Money for research project

Researchers are hoping that theatre and art will help to create informed and healthy First Nations youth.

First Nations University of Canada (FNUniv), in partnership with File Hills Qu’Appelle Health Services (FHQ Health Services) and Concordia University, has launched a four-year project to study aboriginal health leadership through theatre.

FNUniv’s Dr. Jo-Ann Episkinew said she’s pleased the Canadian Institute of Health Research has chosen to fund theproject. It has received $380,000 over the next four years to carry out the research project.

The researchers will use theatre and other art forms to help youth analyze their decision-making processes regarding healthy and unhealthy behaviours and document it. It all developed about three years ago as a pilot project, Episkinew said.

She explained that Researchers Studying Aboriginal Youth Health Leadership Through Theatre is similar to the Anti-racist, Cross-cultural Team (ACT) development program that’s offered in Regina Public Schools. She thought such a program could work in First Nations communities and schools and wanted to get involved.

So, after some discussion with the creators of the ACT program — which included Linda Goulet from FNUniv, Warren Linds from Concordia and Karen Schmidt from FHQ Health Services — the pilot project was born.

“We want to help (First Nations youth) realize that they have choices,” said Episkinew.

Since 2006 several workshops have been held in Fort Qu’Appelle and a few First Nations schools within the File Hills Qu’Appelle Tribal Council. The workshops usually run over a few days and include a mix of games, theatre and discussion.

“We’ve had 150 participants attend our workshops,” Episkinew said, adding more workshops can be held now that there is funding.

She said the funding will also be used to hire a youth and an adult who can be trained to run the workshops.

“We want this to go on beyond us,” Episkinew said, adding she hopes that the program will continue beyond four years.

The idea is to train others who can deliver the workshops so that more young people can participate.

She said the workshops are designed to build self-esteem and confidence in youths and based on her experience she believes it has made a difference in the lives of young people.

Although Episkinew enjoyed hosting the workshops and interacting with the youths, she would like to concentrate on the research part of the project.

“All the workshops are a way to collect information,” said Episkinew, who’s looking forward to helping compile theresearch.

Once complete, the findings will be shared with other indigenous youth, community members and policy makers.

Credit: Kerry Benjoe; Leader-Post

Copyright Southam Publications Inc. Nov 12, 2009

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Western youth leadership

Concordia’s Applied Human Sciences professor Warren Linds is working with community and education leaders at First Nations University of Canada and the File Hills Qu’Appelle Tribal Council in Saskatchewan. Over a four-year period, Linds will conduct a multi-stakeholder research project funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

His goal, with Development of Aboriginal Youth Health Leadership Through Theatre is to help young people acquire the tools to confront the challenges they face, and to communicate their decisions. His method is to use theatre to develop leadership in Aboriginal youth. The project involves workshops designed to help youth think actively about the choices they make and work out how to make healthier choices.

Members of the Cree, Lakota, Saulteaux, and Dakota communities are taking part in the project that focuses on the development of self-esteem and self-confidence. “It would be great if we could develop a youth voice on health issues on the tribal council,” says Linds, adding that the project has been a positive experience.

“I consider the research as ‘emerging,” he says. We’re always developing it, and it’s a slow process that depends on participation. The project relies on input from a locally established advisory committee involving various community members, who all are treated as participants in project design and direction. “We’re not just doing traditional research where we go in, find out what happened, and leave.”

The project builds on the doctoral research he completed a decade ago helping youth develop leadership skills using theatre as a tool to address racism.

That research project, involving upper elementary and high school youth, allowed him to elaborate and refine approaches to education though the arts. Many of his partners in this project were also involved in his earlier anti-racist work.

by: Karen Herland  |  Source: Concordia Journal

Workshop shows youth their potential

Aboriginal youth in Saskatchewan are discovering their potential as people and as leaders through the Theatre for Living project – a three-day workshop designed to develop participants’ self-confidence, reflective decision-making and leadership.

The project is being con- ducted by researchers Jo-Ann Episkenew, director of the Indigenous Peoples’ Health Centre, and Linda Goulet, a professor in the Department of Indigenous Education at the First Nations University of Canada, in collaboration with Warren Linds at Concordia University; Karen Schmidt, a health educator with File Hills Qu’Appelle Tribal Council and other partners.

Youth from partnering Aboriginal communities spend three days creating vignettes, engaging in theatre games and other exercises structured to promote trust-building, sharing stories and discussing decision-making and youth leadership.

For Episkenew, one of the most important outcomes is the development of students’ sense of agency because it is a step in addressing the harm done when generations of Aboriginal people had the power of choice taken from them by things such as the Indian Act and residential schools.

“These kids might not understand all of this policy and political history, yet they have learned that the power lies outside of their communities,” says Episkenew. “What we want in developing their leadership is to show them that they do have choices in their life. It isn’t all coming from somebody else.

“(Participants) have told us that (the workshop) is a place where they are free to be themselves and that they are safe. They say it’s not like this ‘out there.’ If we can help them develop their confidence, maybe ‘out there’ could be bet- ter for them.”

The project fosters that sense of agency by getting stu- dents to examine the choices they make in their own lives. Goulet sees it as adding a layer to the health education many students receive in school.

“We are not going in with value judgements – ‘this is bad’, ‘this is good,’” says Linda Goulet and Jo-Ann Episkenew are helping Aboriginal youth develop self-confidence, reflective decision-making, and leadership abilities through a three-day workshop.

“We are trying to help them look at what decisions they are making and how they are coming to make those deci- sions, so that they can reflect and make a healthier choice. So, maybe they won’t quit drinking. But maybe when the decision comes to ‘do I get into a car with a person who has been drinking’ or not, they might decide not to get into that car.

“The other thing we are teaching is that there is no right answer, that you interpret reality through your own lens and that you have a right to do that, because often kids think there is one answer. Again, you are looking at the history of residential schools and, unfortunately, schooling that takes place where there is only one right answer.”

The Theatre for Living project got its start with the help of $10,000 from the Indigenous People’s Health Research Center four years ago and was recently awarded a $380,000 four-year operating grant from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

Part of this money is being used for a community research assistant who, in addition to organizing the workshops, is tasked with forming an advisory committee of youth, adults, parents, health workers and Elders. This committee advises and informs the project. The research assistant also organizes a youth group that meets on a regular basis and helps youth engage in health-related projects based on their interests.

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