, hide cleaning, photography, and more.
Students in Fort Smith celebrated Pride Week from June 11 to June 17, with rainbow crosswalks added to the town’s streets for the second year in a row.
The week’s events culminate in a parade from Conibear Park to the high school, beginning at 2pm on Sunday.
Arianna Hansen, a Grade 7 student, told Cabin Radio she had “learned about accepting others no matter what” over the past year, calling the painting of the rainbow crosswalks “probably one of my highlights of the year.”
Madeline Buckley, in Grade 9, said: “I joined the GSA because I think that equal rights shouldn’t be a privilege. Everyone should be allowed to love everyone.
“It’s important that the LGBT+ community sees people are fighting for them and can see the differences being made in town.”
This week, Joseph B Tyrrell Elementary School students were included in activities for the first time, such as the painting of rainbow crosswalks in front of both the high school and elementary school.
No firm dates have been set for the on-the-land camp, but it appears likely it will be held in September. For more information, contact Heather Villeneuve.