The line between higher education and good health is narrow, and researchers at The University of Western Ontario hope to better understand aboriginal health by looking at the barriers to education for First Nations youth. Geography and First Nations Studies youth.
Occupational Science master’s student Anthony Isaac, Occupational Therapy Assistant Professor Debbie Rudman, and Geography and First Nations Studies Assistant Professor Chantelle Richmond have teamed up for a novel ‘photovoice’ study assessing barriers to education facing aboriginal.
Geography and First Nations Studies Assistant Professor Chantelle Richmond and Occupational Therapy Assistant Professor Debbie Rudman are primary investigators on a SSHRC-funded research project entitled “Enlightening Vision, Enabling Quests: Photovoice and Community-based Participatory Research with First Nation Youth.” The study will examine First Nations youths’ perceptions of educational aspirations.
Youth involved in the study will be given cameras, a research technique called ‘photovoice.’ They will capture images representing what education brings to their lives, what supports them in these aspirations and the barriers to working towards their educational goals.
The youth will discuss the meaning of the photos with the researchers.
Using photovoice is a research format allowing participants to be actively involved in the study, rather than being passive subjects. Richmond and Rudman say this technique was chosen because it aligns with aboriginal traditions of story-telling.
“It enables these youth to tell their own stories. It’s not us interpreting what these photos mean, it’s them taking photos of something that means something to them in their lives,” says Richmond.
In addition to individual interviews, the youth will participate in a group discussion. At the end of the project the researchers hope to hold a community celebration to share the results with indigenous partners and community stakeholders.
The study will take a grassroots approach to issues identified by the community and the action will be community-orientated.
“We are trying to empower the youth, as well as enable their visions. I think community-based research is so powerful because we are trying to give back to the community,” says Anthony Isaac, a master’s student in Occupational Science and study researcher.
This spring they will recruit aboriginal youth aged 17-29 from the London area or who commute to the city and are transitioning between secondary and post-secondary education levels. A broad age group was selected because the patterns of educational involvement are different for indigenous youth.
Unlike a typical transition from high school to post-secondary education, indigenous peoples are more inclined to enroll in college or university in their late 20s because of family ties and obligations.
The First Nations population is increasingly urbanized, but little research has been completed on urban aboriginal youth, says Richmond, noting more than half of the population is under the age of 24 years old.
“In spite of the research effort that has gone into trying to understand aboriginal health, inequalities are growing. What we are trying to do is try to understand some of these root causes … understanding how the social spaces and environments that aboriginal people live in is actually connecting to health outcomes in real tangible ways.”
People with higher levels of education tend to have better health, she explains.
“People with improved access to education, income, housing, and many other social determinants of health, tend to live longer, they are happier and they experience fewer complications after various health issues,” says Richmond.
“If aboriginal youth are not achieving the same sorts of opportunities to go to school, for whatever reason, their health is going to be affected.”
Education is an important factor for self-determination, which is also connected to health, says Rudman.
One criticism of past research on social determinants of aboriginal health is they often focused on differences between aboriginal and non-aboriginal peoples, and not on the positive examples or modeling of success stories that enable youth to achieve post-secondary education, says Richmond.
The results are not always shared with the community, she adds.
To counteract this research model, researchers have partnered with N’Amerind Friendship Centre, Southwest Ontario Aboriginal Health Access Centre and Indigenous Services at Western, which provide health, social and educational services to the urban aboriginal community.
“We are working here to create mutual benefit between indigenous youth in London, our community partners and ourselves,” says Richmond.
What is ‘photovoice’
This approach to gathering information was developed in the 1980s and 1990s. It is a form of community consultation often used to bring about social change. An early example enabled rural women of Yunnan Province, China, to influence the policies and programs that affected them.
Participants represent their community or personal point of view by taking photographs, discussing them together, and undertaking action. It is often used among people who lead lives outside those of groups in social or political control.