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White Earth dog-gone sick of bullies

FIONA the English bulldog is making the rounds to teach little kids that bullying is never okay. Victims today face constant bullying via Facebook and cellphone.

She's doesn't have a slender, feminine physique; her body is full of wrinkles and she passes gas in crowds.

Her name if Fiona, and she is becoming quite the local super star.

The three-year-old English bulldog is making her rounds on the White Earth Reservation, visiting classrooms, daycares and pre-schools.

Her message is worn around her neck on a snappy, red bandana that reads: 'Don't be a bully.'

It's reiterated on posters that hang around various reservation buildings that feature her brother, Boris, stating that he should be the only bully in here.

Although he lives in the Twin Cities, sister Fiona is carrying on the family tradition of trying to take a bite out of bullying.

Her owner, Kim Turner, is a health educator on White Earth and one of 32 members of a committee determined to beat bullies at their game.

The anti-bullying committee was started two years ago by several early childhood educators, police officers and other organizations, businesses and individuals.

But they don't just have a "bone to pick" with bullies -- they say it often stems from the bully's parents and a way of life.

"It's our committee's belief that if you start early you can break into that cycle," said Mary Leff, who works with early childhood assistance on White Earth, "If you start early enough, you can teach kids how to deal with each other before they become bullies, because as you know, there are adult bullies who've learned as they grew up that that's how you handle things -- you be a bully and you get your way. They haven't been checked, and we're taking a stand to check them ... to stop it."

And they're breaking out the big dogs for it.

Fiona is one of the newer members of the anti-bullying committee, and according to Ogema Kindergartener Calais Olson, she's got a strong message.

"The puppy is supposed to be the only bully in the room because it hurts people's feelings," she said as classmate Quincy Harris related the good advice he'd gotten from Fiona and her crew, "If you get bullied, stand up tall, put your shoulders back and say 'I don't like that.'"

Fiona seems to have a way of resonating with children in a way that human adults just can't, as she captures their attention for the entire lesson.

"And then they see the posters of her brother hanging up around the school and they're reminded of Fiona and then that message stays close to them," said Anti-Bullying Committee Member Terri Darco.

Fiona makes the rounds mostly to young kids throughout the reservation because childcare experts say signs of bullying begin to rear its ugly head in the littlest faces.

"We see it here," said Ogema Kindergarten Teacher Cecilia Brininger, "It'll be like, 'if you don't let me play with that, I won't be your friend' or 'I won't invite you to my birthday party' ... it starts with little things like that."

Ogema first grade teacher Lauri Johnson says it's tough on little kids who get bullied, especially if they're not equipped to deal with it.

"A lot of times their emotions take over, but with repetition and explaining this throughout the year, we hope they learn that there are things they can do if they are being bullied," said Johnson.

Committee members say getting to the kids early is important, because bullying is becoming a relentless, heartless pastime.

"When we went to school, if there was bullying, we'd go home and it was done," said Turner. "Now it's on facebook, it's on their phones ... it's all the time, and they can't get away from it -- it's constant."

Ultimately, it's that in-your-face, all-the-time tormenting that these anti-bullying committee members want to see stopped.

"It not only has a lot to do with how kids feel about themselves, but later on it could be a life and death situation where they feel so bad about themselves that they choose not to live," said Leff, "and we do see that in our work and in our schools."

But Fiona and her anti-bullying brigade cannot do it alone -- they say it will take also take the strength of young people willing to stick up for each other.

Marlene Myhre works with White Earth Child Care Assistance and is part of the anti-bullying committee.

She says just talking about this problem openly and periodically gives kids the ability to find that strength in numbers.

"Since we started this, I've talked to my daughter a lot about it, and so now she feels comfortable standing up for kids who are bullied," said Myhre, "it's not tolerated anymore."

Once Fiona wraps up her rounds in the Ogema area this month, she then heads to Mahnomen to start pounding the pavement and recording some public service announcements with the student there.

For more information on what she, her siblings and her other anti-bullying committee members are up to, find her on facebook (yes, she does have a page) under "Ma'kin Bulldogs."