Teagyn Vallevand, at 21 years old, has been making quite a name for herself in the Yukon. A member of the Kwanlin Dun First Nation, she has been an active part of her community since graduating high school. She works in Larry Bagnell’s office part time and is working on her degree in First Nation Governance and Administration at the Yukon College. As if that doesn’t keep her busy enough, she also has served on the boards of Northern Cultural Expressions Society, Skookum Jim Friendship Centre and the advisory committee for Our Voices. Most notably, she and her business partner Aurora Hardy run Youth for Lateral Kindness, a business through which they offer Mass Blanket Exercises and Lateral Violence workshops for youth.
“I graduated high school and I wanted to be more involved in my community and learn more about my heritage, my roots and understand what it means to be Indigenous. In high school I didn’t really get that.” Teagyn says, adding that she felt lost without having a strong connection to her community’s traditions and only being taught the colonial perspective of history. “I just started having that fire inside me, I was angry and wanted to do something about it.” Her experience at the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre allowed her to get involved in community events and volunteer opportunities like the Adäka Festival and Native Hockey Tournament. Working for Larry Bagnell, Teagyn learned an important lesson about leadership: leaders just show up. She’s made it her mission to show up for her community and is hoping to impact change through educating people about lateral violence.
Lateral violence is the byproduct of colonization, oppression, intergenerational trauma and the continued experiences of racial discrimination. It’s more easily understood by youth as peer on peer violence, and Teagyn and Aurora focus on the emotional violence rather than physical. They teach youth that it’s a power dynamic that happens when someone has been made to feel powerless through colonization and trauma, and the easiest way to take power is from those closest to you. Youth for Lateral Kindness workshops teach youth the tools to change their own behavior and to step in if they see lateral violence being committed.
Teagyn, Aurora and their cousins, Carissa Waugh and Cheyenne Bradley, have facilitated multiple Mass Blanket Exercises throughout the Yukon. Blankets are placed on the ground to represent the land, while participants take on the role of Indigenous people. It’s a powerful way to demonstrate pre-contact, treaty-making, colonization and resistance. Afterwards there is a sharing circle, Teagyn’s favourite part of the exercise. Often this is the first time people have heard Indigenous history and it can get emotional. “It’s so authentic, and you get that human connection when they just open up and are able to express how they feel.”
For information on Lateral Violence workshops and Blanket Exercise bookings, visit their website at https://www.youthforlateralkindness.com/.