The goal of this project was to implement and evaluate community-led and land-based initiatives to promote mental wellness among indigenous boys and men across the Canadian North. The link below will take you to the final report prepared with the findings from the three year-long project.
In early November, Kwanlin Dun First Nation (KDFN) organized a bison hunt on the traditional territory of Champagne and Aishihik First Nation (CAFN). This program ran a full 6 days, and was intended to provide an opportunity for young Indigenous men to spend time out on the land. The program had two paid guides, and in the spirit of partnership between the two first nations, included the KDFN Movember Program Coordinator and the CAFN game guardian. There were three additional guides, who were members of the KDFN community, that volunteered their support. The entire camp consisted of 17 people.
There were no camp cooks or camp maintainers, as one of the goals of the hunt was to learn to work together, support one another, and learn what it takes to maintain a hunting camp. The camp set-up included four canvas tents and woodstoves for sleeping, and used an existing shack for cooking. Temperatures the first night plummeted to close to -25 C, so the participants quickly learned how important keeping the fire going at night truly was!
Each day, the entire camp would gather at breakfast and divide themselves into hunting parties of two and three. Some groups would hunt in the lakes and grassy low lands, while others would climb the mountain to look for bison eating grass on windy slopes.
The participants learned many things while on the hunt; a lot of information about bison habits: where they like to go, sleep, and eat. They also learned how to set up, maintain, and tear down a hunting camp, how to safely drive quads and cross different types of terrain, and how to look for bison and other animals, as well as how to set snares for small game.
Being on the land, away from the city of Whitehorse, allowed many of the participants to give themselves the space needed to reconnect with a part of their identity longing to be revived or strengthened. Many of the men spoke about how this camp was the longest they have ever spent away from town, and that having experienced it now, it is something they will strive to participate in again.
On October 6-9, 2017, our team members from all of our project sites attended the Northern, Rural, and Remote Health Conference in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, NL. This was an opportunity for us to present on the benefits we see in running our various land-based programs across the North to an audience of healthcare practitioners and decision makers. This was also an opportunity for our project sites to meet face-to-face, and have a chance to discuss our plans for the final year of this Movember-funded project. Representatives from the Movember Foundation were also in attendance, along with their colleagues and project sites from Australia, and it was a great opportunity to connect and share with Indigenous-led initiatives internationally as well.
We are excited for the year ahead, and look forward to contributing to the evidence base for the mental health and wellness benefits of community-led land-based initiatives across Canada.
Project Jewel strives to provide practical tools that individuals can use throughout their lives once programming has finished on-the-land. These include both tools for on-the-land survival and living, as well as stress management and healthy living tools. These elements combined can lead to an individual having increased self-esteem, increased resiliency, increase self-worth, understanding of how they can overcome barriers and achieve goals, empowerment for themselves and their loved ones (ie: children), increased connection to their culture, pride in their achievements.
From February 17-24, 2017, young men from the region participated in a 10-day on the land camp where trapper skills were highlighted. We partnered with a local Elder who has an active trapline to learn the skills of setting, checking and taking care of traps. The young men learned about different types of traps for different animals, and also learned about survival on the land while in charge of a trapline. This camp was highly mobile while using the Elder’s camp as home base.
CBC news reported that “the rate of suicide in Nunavut is 10 times higher than the Canadian average” and a “suicide inquest recommended the government pilot a community-based model like that used by Clyde River's Ilisaqsivik Society”.
The full CBC news report can be found here: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/north/suicide-crisis-nunavut-traditional-inuit-counselling-1.3818705
Background. Suicide is a serious public health challenge in circumpolar regions, especially among Indigenous youth. Indigenous communities, government agencies and health care providers are making concerted efforts to reduce the burden of suicide and strengthen protective factors for individuals, families and communities. The persistence of suicide has made it clear that more needs to be done.
Objective. Our aim was to undertake a scoping review of the peer-reviewed literature on suicide prevention and interventions in Indigenous communities across the circumpolar north. Our objective was to determine the extent and types of interventions that have been reported during past decade. We want to use this knowledge to support community initiative and inform intervention development and evaluation.
Design. We conducted a scoping review of online databases to identify studies published between 2004 and 2014. We included articles that described interventions in differentiated circumpolar Indigenous populations and provided evaluation data. We retained grey literature publications for comparative reference.
Results. Our search identified 95 articles that focused on suicide in distinct circumpolar Indigenous popula- tions; 19 articles discussed specific suicide-related interventions and 7 of these described program evaluation methods and results in detail. The majority of publications on specific interventions were found in North American countries. The majority of prevention or intervention documentation was found in supporting grey literature sources.
Conclusion. Despite widespread concern about suicide in the circumpolar world and active community efforts to promote resilience and mental well-being, we found few recorded programs or initiatives documented in the peer-reviewed literature, and even fewer focusing specifically on youth intervention. The interventions described in the studies we found had diverse program designs and content, and used varied evaluation methods and outcomes. The studies we included consistently reported that it was important to use community- based and culturally guided interventions and evaluations. This article summarizes the current climate of Indigenous circumpolar suicide research in the context of intervention and highlights how intervention-based outcomes have largely remained outside of peer-reviewed sources in this region of the world.
Full text of the paper can be found here.
As a follow up to the 2015 Knowledge Translation meeting in Toronto, The Movember Foundation brought together project teams from Canada, United States, and Australia to Vancouver, BC for a meeting on November 2 to discuss the creation of a framework for Knowledge Translation for future work. The project teams that were brought together specifically work within Indigenous communities, and all had an opportunity to share our context and experience. Other groups represented at the meeting were from Kettle & Stony Point Health Services, Dude's Club, Institute of Urban Indigenous Health, Prevention Institute, and University of British Columbia.
All groups had an opportunity to share their success and challenges with their Movember-funded programs. We all agreed that there need to be better ways for us to leverage the Movember Foundation brand and develop synergistic relationships between projects in order to optimize impact and allow for better scalability. A key next step was to pursue a knowledge-sharing meeting/conference focused on land-based wellness and Indigenous ways of knowing and teaching, with Dr. Michael Jong from the Labrador & Grenfell Health Authority proposing a conference to take place in the fall of 2017 in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Labrador. The program for this is being developed, and more information will be provided as it becomes available.
Dr. Michael Jong, president of the Canadian Society of Circumpolar Health, co-authored a paper published in the “American Journal of Public Health.” was recently interviewed by CBC. He talks about the high suicide rates in Labrador.
You can listen to his interview on CBC here:
In mid-February, we ran programs which combined the approaches of our Qimmivut (our dogs) and Ataata-Irniq (father-son) programs to offer a full four-weeks (two, two-week trips) of programming for men and youth on the land. The first program was a full two weeks of fishing and seal hunting at camps and fjords north of Clyde River (February 16-25, 2016). The program had six instructors and seven youth. The second component was a full two weeks of seal hunting and ptarmigan hunting at camps and fjords south of Clyde River. That program had ten instructors and ten youth.
The two trips involved travel by skidoo-qamutiik and dog team, and camping in both tents and cabins. The groups hunted for seal through agluit (seal breathing holes) and with nets, and jigged and netted for fish. They hunted seal at the floe edge and also hunted for ptarmigan. All along, the youth learned about ice travel, navigation skills, camping skills, dog teaming and dog care skills, weather prediction, meat preparation, skidoo and qamutiit repair skills, and how to set-up/maintain/break down camp. The youth also learned hunting skills, rifle handling skills, net-making, tool-making, and much more. In addition to practical skills, the youth were told stories and legends about their history and the areas they were visiting. Emphasis was placed on learning traditional place names, and the meanings and stories behind those names. Youth often learned about their own family histories and relatives, seeing the places where they came from and travelled.
Bad weather is always a reality in the Arctic, especially in February and March when the program was held. Dealing with bad weather is part of the experience for youth, who must learn not only how to stay safe and create a sturdy camp for riding out a blizzard, but how to pass the time. Youth learn patience and how to be productive when waiting out the weather, by doing activities such as mending clothing and tools. During the periods of bad weather, youth listened to stories and had a chance to talk and bond even more with their instructors and Elders.
The beauty of our environment also has a positive impact on everyone involved in land-based programs.
Be’sha Blondin, Sahtu Dene Elder, and Stephanie Young attended the Transforming Health Care in Remote Communities Conference at the Chateau Lacombe Hotel in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada on April 29-30, 2016. More than 140 delegates from seven countries met to exchange ideas and learn from one another about how best to address the health care challenges of remote communities in Canada and elsewhere.
This conference was for those with an interest in strengthening collaborations to improve our health-care systems and the health of circumpolar and other remote communities.
Delegates included researchers, clinicians, managers, policy makers, service providers and representatives of industry, non-governmental organizations, and indigenous communities from Canada, Nordic countries, Greenland, Alaska, Russia, Australia, and other countries with remote populations.
Be’sha and Stephanie's presentation, titled "How we used to be: Challenges and lessons learned from implementing healing through wellness on the land", can be accessed by clicking here.
Be’sha also led the conference delegates in the opening and closing prayers.
Preparing for the camp and engaging community members were the main goals of January 2016. With the opening of the winter road, the Northern ICE team travelled to bring camp supplies (snare wires, bush food, tarps, tents, tepees, propane stoves, gas lamps, and much more) and equipment to Tulita from Yellowknife. Our team members held an additional two weeks of wellness workshops at the Cultural Centre in January. The workshops were an empowering time to learn about healing and discuss challenges people are facing. Several participants shared feeling uncertain of how to begin their healing journey, however knowing they want to start living in balance. During the workshops we discussed residential school, its intergenerational impacts, and how to heal from past experiences. Elders shared concern for their children and grandchildren and spoke to the difficulties families are facing in the communities. In the evenings, the team saw community members one on one for counseling and ceremony.
During the month, we met with the Magistrate Judge at court in Tulita to recommend that young men be referred to TLBHCC. At the camp, male youth will have the opportunity to spend time out on the land and are being referred to the camp by their probation officer. We also met with the Justice Council to get their support for the on the land-base program and restorative justice initiatives. The Justice Council is working on developing new strategies for restorative justice in Tulita. Northern ICE also met with six members of the Justice Council to discuss community problems, how the restorative justice program in the past was successful, and lack of funding for these programs.
Elders requested a northern artist to lead art workshops with youth and school students, so we invited a Dene Artist to travel to Tulita and take part. He had the opportunity to connect with youth through artistic expression. The artist worked with youth artists to create a large program mural. This mural will be housed in the future Tulita Elders Lodge, our aftercare building for the program that is envisioned to begin construction in 2017. Alongside community artists, the group painted a beautiful large mural depicting bear rock, ancestors, families, and the land.
On February 10th, we were able to travel out on the land to the Marten River camp and spent three weeks preparing it for programming. A wonderful Sahtu Elder travelled in from Norman Wells to help us to make a trail to the camp, and a group slept overnight and helped set up tents with wood stoves for our night. With the assistance of two youth volunteers and our camp manager, we brought most of our gear and supplies to the camp. The camp is situated at the junction of Marten River and Great Bear River and is a forty-minute skidoo ride away from the winter road. This camp was built by the community around a decade ago and used periodically over the years for different projects. However, there have been no substantial improvement or maintenance at the camp since it was last used. When we arrived, there was a free-standing kitchen area, two semi-functional outhouses, and one old tent frame. We were grateful to have the kitchen frame to work with while we were setting up the camp. Over the three weeks, we made the made some improvements to the kitchen; we added a door, replaced a stove, installed shelves, insulated the exterior, and brought in a larger table. Spending time out on the land gave us the opportunity to clean up the area around the camp, set up four Fort McPherson tents, and get wood and ice for our day-to-day needs. Each day at the camp, we had a group breakfast, planned the day, and spent time on activities non-stop into the night! We gathered to laugh and share stories, and each of us stocked the stove with wood.
We also began envisioning sustainable camp infrastructure needs and vision for the long-term plan for the camp. For example, we would like to build a self-sufficient large camp lodge for programming and workshops with a kitchen, dining area, sustainable “off the grid” compost toilets for men and women, and showers. We would like to build staff housing for Elders and camp staff, along with 2 duplex housing: one for men and women. Another plan is to build a crafts shop for women’s and men’s activities throughout the day, such as canoe-making, and sewing with moose hide.
The Tulita Land-Based Healing Cultural Camp program is built on Dene traditional values and cultural knowledge, led by leadership of Sahtu Dene Elders who are the knowledge holders. The cycle of culture and environment are the heart of the central Dene Laws, and serve as our program’s model.
Northern ICE is working with community leadership for guidance and direction. We are planning a community meeting with the leadership from the Hamlet of Tulita, Ft. Norman Metis Land/Financial Corporation, Tulita District Land Corporation, and Tuilta Dene Band for future plans for the community and on the land initiative for the Tulita Land-Based Healing Cultural Camp and community aftercare to help the community to have opportunities for wellness through both programs.
We need partners to help and begin the intake for young and older men for September and October for the first program:
- One of our short-term goals is to promote health, healing, wellness among Tulita community members by running the programs.
- Our long term objective is to build aftercare infrastructure and capacity in Tulita so that Aboriginal wellness services can be delivered both rooted on the land and in the community. We are working with the Hamlet of Tulita to develop an environmentally friendly aftercare building to house all the healing, treatment, and counseling programs and projects
We would like to give a big Mahsi Cho to the Hamlet of Tulita community members for supporting our healing workshops at cultural centre and supporting the program via donations of time, supplies and space.
We are beginning to grow a team to include traditional ecological knowledge holders, Elders, craftsmen and handicraft women, healers, and counselors to begin the process of wellness.
We just came back from a week-long, Project Jewel: Father-son Trapper Training program with Angus and Frieda Alunik. All participants took part in a briefing with Angus on trap identification and particular use. All participants were introduced to various types of snares: how to set and construct for the intended animal. Participants were then given the time to familiarize themselves with setting each trap as well as setting it off to appreciate the seriousness of trapper safety and function of each trap.
It's important to note that our focus on this camp was to improve the relationships between fathers and their sons while building their skills through traditional and modern knowledge. Both families noted in the debrief that the week was very beneficial to them, and that the one-on-one time that they experienced with each other was very much appreciated.
In conclusion, it was a cold week with the average temp hovering around -34C. We did not successfully trap animals but we did see one mink and three moose. Everyone went home satisfied and likely about 5 pounds heavier due to Frieda’s cooking!
On November 9 – 20th, the Northern ICE team spent time delivering community wellness workshops at the Cultural Centre in Tulita, NT. Over the three weeks, we spent time together learning through traditional teaching and documentaries, which prompted dialogue and sharing circles. We learned about traditional medicines, feelings and emotions, the Dene language, and ceremony. We discussed food toxicity, medications, disease, and getting to the root cause of what is keeping us out of balance. Community members shared the powerful healing of sharing with one another, and discussing topics that they have not shared with anyone before. It was an incredible month of sharing and learning from one another. This was a wonderful beginning to the Tulita Land-Based Healing Wellness Camp. It is important for us to continue healing through sharing out on the land. The elders and leaders see this and want to make this happen themselves. They say we need to "just do it", instead of letting the fear of making mistakes stop us dead in our tracks. They're encouraged and motivated to take more ownership of making this camp happen.
On November 9-10, the Movember Foundation brought together 32 representatives from 21 projects in 5 countries across the world, funded for their work in improving mental health and wellness in men and boys. The goal of this meeting was to allow for connections to be made between different projects, and to discuss how to best approach Knowledge Translation strategies - sharing lessons and findings from projects and communities with each other, funders, policy-makers, media, and the global community at large.
It was interesting to discuss how our various projects connected with Movember Foundation's Men's Health Strategy, and more specifically with their Mental Health Strategy. There is quite a diverse selection of projects that have been funded through the grant, ranging from the "Deadly Choices" Campaign by the Institute of Urban Indigenous Health in Australia working with Aboriginal boys and men, to the "Making Connections" program by the Prevention Institute in the United States working with men and boys disproportionately affected with poorer mental health outcomes (people of colour, veterans, etc.), to the "Bro Talk" project by the Kids Help Phone in Canada providing a phone and instant messaging service for teen boys across the country. It was beneficial for us to discuss our similarities and differences, and to gain an appreciation for the landscape of programs and projects addressing the important issues related to the mental health of men and boys.
Moving forward, we are committed to sharing our findings and lessons not only through formal academic channels, but also through our website, social media presence, and by working with Movember to leverage their brand and reach for knowledge translation purposes. It is important for us to share what we learn in order to help make a case for innovative, culturally-relevant programs to improve the health outcomes of the men and boys in our communities.
On September 16, 2015, our partners that make up the Movember Circumpolar team met in Ottawa, ON to discuss the importance of land-based mental health and wellness programming in our respective communities, and the impacts that we have seen. The meeting focused on the richness of diversity and similarity that exists across all of our programs. We worked together to highlight what we thought were important components of land-based programs in our communities, and began the development an evaluation toolkit based on evidence-informed measures from the literature, along with additional metrics we would like to see measured. This evaluation toolkit will be used by all six of our partner sites across the North, allowing us to measure impact and effects in a standard way.
On November 17, 2014, the Movember Circumpolar team received word that our project, "Pathways to mental wellness for Indigenous boys and men: Community-led and land-based programs in the Canadian North" had been awarded funding of $3 million for 3 years. This funding will support Inuit and First Nations community organizations in Northern Canada to develop, adapt, deliver, and evaluate land-based mental health programs. The project is being co-led by Dr. Gwen Healey at the Qaujigiartiit Health Research Centre in Iqaluit, NU, and Dr. Michael Jong at the Labrador Grenfell Regional Health Authority and Memorial University in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, NL.
Our team recognizes that Indigenous communities across Canada and internationally are leaders in the development of innovative, culture-specific mental health and suicide prevention initiatives. This project will build on the knowledge and capacity that communities already have by focusing on existing and new programs that integrate land-based activities with mental health care. We aim to improve the mental health of Indigenous boys and men by targeting factors that promote mental wellness and protect against suicide risk, including cultural identity, personal agency, social support, connection to positive role models, and a sense of community belonging.
A list of our partners and project sites can be found by clicking here. In addition to these project sites, our team also includes advisors, clinicians, and researchers from Canadian and other circumpolar institutions, including:
- Labrador Institute of Memorial University
- Institute for Circumpolar Health Research
- Queen's University
- McMaster University
- Greenland Center for Health Research
- National Institute of Public Health, University of Southern Denmark
- Utsjoki Health Care Centre, Finland
- Arctic University of Norway
- Sami National Centre for Mental Health, Sweden