Group 1: Urban Aboriginal Youth Council– Summer 2012/Fall 2013
Group 2: GLBTQ - Winter 2013
Group 3: Calgary Catholic Immigration Society refugee youth - Winter 2014
Group 4: Sudanese refugee youth - Spring 2014
Group 5: Aboriginal youth who have experienced the child welfare system – Fall 2014
Group 6: Aboriginal adolescent boys at risk of suicide - Fall/Winter 2015
In the spring of 2012, members of our research team convened an urban Aboriginal Youth Council (AYC) in the city of Calgary. The AYC convened for two distinct periods in May-June 2012 and August-December 2013, referred to as Phase I and Phase II respectively. In April 2012, the research team’s goal was to gather and retain a maximum of ten youth to participate in weekly meetings for two months. These meetings were initially intended to stand alone, but some AYC members would eventually reconvene for another set of meetings more than a year later, prompting the second phase. The recruitment strategy aimed to include a variety of urban Aboriginal perspectives on experiences of structural violence. Building on the team’s well-established relationship with a Calgary high school with one of the largest Aboriginal student populations in the city, the primary site for recruiting participants and weekly meetings were held at this site. Upon being invited to select arts-based activities through which to think about and confront structural violence in the group, AYC members chose digital technologies. They brainstormed making a public service announcement to post on Youtube, Tumblr or Twitter. The attraction of video was not due to the potential for broad impact alone, but also drew on priorities to have fun, in spite of the heavy topic. A pre-interview indicated that youth began the process aware of the weight of topics that could be addressed. Responding to an invitation to identify what topics they wanted to ensure would come up over the course of meetings, the council members listed: alcohol abuse, racism, stereotypes, homelessness, bullying in general and for not being “Native enough” (that is, lateral violence within their communities), history, and moving forward.
Over the course of Phase I, a 20-minute film was produced as a testimonial to experiences of structural violence identified by AYC members in their lives. In the film produced, participants recount diverse forms of personal hardship endured as an effect of structural causes; their victimization and in some cases that of their close family members would become irreversibly public should the film be posted online, hence it has not been widely circulated. The film features only a portion of activities carried out in the May and June 2012 meetings, focusing primarily on the culmination of perspectives on structural violence and not the interactions, peer support, laughter, tears, and gestures of friendship that surrounded its production. By the start of Phase II, AYC members already had a developed understanding of structural violence. Therefore, over the course of meetings in August and September 2013, they reflected on who could most benefit from a film in which Aboriginal youth confront structural violence: 1) members of settler society who are largely ignorant to Aboriginal realities in Canada, 2) policy-makers believed unlikely to ever view a film produced by the group, or 3) fellow ‘Native youth’ across Canada. Discussion also addressed whether a genuine contribution to debates about structural violence could be made in a serious documentary format. This led the group to ask how to avoid reproducing negative ideas already widely circulating about Aboriginal peoples, relating to poverty, poor parenting, addiction, and generic “Indian” stereotypes. Finally, they wondered if they could confront structural violence without calling it structural violence. In other words, what should confronting systemic harm to Aboriginal wellbeing even look like? Could it merely involve a group of Aboriginal youth collecting entertaining stories they scarcely otherwise had an opportunity to hear, or did they have to appear interested in or empowered by the opportunity to participate in deliberative processes for shaping policy and promoting health? As the AYC moved forward with a Phase II film topic of exorcism, their film transformed into an investigation into ghost stories and hauntings, a seemingly innocuous topic that nevertheless answered a range of desires among members: to have fun, to stir discomfort among viewers, and to be able to visit reserves throughout the production process.
For 8 weeks between mid-February and mid-April, 2014, A group was co-facilitated on Wednesday evenings. It was convened through an affirming minister from Wild Rose United Church in central Calgary. The 6 youth who regularly attended this group were older than the refugee groups, primarily in their early twenties. They were also a particularly diverse group, including one transgender person and one transsexual person, as well as a foreign-born gay man. A knowledge exchange event took place on Thursday, May 1, 2014, as the group presents lessons learned throughout our collaboration to Affirming Committees of Calgary congregations. While funding was not directly secured from Voices against Violence to carry out this initiative, the community partners remained keen that the initiative be realized.
From January 18 to mid-April 2014, together with a group of refugee youth of diverse backgrounds affiliated with the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society’s (CCIS) Margaret Chisholm Resettlement Centre, we prepared a youth-powered film called The New Citizens (https://vimeo.com/93417143). The group met weekly on Saturday afternoons from 2-4 p.m. The film premiered on April 26 to a public audience of more than 50 that included Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi. Originating from Afghanistan, Sierra Leone, Ethiopia, Russia, Congo, and Tunisia, the 8 youth involved in this collaboration turned out to be slightly younger than originally invited; nevertheless, a modification to our ethics criteria and the involvement of parental consent ensured our ability to proceed. A news story announcing the film’s online debut and some research findings from the initiative are expected to appear on Thursday, May 1 in the University of Calgary’s campus e-zine called UToday. Undergraduate student Anshini Shah and Somali-Canadian CBC reporter Asha Siad co-facilitated this group. Permissions for the youth to appear in the film were secured, and the editing team was careful to make the film a positive account of youth experiences. More sensitive material addressed in the collaboration will be included anonymously in a report and publications.
For 5 weeks between late-March and late-April 2014, a group of refugee youth of distinct characteristics was recruited and engaged to elaborate a mural about experiences among Darfuri youth in Calgary. This group met on Saturdays between 11a.m. and 2p.m. The initiative wrapped up on Friday, April 25 with a community event in which the seven most regular participants debuted to Elders and peers a mural prepared for installment in a public venue in the city. These youth also interviewed on camera their parents and relatives much like reporters. The interviewing activity modeled experiences from attending a Family Day event hosted by the group of CCIS refugee youth with whom I was simultaneously working. Dr. Gamal Adam, who was a sessional instructor of Darfuri origin in Anthropology at the University of Calgary, co-facilitated this project. A single report on having engaged two distinct groups of refugee youth will be prepared for Voices against Violence.
This research initiative funded by both Voices against Violence (CIHR) and the Urban Aboriginal Knowledge Network (UAKN) addresses perspectives among 21 young adult participants (aged 19-29 years) of Aboriginal background living in Calgary with prior child welfare system involvement. The goal of this initiative, carried out over the summer of 2014, is to better comprehend the long-term effects of care systems at the local scale. Data draws on a participatory, arts-based advocacy partnership developed between University of Calgary researchers, community partner the Urban Society for Aboriginal Youth (USAY), and previously system-involved youth located throughout the city. The initiative highlights critical perspectives on institutions, protocols, and practices that challenge the safety and resilience of Aboriginal foster children, even throughout transitions into adulthood. Both this and subsequent projects building off of the arts-based advocacy approach used in this initiative, will lead to positive social change through the development of flexible research methods for engaging the voices of a vulnerable population that easily escapes research, due to recruitment difficulties and lack of vested interest in directly benefiting from the knowledge-sharing process.
An exhibition of arts produced by the youth participants of this initiative is under production and will be showcased at an Aboriginal research symposium in Enoch, Alberta in November 2014. The voices behind this art are unfiltered by academic or policy/planning objectives, and seek to stir deeper understanding of how colonialism has impacted growth, as well as resistance, reclamation, and healing in the lives of affected youth. The 10 youth contributing art showcased in this exhibit participated in a larger 8 week arts and advocacy program described above. Focusing on themes such as identity, culture, community, place and displacement, injustice and resistance, and sobriety, the voices showcase art inspired both within and beyond/prior to the arts-based research and advocacy initiative. The work draws on a wide range of experiences of system care among participant youth. It also showcases contemporary impacts of a system that, not unlike colonialism, distances youth from their communities and cultures, rather than addressing systemic inequality and racism. Youth express perspectives on coping with and resisting daily injustices that they have experienced, as well as the future that they envision for themselves and their communities. An opportunity for positive social change emerges from the knowledge-sharing by frequently marginalized youth, as they intentionally direct their voices to service providers, policy-makers, and general audiences, compelling through creative expression decision-makers at diverse levels to remember that we are all accountable to real people, with hopes and dreams worth supporting.
In 2015 Voices Against Violence partnered with the O'Brien Institute for Public Health to run a pilot group with Aboriginal adolescent boys who are at risk of suicide from both reserve and urban settings and who were interested in using Popular Theatre (PT) to explore resilience and sources of strength. PT is a collective process of theatre that identifies and engages in discussion of issues with the intention of personal and social transformation (Conrad, 2008). It offers the possibility of providing an integrated means to increasing protective factors while decreasing risk factors associated with youth suicide. Youth suicide is a significant matter in many Aboriginal communities in which suicide deaths by Aboriginal males are 20 times higher than the lowest adolescent risk group (Goldston, Molock, Whitbeck, Murakami, Zayas, & Hall, 2008).
The following is an enactment of the Popular Theatre process used in the research group with the young men. https://vimeo.com/138164104