Implementing land-based resiliency in First Nations youth: The ‘This is Who We Are’ Program

Dr. Adrienne Chan’s work is funded through the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) Pathways to Health Equity for Aboriginal Peoples Initiative. MSFHR is providing match funding, with additional support provided by the Fraser Health Authority and Vancouver Coastal Health. The goal of the Pathways Initiative is to facilitate research on the design, implementation and scale-up of effective programs and policies that address pressing Aboriginal health issues in four priority areas, including suicide.

Suicide among Aboriginal youth – estimated to be five to six times higher than non-Aboriginal youth – has been occurring at an alarming rate in recent years.

Dr. Adrienne Chan, Associate Vice-President of Research, Engagement and Graduate studies at the University of the Fraser Valley, is leading a team of researchers working on a suicide prevention strategy targeted to First Nations youth. Implementing Land-Based Resiliency in First Nations Youth: The 'This is Who We Are' Program, continues Chan’s earlier work with the Seabird Island Band – part of the Stó:lõ Nation, in the Upper Fraser Valley – which explored the benefits and positive outcomes of reconnecting Aboriginal youth to the land to build resiliency that comes from a foundation of culture, community and place.

The work of Chan’s team over three years will be grounded in an Indigenous research approach to examine the implementation of a suicide prevention program in four new communities: Mission Friendship Centre, Sumas First Nation, Scowlitz First Nation, located within Stó:lõ territory, and Nuxalk Nation (Bella Coola). The focus is on primary prevention of suicide: promotion of health, community connection, building and maintaining culture and family resilience.

Drawing on Indigenous ways of knowing as they are lived in the four communities, a guiding group of elders, youth and community members will inform the research team on how to adapt the pilot land-based resiliency program to the individual aspects of each community.

Youth will be instrumental in telling their stories, identifying needs, and providing input on how the prevention program unfolds. They will also be engaged in forums and participate in land-based (traditional land use and land stewardship) activities to explore and connect with their culture – past, present and future, as an act of healing and empowerment.

Community agencies working with children, youth, and families as well as health authorities will be involved to ensure a comprehensive perspective on what makes implementation of the resiliency model successful. Ongoing collaboration, knowledge seeking and knowledge exchange will allow for lessons about implementation to be shared between communities and to identify opportunities for broader expansion of the program.