A Narrative Inquiry into Experiences of Urban Indigenous Youth Within An Intergenerational After-School Wellness Program
Lewis, Brian John
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In the fall of 2013, my colleagues, Sean Lessard, Lee Schaefer, and I were awarded funding through Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada to implement an after-school program for urban Indigenous youth within an urban centre within Saskatchewan, Canada. Our intent from the outset was to create a connecting space that would allow us, as narrative inquirers, to ethically enter into the community and to develop relationships with youth and their families. The after-school program occurred each Wednesday during the school year, within an elementary school gymnasium. With an interest in physical activity, I looked to engage youth in numerous movement activities. All the while, I was intentional from the early beginnings of the program to co-create with the community an intergenerational program that included not only youth, but also volunteers from the community, including First Nation elders and knowledge keepers, and pre-service teachers from the local university. My inquiry revolved around the experiences of three Indigenous youth mentors that were each part of the program for two or more years. It was through coming alongside these youth that I was able to gain an understanding of how they were experiencing the experience (Clandinin & Connelly, 2000). What surfaced from the inquiry was a juxtaposition to the dominant narrative within existing literature pertaining to after-school programs for urban Indigenous youth. The research literature placed youth who partake in such programs as being at-risk and in need of an intervention to enhance either academic achievement or social success. This notion of beginning from a place of deficit suggested that an after-school program was the solution to supporting youth who were categorized as insufficient. This starting point, if you will, lends itself to the dominant research paradigms found within the literature designed to substantiate the success of such interventions. This inquiry has brought forth another story of Indigenous youth. Stemming from a reconceptualization of play, these three Indigenous youth were part of an after-school program community, which positioned each as knowledge holders. Through this narrative inquiry, it became apparent that the research participants did not see themselves as being in deficit, and in fact were strong contributors to the children in the program. I came to understand the tremendous wealth of knowledge these youth held, knowledge that positioned each as teacher. Dissimilar to the research literature, these youth were in fact impacting the program of which they were involved. Through the co-creation of a relational community I was able to come alongside the youth to relive (Clandinin, 2013) stories, which in turn allowed us all to see differently, shifting our stories to live by (Connelly & Clandinin, 1999).