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Pre-teens learn about healthy lifestyle choices

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SQUAMISH, British Columbia - To the squeamish delight of a pre-adolescent audience, a set of pig lungs was expanded with air.

This demonstration of how mammals intake oxygen illustrated what these healthy organs look like, vibrant and pink, and the importance of keeping them functional. A second pair of artificially discolored lungs, in contrast, graphically showed the effects of tobacco smoke and how ingesting poisons from cigarettes can cause serious complications.

The most vivid of a series of health and social lectures, the anti-smoking message was received loud and clear by three dozen kids at the inaugural conference, "The Gathering of Intelligent Minds" hosted by the Squamish First Nation on Feb. 13. Rose Reimer of the band's education department stated the purpose of the event was to stimulate the children with a series of lectures and physical activity that otherwise might not be usually conducted in school.

"We just wanted to start teaching the pre-teens in our community to lead healthier lifestyles and to make good choices in their life," said Reimer.

Highlighting the morning classroom sessions was guest speaker Georgina Lovell, author of "You Are the Target," a book that exposes tobacco companies for the lies they've spewed and the scientific facts they've withheld. Instead of just telling her audience, aged 9 - 13, not to smoke, her interactive presentation of videos and blunt truths treated her listeners with a respect kids that age usually don't command.

"I'm not here to tell you what to do but (I'm here) to give you information so you can make a choice for yourself," Lovell said.

Armed with information scoured from more than 4,000 pages of documents, out of an available 33 million, Lovell described how Big Tobacco specifically pinpoints kids through subtle advertising while explaining the addictive chemicals that are added to cigarettes, cigars and snuff. She pointed out 3,000 new smokers are needed in North America per day by cigarette manufacturers, to replace those who are dying, and besides teenagers, quite often those targeted are non-whites.

If pictures tell a thousand words, Lovell also showed numerous video clips showing the survivors of cancers caused by smoking. The middle-aged man with his jaw removed was particularly poignant.

Kayla Buckley likely spoke on behalf of the audience when she garnered her peers' attention as she told of her mother's ordeal with serious illnesses, probably as a result of smoking.

"About all the gross things with cigarettes, the lungs after you smoke, it looks gross and I don't think they want their body parts to look like that," the 11-year-old said about how effective this presentation was in this setting.

Other seminars included how to deal with sexual harassment and avoiding talking to people who have unclear motives. For this segment, the conference was split among genders and Xayiltenaat (Shirley) Lewis, who coordinated the girls' discussion explained how each sex, when entering puberty and adulthood, has its own needs

and concerns.

"Because the girls are dealing with womanhood, [they have to know] how to handle sexual advances and coming onto them while maintaining their assertiveness," said Lewis.

This technique was demonstrated by 10-year-old Pauline Baker.

"The stop hand is when somebody is bothering you and you want them to stop. You don't turn away from the person, you put up your hand," she said, holding her hand open at arm's length away from her.

The day-long event also permitted the kids to release energy with low-organization team games and there was an afternoon craft session to create medicine wheels.

"With kids this age, you need to have some physical activity in place and our recreation department is providing the activities during the breaks," Reimer said about how even "intelligent minds" need balloon races and lemon relays.