Canada: The Aboriginal Community Youth Resilience Network (ACYRN) – Atlantic Canada
The ACYRN experience in Atlantic Canada
As seen by Dawn Caldwell and April Maloney
“The history of ACYRN began in 2003, out of common concerns that we had with April Maloney,” recalls Dawn Caldwell, a CIET researcher in Halifax. “We discussed how to best contribute to research on Aboriginal health in the region, and April suggested taking on suicide prevention, a pressing issue for Aboriginal communities.”
April did most of the fieldwork, going to schools and recreation centres, where she handed out anonymous surveys to students in classrooms. The confidential character of our surveys is crucial in this regard. “It is certainly what worries kids the most,” says April. “Teens would ask me: ‘Do I have to put my name here?’ I would say: ‘Not at all.’ They would insist: ‘Are my parents going to see this?’ And then I would say again: ‘This is strictly confidential; it’s your answers, not your names that we are looking for.” The anonymous responses gave youth ample space to speak their minds. And they did.
The survey provided a snapshot of community life from the adolescents’ perspective, their day-to-day encounters with violence and peer pressure, their family and peer support systems, their cultural and spiritual exposures and how this affects their self esteem and sense of control over their environment and future.
In a second stage, the bands designated community-based researchers (CBRs), who were trained to replicate the study in their communities. CBRs are social workers, health staff, or interested community members. Most of them are first-time researchers who find themselves puzzled by the process, until they have their “Aha!” moment and see how research can make sense to them and add value to their communities. They also bring knowledge from their culture and communities, which makes for a true coupling of worldviews and a new, integrated perspective to go about those things that matter on the road to better health and greater development.
In 2004, there were already eight participating communities. In 2005, they formed the Aboriginal Community Youth Resilience Network (ACYRN), with funding from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR). Another four communities from Atlantic Canada and seven Métis settlements from Alberta joined the ACYRN network in 2005 and 2006. (Click here for more information on ACYRN action planning sessions in Alberta).
“To date (April 2007), we have data from surveys in all the participating communities,” says Dawn. “Our next step is to share the findings with them, so they can discuss what to do, based on the evidence. And, judging from our findings, there is much that can be done with what they already have, like enhancing existing programs. Of course, they can also use the evidence to request funding for small interventions that promise the most benefits. Whatever the communities decide to do –and this is certainly their call-, we will evaluate the outcome, see what works, and fine-tune to get better results.”