Sometimes even adults can be bullies

Many reserve communities have a serious problem when it comes to bullying. It’s an issue that involves both youth and adults. Although much of this problem can be explained by our colonial past, the solution to ridding our communities of bullying is to reach back into our traditions and carrying out the traditional responsibilities that the Peacemaker gave to the Haudenosaune people.

We sat down with Six Nations Mental Health Educator Brenda Johnson, Mohawk Turtle Clan. Johnson has been in her current role for 20 years on the Six Nations Reserve. Part of that time is spent going into schools and giving young people the tools to empower them to overcome bullying. She says that while youth are getting educated, the issue of bullying has evolved and still shows up now and then from adults.

“The kids are aware now. They get it.” Johnson said. “Kids are able to identify who is a bully, and when I’m teaching out in the schools sometimes they’ll ask me, ‘Can adults be bullies?’ I tell them yes. Then we start describing the characteristics of a bully and sometimes you can see the kids eyes darting over to the teacher, sort of telling on the teacher.”

Johnson shared that her son’s class experienced bullying from one teacher. It wasn’t until a few years after he left that school that her son felt comfortable sharing what his experience was. “He told me about five years later. One day that teacher who was a bully left the room and she had been drinking a coffee. A boy coughed up and spit into her coffee cup. Everybody saw it. She came back into the classroom and at one point she started drinking that coffee. None of those kids told her what he did. They just sat there watching her drink that coffee.”

This is a story Johnson uses to highlight that youth will use what they have available to them at the time to fight against a bully, even when power structures leave them with little help. “Kids are smart, and they are creative. If they know that you have done something that isn’t right that they will band together and support one another. In whatever ways that they are able to. Every single one of those students in that classroom just sat there and watched her drink it.”

Johnson uses traditional teachings in her program to empower youth that the concepts of standing up to bullies is a traditional value. “When we fulfill our responsibilities using Ganigohiyo – a good mind; this is how we should be treating one another. When we use Ganonhkwa’sra – the love and deep respect we have for one another; Gadaosra – the inner strength to do the right thing and Gehsadehsra – those feelings of compassion to help one another. When we fulfill those values and beliefs that we have then we’re not bullying other people and we’re helping other people who are experiencing that.”

Johnson said that kids now are mostly aware of bullying, and that the responsibilities are now with adults to reinforce those behaviors in youth. “Sometimes bullying doesn’t just stop when you tell someone to stop. You might need to get the help of other people. Know your advocates and they will help you try to deal with this.”

But she says that the responsibilities don’t only lay in the hands of youth. Adults, teachers, coaches and other role models need to step into their roles to assist youth when they use a Good Mind and stand up to bullies.

She says adults should be conscious of their actions as well. “What kind of messages are we sending the youth with our words and our actions? What am I role modeling as an advocate for youth to stand up to bullies? What is our role in these responsibilities?”

If you are being bullied by an adult there are things you can do to get help. Tell another adult you trust, or if you don’t feel safe doing that you can also call a social worker in your community, the police or the Kids Help Phone 24/7 at 1-800-668-6868.

You can also chat online Thurs – Sun from 6pm to midnight at

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