Teaching consent with guitars and high fives

In a society where girls are socialized to be quiet and not take up too much space, permission to be loud can be an important tool when it comes to raising a generation of youth who are empowered to speak up for themselves and others. Lana Welchman is excited to help them do that.

“You give a kid a microphone and probably they have never even allowed their voice to be that loud,” said Welchman, founder and committee member of Yukon Girls Rock Camp, a week-long day camp for girls and gender non-conforming youth aged eight to 17. The camps take place in Dawson City and Whitehorse, but they’re part of a worldwide movement of arts and music programs aimed at empowering youth and working together to fight oppression, including gender-based violence. The first camp took place in 2001 in Portland, Oregon and quickly spread across the globe. In 2015, Dawson City held its first camp.

Through teaching girls and non-binary youth to play as a rock band, the camp teaches the more important lessons of consent, healthy relationships and standing up for themselves and others.

“At camp we have this goal of creating this little world in which people treat each other in the way they should be treated,” said Welchman. “(We) create a world in which campers can express their voices and themselves in a supportive environment.”

The camp teaches consent and respecting boundaries as an everyday practice, not just something you consider when the situation is sexual.

“We practice consent and we use the word consent. We start with objects,” she said. “It takes it away from sexual consent to a point of ‘this is just what you do.’”

At Girls Rock Camp, you need to get consent to touch someone’s guitar or to borrow their belongings. The days end with a High Five Tunnel of Consent in which kids can use body language or their words to choose whether or not they want a high five.

Lana believes that practice is key to kids learning. In earlier camps, there were workshops around consent, but Welchamn said the learnings didn’t stay with the kids. The principles of consent and healthy relationships don’t always come naturally to kids, but the moments that are the hardest offer some of the best opportunities for learning and practice.

“(Working with each other in a band) can be a really difficult relationship to navigate,” said Welchman. “There’s lots of tears and lots of frustration, but we look at it as an opportunity for kids to practice healthy relationships.”

Camp counsellors and on-hand support counsellors help campers navigate relationships and have conversations where they learn to express themselves and grow. Throughout the week, campers build their skills around communication, self-expression, boundary-setting and recognizing what healthy and respectful relationships look and feel like. The goal of the camp is to arm the kids with skills and tools they can take back to the real world.

“Our hope is that when they return to the real world they have these tools of ‘no this is how I want to be treated’ and ‘you can’t come into my space without asking me first,’” said Welchman. “We really believe that foundation is necessary. (You) have to get the foundations first before you can get to the realm of sexual consent.”

Over the next five years, the organization will continue camps in Dawson and Whitehorse while helping to foster the program across the North. Community organizations have reached out to Welchman asking for help developing programs for their own communities.

No two programs are the same. Yukon Girls Rock Camp plans to work closely with community organizations to support them in creating camps “to reflect the needs of each community since each community is different.”

Lana Welchman helps raise girls’ voices with rock and roll

This article is part of a series of stories for Sexualized Assault Prevention Month, an annual inter-agency campaign designed to engage all folks as allies to prevent sexualized violence in our community. The series features the people, projects and organizations across the Yukon who are working to reduce the incidence and impacts of sexualized assault in our community. Visit EndViolenceYukon.com for more information about the campaign.