Mentoring experiences for First Nations young people: A scoping review

Reference: McMahon, M., Chisholm, M., Yenara, A., Garling, T., Vogels, W., van Vuuren, J., & Modderman, C. (2023). Transformational mentoring experiences for First Nations young people: A scoping review. Australian Social Work, 76(3), 379–392. 

Summarized By: Ariel Ervin

About the Study

Evidence highlights the essential role history and a sense of identity have in promoting well-being and resilience in Indigenous young people and alleviating negative health outcomes. Group mentoring strives to provide safe spaces that foster a sense of belonging for Aboriginal youth and offer an outlet for them to learn more about their identities and culture. However, while youth mentoring has been utilized as a teaching process in the past and continues to be used today, it’s still unclear which elements contribute to transformational learning experiences. This scoping review assessed thirteen studies (seven used qualitative methodologies) published between 2011 and 2021 to better understand what elements foster transformative group mentoring experiences for First Nation youth in Australia, Aotearoa New Zealand, and Canada. It also provides advice for researchers and practitioners informed by First Nation perspectives.

Key Findings:

Most of the studies included in the review were led by non-First Nation researchers. Despite the gaps in the mentoring literature on First Nation youth, this study pinpointed four themes from their review that have important implications for mentoring Aboriginal youth and identifies areas where First Nation-led research can provide more nuance to the subject. 

  • Culturally Embedded in a First Nation Standpoint: The findings highlighted the importance of embedding Aboriginal community engagement and cultural activities into program deliverance. However, although it provided opportunities for youth to learn more about their culture and develop a greater sense of belonging, it’s unclear how much collaboration occurred with Aboriginal communities during the development and delivery of programs. Most of the studies didn’t include Aboriginal researchers.
  • Intrapersonal Development: This theme focuses on individuals’ reflections about identity, the self, and confidence & growth levels, underscoring how mentoring programs can promote decision-making, leadership, and individual life skills. However, while general understandings of this theme arguably have implications for the best mentoring practices for Aboriginal youth, there are critiques that this viewpoint is an example of assimilation into Western academia and restricts opportunities for Aboriginal language and discourse.
  • Interpersonal Development: Interpersonal development refers to youths’ relationships with their mentors, peers, and communities. Positive relationships encourage youth to develop positive identities, new social connections, & confidence and explore leadership opportunities. Despite this, there was little discussion about how mentoring programs should focus on youths’ relationships with ancestors, nature, and country.
  • Program Design: Programs need to be flexible, hire Aboriginal staff, provide longer programming, and hold regular community meetings to design effective programs. Although most of the programs included the involvement of Aboriginal people in program delivery, it’s unclear how much Aboriginal people were involved and how much they had a say in decision-making. 

Implications for Mentoring 

Although mentoring relationships have the potential to promote positive youth development among First Nation youth, this study highlights the significant gaps in the mentoring literature for this demographic. One of the biggest issues with existing studies is the predominance of non-Aboriginal scholars and Western narratives of youth well-being. While their findings may arguably provide some insights into the elements that contribute to transformative mentoring experiences, they are simultaneously biased and overlook important nuances that can skew research findings. Non-Aboriginal researchers and practitioners need to be mindful of their positionality and provide more space for their Aboriginal peers to lead instead. Mentoring programs and research centered on First Nation worldviews are vital in providing transformational experiences that foster cultural connectedness and healing spaces.

To read the full study, click here.