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Photovoice project gives voice to youth

Thursday December 20, 2012
Katelyn Bunting of Lac Seul, Tamara Keeash of Weagamow, Dorothy Keeper of Pikangikum and Amanda Lyon of Fort William at the gallery opening of the Photovoice project.
This photo was part of the Photovoice exhibit, along with the caption: Aboriginal women and men from different nations joining hands in sharing their stories to heal and create social change.
This photo was taken for the Photovoice project, along with the caption: Cracked but not broken.

Six young women from communities across northwestern Ontario have shared their experiences with sexual violence and their hopes for change through a Photovoice project in Sioux Lookout.

After months of training and photo shoots, the youth presented their work at a grand opening celebration on Dec. 11 at A-Frame Gallery in Sioux Lookout.

Amanda Lyon of Fort William First Nation, who told Wawatay that she joined the project because she had experienced sexual violence and wanted to share her voice with others so “they don’t have to be alone,” said the opening show was astonishing.

“It was amazing that a person like me can complete a project to help people in the world and other communities in Canada,” Lyon said. “I learned that everybody has a voice and that sexual violence is not just in my community but all over the world and everyone should speak up about it.”

The Photovoice project was started by Brenda Dovick of the Ontario Native Women’s Association, with the intention of bringing community awareness of sexual violence and its effects in Sioux Lookout.

The project was opened to women of all ages, but it was the youth who stepped up to take it on.

“It really shows that (the youth) want change to happen,” Dovick said. “We need to be able to support them, to mentor them to step into their leadership roles. There is so much to be said from youth, if we give them the platform.”

The project started in September. Each week the group would meet to learn about photography, discuss the issues of sexual violence in the community, and go on photo shoots around Sioux Lookout.

Dovick said they all quickly realized that the project was about much more than taking photos.
“It was so much more than that,” Dovick said. “We could see the young women becoming more confident in themselves, becoming agents of change.”

Tamara Keeash of Weagamow confirmed Dovick’s observations. In a Wawatay interview Keeash emphasized that she participated in the program to help others realize they are not alone. But she also noted that it was her own personal growth throughout the project that allowed her to open up in order to help others.

“It felt like a part of me grew stronger,” Keeash said. “(Before), I was feeling weak inside all the time. I felt like I was letting all that stuff that happened to me out, and letting good stuff in.”

For Keeash, as well as the other young women involved in the project, seeing the photographs and the words they wrote at the opening of the exhibit was an inspiring moment.

“I was proud of myself for coming into this program,” Keeash said. “I can see myself now helping other people to reach out for help.”

Dovick said the Photovoice project will return in some form in Sioux Lookout. But she also noted that the concept applies to any community that wants to provide voices to youth or other community members.

The exhibit can be seen at Sioux Lookout’s A-Frame gallery in December.

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