SIX NATIONS — The mothers of two Six Nations children turned to social media earlier this month — to publicly address bullying situations that their sons were facing while attending Oliver M. Smith Elementary School (OMS).
Autumn Barnhart, the mother of a Grade Four student at the school posted a long post on September 4 that has garnered 1300 impressions, 1000 shares and 416 comments.
In it, she describes that in the first week of school her son allegedly endured physical harassment. She writes that “he was kicked in the stomach at recess and pushed down in gym,” along with enduring verbal and emotional harassment while at the school. Barnhart says the situation her son found himself in made him a “poster child for bullying.”
“Sadly my son has been hurt many times, has become broken and fears he will never have any friends. He fears school everyday and has become anxious in spending his days in a place that was meant to be welcoming, kind and beneficial,” wrote Barnhart in a statement to the Two Row Times. “
“Bullying has increased substantially regardless of all efforts to eliminate it. A zero tolerance should be in affect for all school boards nationwide and this should include all reserves, like our very own Six Nations,” she wrote.
A second Six Nations mother, Miranda Hill, wrote a post that has reached 4200 impressions, 2000 shares and 844 comments. The post depicted her son, who is in Grade Five at the same school, home in tears after allegedly being bullied for his appearance on his first day.
When asked for a statement, the faculty at Oliver M. Smith Elementary School referred the Two Row Times to Linda Britt, who is a representative of Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) based out of Thunder Bay. The ISC is half of the former Department of Indian Affairs — and was created by the federal government in 2017 to provide and support the delivery of services such as health care, child care, education and infrastructure to First Nations communities.
TRT reached out to Britt for a statement, who wrote back that “immediate action was taken to address” the situations once the school was informed.
When asked specifically about the process, by which a bullying situation is dealt with once reported, Britt wrote that Six Nations follows the Safe and Caring Schools Policy.
“All student behaviour that is deemed unacceptable is addressed,” she wrote. “When a school is informed of an incident, school staff respond immediately and effectively to all student and parent concerns. This is accompanied by promoting traditional knowledge that is grounded in the cultural, historical and Haudenosaunee values of the Six Nations communities.”
“If it is determined that an incident has occurred, interventions and supports with the parent and the student are explored. Consequences as warranted are imposed by the school. Supports are provided from within the school and through outside agencies.”
When asked about available empowerment programs, she wrote that there are programs and cited one in particular; the Youth Life Promotions Program which “is used regularly to support students in crisis or having difficulty with friendships,” on Six Nations.
“The program also offers restorative justice circles when parent consent is received to repair friendships and help students to deal with conflict,” she wrote.
Hill’s son was a new student at OMS after he was forced to transfer onto Six Nations from Lloyd S. King Elementary School in the Mississaugas of the Credit district.
“He got off the bus and I noticed something was wrong, so I asked him ‘what happened, what’s going on?’” said Hill in an interview. “As soon as the bus went, he just burst out in tears, he had anxiety and I asked him what was wrong and finally he told me. He said the he was getting bullied by these kids at school. I said ‘well what were they saying, what are they doing?’ And he said they were calling him names like ‘big chungus’ and there were other kids that he didn’t pick out, just the one that started it.”
The experience pushed Hill’s son to tell her that he was feeling suicidal. According to Suicide Awareness Voices for Education, suicide is one of the leading causes of death among 15 to 24 year-olds. Additionally, 16 percent of students consider suicide; 13 percent create a plan, and 8 percent have made a serious attempt.
Hill says she called the school and notified the vice-principal, who told her that the issue would be looked into. The next day, Hill says she kept her son home from school and by Thursday the vice-principal let Hill know that they found the student and that the other parents were aware of what was going on, and that consequences were put in place.
“But they wouldn’t give me anything on how they would deal with it, there was just nothing. My son said that the child had apologized, but I still don’t know what consequences that they were talking about,” she said. “They also kind of demanded that I take my [Facebook] post down.”
“I had no idea that it was a school where a lot of bullying took place,” she said. “To me, when they were asking me to take my post down it was like ‘be quiet, keep it behind closed doors.’”
The mothers’ two Facebook posts created a space for discussion and outrage at the issue of bullying on Six Nations. Soon after, an online petition followed, whereby the petition creator Tim Mt. Pleasant highlighted issues that he believes contribute to the culture of bullying on Six Nations.
The petition itself hopes to garner 1000 signatures, of which it currently has 745, to request a meeting with the ISC to implement the provincial standards for anti-bullying on-reserve — which includes suspension and expulsion parameters for bullying.
His points aim to prove that the cause of bullying behaviour stems from several issues which began with: “children of teachers and principals being permitted to attend the same school, thereby allowing a conflict of interest into the system.
He then continued to include: “that there is a lack of reporting relationship that exists between the staff of Indigenous Services Canada within our schools and the community; the lack of control that the community has to resolve issues within the schools; the lack of anti-oppressive practice that exists within Indigenous Services Canada when dealing with the school, explicitly recognizing the privilege that ISC staff deem that they have; the lack of a complaints resolution process, that is effective when addressing conflicts between students within the schools.”
Hill’s son has now left OMS and returned to Lloyd S. King Elementary School. Laura Duguid, a power lifter from the Alpha Power and Performance Training Gym in Brantford reached out after seeing the Facebook post.
She sponsored Hill’s son for 12 free sessions to begin the kids weight lifting program with the team, saying that he is “such a sweet boy.”
“When I saw the post I thought ‘here’s a kid who doesn’t realize all of the genetic advantages that he has in terms of our sport,’” said Duguid in an interview. “So he isn’t seeing his body in the way that we would see it as a positive.”
Duguid then gave him the opportunity to visit the Civic Centre in Brantford to meet the coaches and competitors, who each use power lifting as a means for self-esteem and positive body image without paying much attention to the aesthetic or a scale number. Once there, Hill’s son met with one of the coaches, who is roughly 400 pounds and a weight lifting record breaker.
“You could just see his face light up when he saw him,’ said Duguid. “We can’t wait to get him into the gym because I think he’s going to surprise himself at the things that he’ll be able to do and things that he might have been shying away from.”
A recent study reported that in school settings, adults don’t see bullying 96% of the time. That leaves a very small 4% window for bullying to be documented, intercepted and reprimanded by an instructor. Without the successful measures being taken at the school, the involvement of parents outside of the school body becomes more prevalent.
Bullying Awareness and Prevention Week has been established as part of the Education Act as beginning on the third Sunday in November of each year. If you are experiencing any form of bullying and need someone to talk to, you can call the Kids Help Line at 1-800-668-6868.