12/11/2014 08:28 EST | Updated 02/10/2015 05:59 EST

Yellowknife’s FOXY takes $1M Arctic Inspiration Prize

A program designed as an antidote to "inadequate" sex education in the Northwest Territories is set to spread to Yukon and Nunavut now that it's taken the entire $1-million Arctic Inspiration Prize. 

FOXY, or Fostering Open eXpression among Youth, has been bringing sexual health and leadership education to young women in the Northwest Territories since 2012. 

​“I always knew that FOXY was a million dollar idea,” says co-founder Candice Lys. 

Lys, 31, says the idea grew out of her experience with sex education as a teenager growing up in Fort Smith, N.W.T. 

She recalls the dreadful day when her Grade 8 teacher — a middle-aged man — silently entered the classroom, turned on the overhead projector and began labelling the parts on a picture of female anatomy. Next he did the male. Then he turned on a video of a screaming woman in labour and left the room. 

Lys says her research for her master's degree in public health confirmed that the system still hadn't changed. 

“We wanted to make that change.” 

She co-founded the program together with Nancy McNeill, also 31, who also grew up in the North. 

“Nancy and I are just people who like to get stuff done,” Lys says. 

FOXY programming uses a network of peers to offer sexual health in workshops to young people in northern communities. They also rely heavily on the arts, tackling issues such as teen pregnancy and healthy relationships using traditional beading, theatre, digital storytelling, photography and music. 

So far, they’ve held 40 workshops with young people in 20 communities across the N.W.T. as well as two peer retreats at Blachford Lake Lodge. 

Lys says they've received an "overwhelming" amount of support from the North already. 

Largely focused on teenage girls so far, the program intends to expand its offering to include young men. 

Gala event

The announcement was made at a gala event in Ottawa last night featuring several northern performers, including Tanya Tagaq, Celina Kalluk, Sylvia Cloutier, Digawolf and David Serkoak. 

Former Nunavut Premier Eva Aariak and Peter Mansbridge also attended as members of the selection committee. 

The selection committee also includes former Governor General Michaelle Jean, National Inuit Youth Council President Thomas Anguti Johnston, Baffinland Iron Mines president and CEO Tom Paddon and Yukon's former Commissioner Geraldine Van Bibber. 

This is the third year of the Arctic Inspiration Prize, which was founded in 2012 by Arnold Witzig and Sima Sharifi.
The couple say that as immigrants, they want to “contribute to the future of our adopted country of choice with a focus on the Canadian Arctic and its major challenges in the face of rapid changes in environment, culture, technology and economy.”

In 2012, prize money went to the Nunavut Literacy Council for its sewing and hunting projects; towards an elder's book project in Arviat, Nunavut; and to the community of Lutselk'e, N.W.T., as it prepared for a new national park.  

Last year, a third of the money went to a community science program in Nunavut called Arcticonnexions; a third went to a national Inuit education group for its project to mobilize parents in education; and the rest went to a housing project in Labrador.