What’s SMASH all about?
SMASH (Strength Masculinities And Sexual Health) is a new way for the young men of the Northwest Territories to learn and talk about sexual health and relationships. We use the arts to open up a dialogue with teenagers about healthy sexuality, and they have a great time doing it. We have a strong focus on empowered decision making in a tolerant and non-judgmental atmosphere, as we believe that the best thing we can do for these young men is help them get to know themselves better. We also have many sexual health resources available, and we strive to answer every question accurately, directly, and honestly.
SMASH is a program that educates young men about defining their own masculinity – what does it mean to be a man, and how to be a good man. It includes practical, realistic discussions about sexual health and relationships, and straight-forward strategies for communication, consent, and discussions of boundaries. SMASH encourages Northern youth to become exceptional leaders in their own communities, identifying both problems and solutions, and acting as role models in all facets of their lives. In SMASH workshops and Retreats, participants learn about individual and team achievement, being a positive part of a healthy community, and modelling great decision making for others.
What does the SMASH logo mean?
“The SMASH logo includes caribou antlers, the North Star, and survival strings for mittens. We chose the antlers to show our Northern culture, and our pride in this program.
The “A” looks like a man, standing strong, drawing his strength from the antlers, and the SMASH program.
The North Star guides us, gives us something to look towards, and represents finding our way home.
The mitten strings show how we are defining our own masculinity – and not letting society tell us what men and women can do. We help each other survive in a tough environment. We learned how to make these mitten strings from Setsuné, one of the Elders who joined us at the SMASH Retreat, and wanted to honour her teaching in our logo.”
– The 2016 SMASH Peer Leader Retreat Alumni
Thanks to Erasmus Apparel for their exceptional design work and much accommodation.
What about the more colloquial interpretations of “SMASH?” Are there negative connotations to the word?
When in the development stages, men of all ages from across the North agreed that SMASH was the perfect name for this program because it will SMASH patriarchal, colonialist ideas that define men as inherently unfeeling or violent. We will SMASH the concept that a man’s strength exists only in his physique, or in his ability to not show emotion. Together, we will SMASH the notion that unhealthy relationships have a place in our society, and prove that people of all genders can work together to make our communities better, healthier places.
What is the main goal of SMASH?
SMASH is about defining one’s own strength and masculinity. We talk about sexual health, but we don’t restrict ourselves – we’re there to have honest, non-judgmental discussions with young Northern men about everything related to sexual health and relationships that they might want to talk about. Our hope is to improve the skills that they use to make choices about their own lives and bodies, so that they are better able to go into confusing and stressful situations knowing how to make the decisions that are best for them.
What if they’re making the wrong decisions?
SMASH doesn’t trying to make value judgments for youth. While we don’t say what’s right for them personally, SMASH can help youth figure it out for themselves and make sure they have the confidence to act in their own best interests.
What do the participants learn in the workshop?
At SMASH workshops, we try to ensure that the entire day contains a strong sexual health theme with as much factual information as possible. We address common myths and misconceptions about sexual health and relationships. Participants learn about different ways that they make decisions, are asked to identify their personal cues so they’re more able to trust their instincts, and can practice ways to make difficult decisions in common sexual health and relationship scenarios that affect many Northern youth. These activities and skills help to arm young men to make the best decisions for themselves when dealing with situations that face most, if not all, teenagers.
Where do you get your funding? Who are your partners?
SMASH is very happy to have the generous support of the Arctic Inspiration Prize and the Public Health Agency of Canada. We’re grateful to have found partners across the North in schools, youth centres, and community agencies that have invited us to come and work with them. We are also very thankful to have the support of Blachford Lake Lodge, Air North, Northwestern Air Lease, Dominion Diamond Corporation, and the Government of the Northwest Territories to help us reach youth in as many communities as possible. SMASH is always looking to expand our list of community partners, and would love to hear from anyone or any organization interested in being part of the SMASH phenomenon!
Is SMASH just for Indigenous Men?
SMASH is open to all those in the Canadian North who identify as men between the ages of 13 to 17, and we are inclusive of young men of all cultures, backgrounds, and sexual orientations. Nothing that we talk about in SMASH is culturally exclusive, and we maintain a very tolerant and open atmosphere.
Are girls allowed to participate in SMASH?
SMASH is just for young men. This particular project deals with issues that are more relevant to those who identify as young men in Northern communities. Our FOXY programming is developed specifically for those who identify as women. Check out our other website for details about FOXY: www.arcticfoxy.com.
Aren’t these guys too young to be talking about sex?
We’ve been really excited about the amount of positive feedback we’ve received. Although we know that the issues that we’re discussing might make some people a bit squeamish, we know that people in the North truly care about the well being of our young men, and this is just one more way that we can arm them with the skills they need to take care of themselves. We’re not encouraging any type of behaviour over another, except for healthy behaviour over unhealthy, and well-prepared over uncertain.
What if I don’t identify as a girl or a boy, or if I am a trans person? Is there a place for me at FOXY/SMASH?
FOXY/SMASH aim to be inclusive of all sexual orientations and genders. Transgender, Two-spirit, gender-queer, and all sexual and gender identities are welcome at our FOXY/SMASH programming. Please call FOXY/SMASH Executive Director Candice at (867) 444-9108 or email her at email@example.com if you have any questions or concerns, or would like to talk about your Retreat application.
Why are you using arts instead of a more traditional approach (like, presentations)?
The North has some very successful sexual health education interventions already. We’ve seen in these workshops that there’s no shortage of knowledge among young men in this age group. We’re trying to go beyond the science and hard facts of sex ed, and open up a dialogue about how this information plays into the day-to-day lives of young men in the North. The arts allow youth to explore real-life situations in ways that give them a bit more freedom and anonymity. It also provides youth with the opportunity to practice articulating their feelings and choices in a no-pressure environment, strengthening their knowledge and skills to do so in real life.