Increasingly worried about a youth in one of the isolated northern Saskatchewan Indigenous communities that she served, mental health therapist Brigette Krieg says she reached out to a psychiatrist.
“We’re concerned enough that we think this youth needs to be sent down south,” said Krieg, who remembers being taken aback when the psychiatrist wouldn’t take on the new patient.
“He basically told us, ‘Fix the social issues and you’ll fix the kid.’ ”
Frustrated by resources that don’t match the need, prejudice, geography and apathy , Krieg decided the best way to help Indigenous youth struggling under the pressure of bullying and violence in colonial contexts would be to empower them to drive the solutions.
To support what’s become the Northern Prairie Spirit Youth Cultural Continuity Project, Krieg and University of Regina social work professor Raven Sinclair, have received $400,000 from the Northern and Aboriginal Crime Prevention Fund.
“We do research on instead of research with Indigenous communities,” Krieg said. “I really feel like this is going to be our missing piece.”
The study encompassing Pelican Narrows, Stanley Mission, Wollaston Lake and Fond du Lac and Prince Albert will aim to understand the issues surrounding bullying and violence in those communities from the perspective of the Indigenous youth enduring it.
Krieg and Sinclair will gather the data through digital storytelling, collaborating with the youth to understand their experiences by way of photos and videos.
While the coronavirus pandemic has delayed the official start of their on-the-ground research, Krieg’s existing relationships with the communities will guide them as they navigate the logistics in consultation with band offices, health centres and schools.
Having the communities really take a lead is important to its ultimate success, Sinclair said.
“They’ll let you know what the issues are,” she said. “The project itself, its developed from the ground up.”
Sinclair, whose past work has included studies around Indigenous youth suicide, says the study has a sense of urgency.
“We know that bullying can lead to suicide,” she said. “We know as Indigenous researchers that we really need to listen to the voices of the people who are most affected. That’s what this project is about, is about really listening to the voices of youth and amplifying their views, their voices, so that can then inform policy and programs, ”
Bringing the youth together through digital storytelling to share their experiences could also serve another purpose, Sinclair said.
“The actual project itself could be a recovery strategy or at least a supportive strategy,” she said.
In cities, youth facing bullying and violence and their families could have choices in practitioners to schools to support groups, Krieg said.
But in rural and remote settings with service gaps in a best-case scenario, “they just feel like they don’t have options,” she said, noting that getting away from overwhelming and/or dangerous situations can be more difficult.
Sometimes, youth end up dropping out of school to escape their tormenters — or worse, Krieg said.
“I think a significance of the project is that in contexts where there’s poverty and sort of systemic oppression or discrimination, some of the social obstacles that Indigenous youth in particular are confronted with in our society, there’s a risk, there’s a risk of those frustrations being internalized and that’s when we see bullying and violence,” Sinclair said.
Ultimately, she noted it becomes a cycle that only feeds into the bullying and violence exacerbated by the complexities of colonial legacies.
“We’re notorious for bringing our great ideas and imposing them on a community,” Sinclair said. “We haven’t had many projects that have really heard the voice or amplified the voice of youth themselves,”