The opportunity to see a community through the eyes of its youth has revealed rich and compelling stories from communities of Ndilo and Dettah in the Northwest Territories.
In an article recently published in the International Journal of Circumpolar Health, Cindy Jardine reports on the wealth of knowledge and insights gained from youth in the K’álemì Dene and Kaw Tay Whee Schools in Yellowknives Dene First Nation. Jardine, associate professor in the School of Public Health, also assessed the benefits, limitations and ethical issues associated with using youth as researchers in a participatory process.
In Jardine’s previous research, adults from Ndilo and Dettah had used PhotoVoice, a tool used to help share experiences and views through photographs, to document their concerns about various types of risks in their communities. Smoking was frequently identified as a major risk, prompting the community to express the need for further research in this area.
Currently, the smoking rate for Aboriginal Canadians (59 per cent) is three times the rate for the general Canadian population. On the basis that preventing youth from starting smoking is the best way to change smoking behaviours, Jardine and the community decided to involve students at the schools to focus on the issue of tobacco use.
Jardine hoped this approach would shed some light on how youth view smoking in their community, and why they make the decision to smoke or not to smoke. These insights, she said, might provide ideas about how to change smoking behaviours. In addition, she wanted to provide a way in which students could have their voices heard on this topic.
| Cindy Jardine, professor
“Kids have insightful and compelling things to say,” says Jardine, “and we need to find better ways of hearing them.”
Students in Grades 2-12 in both schools took photos of tobacco use and smoking around their community. The photos showed how ingrained these habits are in the lives of community members.
The students in Grades 9-12 at the K’álemì Dene School acted as the researchers for the study. They helped design interview questions, interviewed students and contributed to decisions on how to use the information. When the older students reviewed the photos, they realized everyone had photographed only negative aspects of their community and tobacco use. Students expressed that there was more to their community. So, they suggested to Jardine that a balance of positive images from within their community—how things should be—needed to be captured. The final product was a collectively developed booklet entitled Youth Voices on Tobacco that was distributed to the students and all households in the community.
According to Jardine, the process resulted in compelling information. “The more we give the community an opportunity to see the world through their kids’ eyes, the more likely they are to decide to change things. And, change will come when people recognize that it’s needed and they are ready do what’s necessary to make it happen.”
Co-author Angela James, former principal of the K’álemì Dene School, feels this type of study that involves “youth as researchers” and “youth as resources” is an excellent way to celebrate the knowledge gathering that was part of the process.
“This research will reinforce our message that inappropriate tobacco use is a major health problem in our community, and that the best thing for our students is to choose not to smoke.”
Over the summer Jardine has been conducting a follow-up research project involving youth aged 10-14 making videos about tobacco use. The same communities were used in this research project.
“We’re going to keep going back to this community and continue projects that build incrementally on what we’ve established so that the messaging stays at the top of everyone’s minds,” says Jardine.
Dr. Jardine’s PhotoVoice and video research projects are funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research-Institute for Aboriginal Peoples’ Health.