Indigenous youth taking lead in sexual health education

Megan Kanerahtenhawi Whyte went to her first Native Youth Sexual Health Network in 2009 and realized how important it was to talk about sexual health. "Having those discussions really made me have a clear look at my own boundaries and to look at confidence and when it's OK to say no and that’s OK." Whyte said.

Native Youth Sexual Health Network invited to UN meeting on sexual and reproductive health

Megan Kanerahtenhawi Whyte is a youth leader with the Native Youth Sexual Health Network. (Dennen Phillips)

Megan Kanerahtenhawi Whyte wasn't always comfortable talking about her sexual health.

"I think it’s true for a lot of young people that it’s awkward or maybe difficult to talk about sex and sexuality..."

Megan Kanerahtenhawi Whyte helps organize sexual health education in her community of Kanawake, QC. (Megan Kanerahtenhawi Whyte)
​Whyte is a young mother from Kanawake, QC., and a student at Concordia University.

She went to her first Native Youth Sexual Health Network (NYSHN) event in 2009 and quickly realized how important it was to talk about it.

"Having those discussions really made me have a clear look at my own boundaries and to look at confidence and when it's OK to say no and that’s OK and you shouldn’t have to feel guilty for setting your own boundaries." Whyte said.

"That was an important lesson for me having had prior experiences with not so great situations."

Whyte is now a youth leader for the network and hers is just one of dozens of communities the organization visits across North America to raise awareness about sexual health.

The Native Youth Sexual Health Network invited to present at the UN

This year the NYSHN was chosen to represent Canada and the United States at the first international expert group meeting on sexual health and reproductive rights at the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. 

This pro-choice rally was organized by the The Native Youth Sexual Heath Network. (Native Youth Sexual Health Network)
"This issue hasn’t had this amount of attention in the past so it really is an opportunity for us to highlight unfortunately several human rights violations that are continuous in our communities." says Erin Konsmo.

Konsmo is the Media Arts Justice and Projects Coordinator at the Native Youth Sexual Health Network.

​"We are by and for indigenous youth so it really is important for us to have peer education as a model in our work,"
The Native Youth Sexual Health Network visits indigenous communities across North America advocating and educating youth about their sexual health. (Native Youth Sexual Health Network)
"We know that when indigenous youth are leading around the issues that are happening in their lives and in our case it’s around their bodies... we see the most effective changes in our communities."

The organization will present a 12 page report highlighting some the issues facing indigenous youth in Canada. 

High rate of HIV and AIDS in indigenous communities

"Indigenous youth and indigenous young women are facing some of the highest rates of HIV in our communities." says Konsmo.

"Much of that is because of not having the right to access clean needles or harm reduction supplies because that’s often not provided on reserve or in rural or remote areas or access to testing."

She points to Saskatchewan as an example. In 2012, 74% of all newly diagnosed HIV cases were Aboriginal. 

It's an issue important to Whyte as well. "l’m involved in HIV/AIDS awareness because I think it's important to talk about your sexuality and to talk about consent and to talk about protecting yourself and to break down stereotypes or misconceptions about HIV/AIDS."

The meeting takes place over two days and the findings will be put together in a report shared at the United Nation's Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in May. 


Connie Walker

CBC Reporter

Connie Walker is a reporter in the Investigative Unit at CBC News. Follow her on twitter @connie_walker


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