(Photo: Danielle Girolami)

USask researchers host Canada-wide peer-led program for Indigenous youth

University of Saskatchewan (USask) researchers in the College of Kinesiology are playing a leading role in the Indigenous Youth Mentorship Program (IYMP).

The peer-led program brings together Indigenous youth to build on their strengths, develop leadership skills, and mentor children on healthy lifestyles. With guidance from young adult health leaders in their respective communities, high school student mentors lead their elementary school peers in a series of physical activities and games while exploring cultural teachings and nutrition.

The IYMP is focused on the prevention of obesity and Type 2 diabetes among Indigenous youth, and the national project is funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR). The implementation of the IYMP in Saskatchewan is also supported by the Saskatchewan Health Research Foundation (SHRF).

The College of Kinesiology at the University of Saskatchewan has three researchers leading the IYMP research in Saskatchewan. Dr. Carol Rodgers (PhD), Dr. Louise Humbert (PhD), and Dr. Leah Ferguson (PhD) have all been active and committed researchers with the project.

The USask researchers work closely with their key community advisor, Tammy Girolami, a principal within the Saskatoon Public School Division (SPSD), which was the original partner for the IYMP in Saskatchewan. The Saskatchewan team also works with teachers and students within SPSD, as well as with Indigenous university student volunteers to implement the IYMP in Saskatchewan. Now in its third year, the IYMP has been implemented in 13 communities across Canada.

Each year, a large group of team members from across Canada gather to listen and learn from one another. On Nov. 23, Saskatchewan had the honour of hosting the gathering for its Western Canada partners and community members at Brightwater Science, Environmental and Indigenous Learning Centre on Treaty 6 Territory and the Homeland of the Métis.

“We are really excited to have hosted such an important gathering in the province of Saskatchewan”, said Ferguson. “In the past, we have gathered as a team in Manitoba, Kananaskis, and Ontario. It was a special opportunity to come together on the land at Brightwater, and we were fortunate to learn about the land from an Elder and Indigenous community leader.”

“When we are able to learn from Indigenous leaders, it really strengthens our relationships and brings us together in a good way,” said Ferguson. “Gathering as a group allows us to celebrate and learn from one another.”

This year’s gathering consisted of more than 25 people, including an Elder, Indigenous community leaders, teachers, researchers, and community members from Prince Albert Grand Council, SPSD, Saskatoon, Edmonton, and Alexander First Nation and Paul First Nation, both from Alberta.

The gathering focused on three key outcomes: to honour Indigenous ways of knowing and learning, to celebrate the IYMP stories that need to be told, and to identify challenges and work together to finds solutions.

“We chose these three key outcomes because they speak to what we want to feature across Saskatchewan and in the IYMP,” said Ferguson. “Youth are the future, and Indigenous youth in the province of Saskatchewan are an essential part of that future.”

For more information on IYMP, please visit The Aboriginal Youth Mentorship Program.

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