Indigenous Youth Mentoring Program: Unveiling Key Traits of Community-University Partnerships in Canada

Reference: Lopresti, S., Willows, N. D., Storey, K. E., McHugh, T.-L. F., & Team, I. N. (2022). Indigenous youth mentorship program: Essential characteristics of a Canadian multi-site community-university partnership with Indigenous communities. Health Promotion International, 37(1).

Summarized By: Ariel Ervin

About the Study:

Engaging Indigenous communities in research within settler-populated nations like the United States, Canada, and Australia has been, and continues to be, fraught with Eurocentric methodologies and values. Decolonizing research and establishing community-university partnerships (CUPs)* are essential for fostering reconciliation between Indigenous and settler populations, promoting equitable relationships, empowering communities, and honoring Indigenous methodologies & perspectives. The Indigenous Youth Mentoring Program (IYMP) is an exemplary decolonizing approach that strives to empower communities and promote Indigenous youths’ health and well-being in Canada. However, there is a gap in research regarding the characteristics necessary to run multi-sited CUPS that conduct health promotion programming, like IYMP. This qualitative study explores the essential traits needed to implement multi-sited CUPs for Indigenous communities from the perspectives of five principal investigators (PIs)** at the national level.

*Particularly those that adopt a community-based participatory research approach (CBPR)

**Included four PIs from academia (one Indigenous and three non-Indigenous) and 1 Indigenous PI from the community. Their experiences in Indigenous CUPs ranged from five to thirty years.

Key Findings:

  •   Forming a Community of Practice (CoP): Forming a CoP was an overarching theme that encompassed four sub-themes listed below. All of the interviewed PIs stated that all the IYMP sub-themes were vital for big multi-site CUPs.
  • Indigenous Health/Well-Being & Social Justice: Everyone involved in IYMP was committed to promoting Indigenous social justice, health/well-being, and “doing things in a good way with a good heart” through community advocacy or research.
  • Relationships: Relationships were essential in working with Indigenous communities and with partners in academia. While developing and maintaining relationships take time, making the effort to establish long-lasting partnerships is necessary. There is no standardized way of doing things across multiple communities. However, relationships have to be prioritized for the partnership to stick to its intentions.
  • Mentorships: Communal mentoring relationships encouraged everyone to learn from one another and played an influential role in running multi-sited CUPs.
  • Decolonizing Research Approach: All of the PIs emphasized the importance for them (and their student trainees) to understand the colonial factors that have affected generations of Indigenous communities in Canada. Similarly, they all agreed that prioritizing community voice was vital in decolonizing research, promoting Indigenous ways of knowing & doing, and working toward reconciliation.

Implications for Mentoring:

There are various takeaways from the findings. Given how vital it is to establish genuine researcher-community relationships, post-secondary institutions and funding bodies need to acknowledge the time required to develop them, create policies to facilitate these relationships, and provide the necessary provisions to have gatherings that promote interactions and power-sharing relationships. Holding regular informal and naturally occurring gatherings is an effective way to facilitate mentoring in CoP since they are a traditional form of relationship-building and knowledge-sharing for Indigenous people. It also provides a space to exchange informal and formal knowledge associated with traditional and new knowledge, and intercultural exchanges can occur. Decolonizing research is also critical in developing and running CUPs; this not only encompasses researchers sharing a common interest in Indigenous health & well-being and acknowledging their privilege but also understanding how colonial practices and policies negatively impact Indigenous communities. These suggestions are particularly important for onboarding IYMP trainees through mentorships with their PIs and direct engagement with Indigenous communities. Lastly, researchers must ensure that Indigenous voices and ways of knowing & doing are at the forefront of their studies and that Indigenous communities are actively involved in all aspects of research.

To read the full study, click here.