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Canada: The Aboriginal Community Youth Resilience Network (ACYRN) - Alberta

The ACYRN process in Alberta

 

As told by Carrielynn Lund, who coordinated the ACYRN project for CIET in the Western provinces

 

As an Aboriginal woman with a long history of health-related experience and program development, I am only too familiar with the challenges Aboriginal people and communities face when approached by researchers who want to do studies with them. Many of our communities have retained their Aboriginal language and it is extremely difficult to explain academic terminology on research methods and ethics even if the intent of the researcher is to include them as full partners.

When considering a partnership with Aboriginal communities, one needs to make sure they are approached in a proper and respectful way, following local protocols. For our ACYRN project, I got in touch with the Director of Programs and Services for the Métis Settlements General Council and gave her an overview of the partnership. The elected member of their political Executive who holds the health portfolio also attended the meeting and agreed to sign the data sharing agreement. They requested I make a presentation to the elected community leaders and gave me their support to go ahead.
  

Métis youth by a campfire in Alberta, left, where trained Métis community-based researchers, right, gather and manage information from ACYRN household surveys
 

Two community-based researchers (CBRs) from each of the seven Métis Settlements were selected by their leadership. As of April 2007, they have completed the first three sessions of training, which included an introduction to qualitative research and the survey questionnaire, data entry and analysis. In the beginning they were apprehensive and unsure of what they were “getting into”. Their body language made it evident they were struggling to absorb everything. It was very helpful to relate our teachings to community life. The fact that everyone had different backgrounds and levels of education also made it challenging. They preferred “hands-on” work and open discussions to Power-Point presentations.

When it came to data entry, there was certainly more technical training than open discussion. Despite their initial reservations, they soon became proficient and were able to complete a significant amount of entries by the end of the session. We determined it would be better to have more one-on-one coaching for this session.

The analysis session was by far the most animated, and I could see very clearly the CBRs had “got it” by the comments they offered. We discussed how to share the evidence with their communities. We agreed that a larger gathering of members from all seven communities would be a good way to present and discuss the evidence in a way that it would lead to action.
 
Action planning sessions
 

The seven Métis communities gathered in Edmonton from April 18-20, 2007.They sent community Elders, elected council members, youth, and frontline workers from relevant community services. After sharing the findings, people working in small groups identified key challenges and resources, and most importantly, things they could act on immediately that would hopefully reduce the risk of youth suicide.

It was an emotionally charged experience, not only because many of the participants had been personally touched by suicide in their communities, but also because they were able to channel their emotions into a collective energy and ideas for interventions. There was nothing really surprising in the numbers from the survey. Everyone knew suicide was a problem in their communities. What was new was seeing how the risk factors are connected and how they build up towards crisis. Even more helpful was turning the risks into action entry points for interventions.

From harnessing and linking existing programs, to setting up youth councils and improving counseling and mentoring for and among youth, there was a range of initiatives to begin implementing right away. People agreed that youth have to participate from the onset and be actively involved throughout the program. One woman stated “We have to start trusting our youth to take responsibility and run things for themselves by themselves”. Another person stated, “we start many of these things for youth, and then we realize we’ve been doing it for ourselves”. Problems around “clan wars” and community fractions were a common theme in the group discussions. Everyone agreed they needed to bring communities together if anything was to change.

The task now is to take the individual community action plans and begin to put them into practice. The CBRs will play a crucial role, disseminating the evidence, sustaining the momentum from the Edmonton gathering, and assisting key stakeholders as they carry out the action plans. They themselves will evaluate the outcome of this major effort during the next phase of ACYRN. 
 
Click here for more information on the ACYRN action planning sessions in Alberta.