Spaces and places: Understanding sense of belonging and cultural engagement among Aboriginal youth.


PI: Linda Liebenberg. PIs: C. Mitchell, Darlene Wall, Michael Ungar, Michelle Wood, and Pat Dolan. Collaborators: Faon Sheppard, John Graham, & Rebecca Schiff.                                      


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Aboriginal youth continue to live with a socioeconomic and political legacy of colonization and marginalization, confronted by environments harmful to their psychological and social development. Poorly resourced communities compound social exclusion, reducing positive outcomes for youth. Increasingly, research points to the mitigating effects of resilience in high risk contexts for youth exposed to poverty, cultural dislocation, marginalization, and other such risks. Resilience is however dependent on personal capacities (self-efficacy, self-confidence, etc.) and the availability of relevant resources among their families, schools and communities. Meaningful connection to community is one of many ways youth maintain their culture. It is this cultural continuity from one generation to the next, and the engagement in community that it brings, which is an important contributor to resilience. However, without a critical examination of the conditions that lead to youth becoming alienated from their culture and communities, attempts at fostering these connections will be largely unsuccessful. Spaces and places will explore the cultural continuity (how culture is shared) and civic engagement of Aboriginal youth living in 3 communities of Labrador: Charlottetown, North West River and Hopedale. Using a social ecological theory of resilience, we will explore how Aboriginal youth interact with their community resources (parks, libraries, school spaces, etc.) and how these interactions impact on where and how they spend their free time, and consequently, how they connect with their culture and community. Our previous research of resilience in these communities has shown that young people’s capacity to cope with threats to their psychosocial development (e.g., suicide, high risk sexual behaviour, disengagement from school, violence) has much to do with their self-reported sense of belonging to their communities and how they navigate the spaces around them to find resources that protect them. Other international research by the Resilience Research Centre (RRC) has found that the places youth occupy in their communities may not always meet their needs for inclusion or worse, are structured in ways that further marginalize them. Participatory qualitative image-based methods will be used to better understand the availability of physical spaces and how they establish a sense of belonging to community and continuity of culture for youth living in remote Aboriginal communities. We will adapt methods used previously by the RRC internationally, including video capture of a day in the life of participants and reflective photo-elicitation interviews. We seek to answer 3 questions: 1) What spaces and places are available for youth that foster a sense of belonging? 2) In instances where such spaces and places are absent, what would these look like? 3) How do existing and envisioned spaces and places contribute to sense of cultural and contextual connection? This research will generate recommendations for improvements of existing resources and planning of future spaces. Findings will be returned to communities by participating youth, enhancing self-determination and social capital of youth. Findings will also be disseminated through partnerships that include a Networks of Centres of Excellence (NCE-KM) focused on knowledge mobilization of programming and policies for youth in challenging contexts. During the past 4 years the applicants for this grant have successfully investigated youths’ pathways to resilience throughout Labrador. Existing research programs have engaged 696 youth (aged 12-19) in a mixed methods study of risk, formal service provision and resilience.

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