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From Fort McMurray wildfire disater study, RbD Lab project promotes youth ideas on belonging and resilience

On February 21st, more than 50 Wood Buffalo community members and Royal Roads University’s ResiliencebyDesign (RbD) Research Innovation Lab members met to present and discuss findings from the “Youth Voices Rising” project on youth, recovery, and resilience in Fort McMurray, Alberta. The research study occurred in response to the 2016 Horse River wildfire disaster and was supported by the Canadian Red Cross.

Pamela speaks to community members.

The presentation and discussion covered the background of the two-year project, the youths’ ideas for a better community, a focus on how to strengthen youths’ sense of belonging and resilience, and ways to engage youth in the community as the community rebuilds after a wildfire disaster. The findings are showcased in the “Youth Vision and Voices in Wood Buffalo” report: https://resiliencebydesign.com/youthvoiceswb. View the event video at www.facebook.com/ResiliencebyDesignlab/videos/253510002242119 and www.facebook.com/ResiliencebyDesignlab/videos/1166184303576522

Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo Mayor Don Scott opened the presentation by sharing his role in the #YouthVoicesWB social media campaign that was part of the Creative Action Research study. He also shared his commitment to including youth voice in decisions that affect them. Youth community member Pamela (age 17) also shared her experience with the YVR project, highlighting how impactful it was to have hers and others concerns and ideas taken seriously by local community members as well as validated by other youth. As Pamela described, “Before I started working with youth voices, I never really knew the power or importance of my voice or the impact that I could have in my community.”

RbD Lab members Dr. Tamara Plush, Dr. Robin Cox, and Ashley Berard then presented on the #YouthVoicesWB campaign, which asked youth to answer the question: “What would you do to make your community better?” Youth answered this through original art pieces, poetry, photos, songs and more. The youth’s ideas focused on five priority areas, including transportation, health and wellbeing, volunteerism, participation and activities, and education. Tamara summarized the research through the lens of two key concepts: belonging and resilience. “Belonging connects to when youth feel valued for who they are or who they want to be. Belonging also includes the places that youth can go to feel safe, brave, supported and connected while navigating their unique roles and responsibilities in their communities,” she said.

Rbd Lab presenters Robin Cox, Tamara Plush, and Ashley Berard.

The focus on resilience was highlighted by the photography show “We are Resilient: We See the Positive” from the Chipewyan Prairie Dene First Nation youth. This was showcased around the room for community members to view, and can be viewed here: (https://resiliencebydesign.com/indigenous-youth-visualize-community-resilience-post-disaster-through-photography/). To highlight the arts methods and creations that made the YVR project so unique and powerful, Willi Whiston and Genoveve Zepeda-Whiston performed their original YouthVoicesWB song, Change.

Following the presentation portion of the day, the community members attending participated in group discussion. They offered ways their organizations could address the youths’ ideas and concern, strengthen youth belonging and resilience in the community, and how youth could aid in leading in the way towards positive change. The inspiring conversation led into presentations from key community leaders, including an overview of regional community resilience planning by Jody Butz, RMWB Regional Fire Chief and Director of Emergency Management; a presentation by Cecelia Mutch, Executive Director of United Way; and an update by Guy Choquet, Canadian Red Cross Director of Operations Alberta Fire Recovery on Disaster Risk Reduction efforts in Wood Buffalo.

 

Wood Buffalo Youth Share Their Visions for Resilient Communities in a New RbD Lab Report

Pictured above: The Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo Mayor and Council pose with (center) Brina Cardinal, Mariam Arain and Dr. Tamara Plush from the RbD Lab at RRU for the launch of the Youth Vision and Voice in Wood Buffalo report November 27, 2018.

 

Youth in the Wood Buffalo region have innovative ideas for rebuilding the region back even better after the 2016 Horse River wildfire disaster (aka the Fort McMurray wildfire). In the Youth Vision & Voice in Wood Buffalo report produced by the ResiliencebyDesign Lab at RRU, youth aged 14-24 share their experiences, concerns, and visions for creating vibrant, resilient communities. Read and download the report at https://resiliencebydesign.com/youthvoiceswb/.

The youth ideas cover areas important to them such as transportation, health and wellbeing, volunteerism, activities, and education. The report also promotes key community actions that can support youth, such as engaging them in activities that reduce their risk to future disasters, strengthening youth-adult partnership opportunities, and ensuring activities are inclusive for Wood Buffalo’s diverse youth population across the region.

Mariam Arain, age 15, from Fort McMurray and Brina Cardinal, age 17, from the Chipewyan Prairie Dene First Nation in Janvier launched Youth Vision and Voice at the Regional Municipality Wood Buffalo Council meeting November 27 in Fort McMurray. Wood Buffalo Mayor Don Scott responded to the youth presentation with recognition and encouragement:  “Thank you for being community champions and champions of this region. I couldn’t be more impressed. I am a huge advocate of getting youth involved in this community and making their voices heard. What you are saying perfectly aligns with what I see for getting youth involved in the future.” The RbD Lab produced the report as part of the Canadian Red Cross funded project Youth Voices Rising: Recovery and Resilience in Wood Buffalo.

The report findings are based on interviews with youth, and a social media campaign youth named “#YouthVoicesWB,” which ran Sept-Oct 2017 and involved multiple social profits, schools, and youth centres across the Wood Buffalo region. The campaign asked youth to answer one question: “What would you do to make your community better?” More than 350 youth responded through photography, poetry, original songs, painting, sticky notes, and other creative means. The youth interviews and social media campaign not only revealed key priority areas for youth in the region, it also provided insight into how adults can better connect youth to decision-making, and why youth engagement is vital for Wood Buffalo’s post-disaster future.

The process of sharing their voice also proved empowering for Wood Buffalo youth and inspired creative paths to move ideas forward. For example, Aishwarya Gurumurthy, a 19-year-old youth from Fort McMurray, worked with the RbD Lab on the project as a Research Assistant, and also created a collage on transportation in answer to the campaign question. She described her experience as collaborative and powerful:

“Seeing that I have taken a step in the right direction and working towards the goal of making a concrete change in the community helped me with my recovery. These experiences made me feel more connected, and my bond with the community grew stronger,” Aishwarya said. “I felt more valuable after having my voice heard, and being recognized for my views, beliefs, and opinions. It is the sense of satisfaction that I have contributed to making my community better that helped me in the wildfire recovery and rebuilding process.”

 

To read or download the report, visit: https://resiliencebydesign.com/youthvoiceswb/

For questions: Dr. Tamara Plush, tamara.plush@resiliencebydesign.ca or Dr. Robin Cox, robin.cox@resiliencebydesign.ca.

 

Indigenous Youth Visualize Community Resilience Post-Disaster through Photography

Two years after the 2016 Horse River wildfire disaster in Fort McMurray and the surrounding region in Alberta, youth (age 13-17) from the Chipewyan Prairie Dene First Nation and First McKay First Nation share their views of community resilience through two photography exhibits supported by the ResilienceByDesign (RbD) Lab at Royal Roads University. The youth exhibits show how Elders, nature, tradition, community connection, friends, and sports positively impact their lives. The two photo exhibits are posted digitally along with a video capturing their experience during the workshop, and additional photos they took that highlight their talents beyond their exhibit photos:

  • CPDFN Workshop Video July 2018; Supported by the Sekweha Youth Centre in Janvier

https://youtu.be/a-me6SL9Kk0

  • Fort McKay First Nation Youth: Through the Eyes of Youth

https://resiliencebydesign.com/fort-mckay-photo-exhibit/

  • Workshop Video August 2018; Supported by the Fort McKay Youth Centre

https://youtu.be/gXDEv_E4P24

During the workshops, community members viewed the youth photos at local exhibits, and shared their views with the youth in how the photos connected and inspired them. One person said they connected Calm showing a vibrant orange Tiger Lily because it was pure and peaceful: “It shows the beauty of nature, that it can outdo computer graphics. Being real can be better than fake.” Another person connected to Life is a Camera with two people photographing each other observing: “It represents truth: how to focus on life and retry if it’s not how you wanted it in the beginning.” In response to Respect that shows a bag on the ground, a young community member said: “These kind of impactful pictures are what make change happen.”

There were personal connections too. In Sky a youth connects a photo of the sky to her Grandmother, with a person observing: “Because I recently lost someone I love too, I understand what it’s like to see them within beautiful things.” Many others connected with a photo of braided sweetgrass, with a person reflecting that “No matter how strong we are individually, if we got more with the same vision or purpose, we are stronger.” Another said the photo shows that the “voice” of people coming together is strong.

Kevin Coueslan, a Sekweha Youth Centre Board Member, told the youth participating in the Janvier workshop that he could see how they used photography to express how they feel internally; and that the photos show that youth are thinking beyond themselves as they see the positive in their community. “That’s a very strong gift to have,” he said. “It’s powerful.” He expressed to them how the photos can open a door for conversations to occur between youth and adults in how to work together. It’s beneficial, he said, to see things from a different, younger perspective.

The youth photos are already being shown nationally with the “We Are Resilient” show featured in August as part of the WeMatter campaign Facebook page: @WeMatterCampaign. Some of the youth said they are also interested to join photography classes at school, participate in future photo programs at the youth centres, and take photos at community events. A few photo panels from a traveling “We Are Resilient” show will also be presented by Sekweha at the Interlake Reserves Tribal Council Emergency Management Preparedness Conference.

RbD Lab members Tamara Plush, Robin Cox and Cheryl Heycoop co-facilitated the 2017 PhotoVoice workshops with Fort McKay Youth Centre staff; and Tamara co-facilitated the workshop with the Sekweha Youth Centre staff in Janvier. This year, the youth workers led the two workshops in their communities with support and training by Tamara, who reflected on her experience: “The photography exhibits show the importance of not only seeing the world through the eyes of youth with their unique perspectives, but in listening and having meaningful conversations that can benefit them and the generations to come,” she said. The photos show that “youth voice matters.”

RbD Lab Partners to give Youth Ideas Flight in Angel Wing Art Installations

Partners in the RRU ResiliencebyDesign Lab’s Youth Voices Rising (YVR) (https://crossroads.royalroads.ca/news/rbd-lab-partners-give-youth-ideas-flight) project in northern Alberta recently joined together in a Creative Action Research project. Youth workers from the Chipewyan Prairie First Nation Sekweha Youth Centre and the Fort McKay First Nation Youth Centre met in Janvier (2 hours north of Fort McKay) to learn how to create an Angel Wings Art Installation in March 2018. Leading the training was Reinalie Jorolan, from Zen Touch Art Creations and the Meicholas Art Foundation, who initially designed the installation for the YVR #YouthVoicesWB campaign that focused on how to make community better from a youth perspective.

Reinalie Jorolan, from Zen Touch Art Creations and the Meicholas Art Foundation pictured here with one of the youth workers.

 

Loaded with colorful cans of paint, countless paint brushes that differed in shape and size, and cardboard that will last for days, Reinlalie woke up on a mission to teach. She brought the materials and a training manual to the workshop to show the teams how to technically create the installation. As well, together, she and the youth workers explored how the wings could be used as a Creative Action Research process (in partnership with the RbD Lab) to learn about and build on the strengths of youth in the region, and amplify their voices.

In the workshop, Reinalie explained how art can allow those who have been affected by trauma another form of expression, which is important in communities touched by the 2016 Fort McMurray wildfire disaster. Working alongside the RbD Lab, she explained how guiding questions for the Angel Wing feather design can help youth identify where they can start building on their strengths.

Melissa Herman, an RbD Lab Research Assistant, supported the workshop and learned alongside the team. She said the installation was more complex than she imagined, especially cutting out the cardboard feathers with a utility knife, “To be completely honest, I have much more appreciation for each Angel Wings Art installation because cutting the detail into a feather can take a toll on your hands. But each feather is absolutely necessary. Each will eventually be painted with images that speak a thousand words; and be an image that will be shared in support of the vision of the youth.”

In the workshop, with painted, stained and dedicated hands, the group produced around 100 feathers while exploring what each centre and its staff was up to—with lots of laughter and learning along the way. The youth centres are about 200 kilometers apart, so the workshop was a great opportunity for the youth workers to meet each other. The youth workers will engage young people in the coming months to create the Angel Wing art installations in their communities.

They will come together again in late April—along with youth workers and youth leaders from the Lake Athabasca Youth Council in Fort Chipewyan—for a “Building from Strengths” workshop, rooted in Indigenous ways of knowing, to learn and explore leadership & youth resilience along a strength-based pathway. The workshop will be facilitated and hosted by the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity’s Indigenous Leadership and Management team and the RRU ResiliencebyDesign Research Innovation Lab as part of the Youth Voices Rising: Recovery and Resilience in Wood Buffalo project, funded by the Canadian Red Cross.

RbD Lab Research Assistant Melissa Herman.

 

Article by Melissa Herman, RbD Lab Research Assistant, and Dr. Tamara Plush, RbD Lab Postdoctoral Fellow

Local community group takes over RbD Lab #YouthVoicesWB brand as Social Media Hub

The ResiliencebyDesign (RbD) Lab at Royal Roads University launched the #YouthVoicesWB (https://resiliencebydesign.com/youthvoiceswb/) social media campaign Sept. 2017 in northern Alberta to champion youth ideas for a better community after the devastating 2016 Fort McMurray wildfire disaster. The campaign applied creative arts and action research as part of the “Youth Voices Rising: Recovery and Resilience in Wood Buffalo” project, funded by the Canadian Red Cross. The research specifically explores how youth voice can be strengthened during and after disaster in recovery response and planning (https://crossroads.royalroads.ca/news/rbd-lab-partners-give-youth-ideas-flight)

The RbD Lab strategically used #YouthVoiceWB as a process to explore, amplify and promote youth voice in the community through creative arts. For instance, the campaign asked youth age 14-24: “What would you do to make your community better?”  Nearly 400 youth responded to the question through song, surveys, sticky notes, photography, poetry, art and more. The RbD Lab team is now analyzing the findings and connecting youth and their ideas to local decision-makers. The researchers also hoped the campaign could ignite ways to sustain youth voice and support their recovery needs in Wood Buffalo beyond the project timeline, and explored possibilities.

 

Hannah, a youth community member, performs her original poem “Shattered Vase” about mental health and wellbeing at Talent Show connected to YouthVoicesWB.

“In the campaign, young people said they wanted own digital space to not only know what’s happening in the community for youth, but as a ‘one-stop-shop’ to find extra support for drug abuse and domestic violence or to respond to suicidal thoughts,” said Dr. Tamara Plush, Lead YVR Researcher at the RbD Lab. “In support, we were fortunate to connect with Some Other Solutions in Fort McMurray to take over #YouthVoicesWB in February; and they are now developing their own strategy of how they will operate it as a Social Media Hub for youth.”

Some Other Solutions share their first YouthVoicesWB Instagram post.

#YouthVoicesWB is currently active on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube. Some Other Solutions (SOS) plans to tie #YouthVoicesWB into their youth programs and mentorships in schools, as well as connect to schools and other youth-serving social profits and organizations in the region. They also have plans to work with youth to build an app for youth events and access to crisis resources.

According to Tamara, the shift of #YouthVoicesWB as a research project to that of a community-based Social Media Hub is both exciting and essential. “We are thrilled the brand will continue with SOS because many youth talked about the need for adult mentorships, health and wellness support, and crisis intervention. These are core areas for SOS, so the transition feels like the natural progression of #YouthVoicesWB in the community.”

Jason King, SOS Executive Director, agrees and laid out the SOS vision for the Social Media Hub. “What I like about #YouthVoicesWB is that it gives opportunity for youth to be heard in our community. Not just in what they see but in what they do,” he said. “We see the vision of #YouthVoicesWB as showcasing the authentic and uncensored voice of youth. We want to capture what people are saying and what place they are speaking from. We want to show that they are leaders and holders of the community.”

To learn more about the role of Some Other Solutions in Wood Buffalo, visit their website at https://someothersolutions.ca; and follow #YouthVoicesWB across all social media platforms to watch how SOS continues to champion Wood Buffalo youth voice.

 

Fort McMurray Talent Showcase Champions Youth Voice

As part of the RbD Lab “Youth Voices Rising” (YVR) project, the District Recording Studio, 91,1 The Bridge and the YouthVoicesWB campaign recently presented a youth talent showcase in Fort McMurray, Alberta. The event included 10 youth performers, a talk by RbD Lab Research Assistants Maike and Aishwarya, a presentation from 3 Things Wood Buffalo, and a visit by the Mayor Don Scott and Councillor Jeff Peddle. The event wrapped up the month-long, #YouthVoicesWB social media campaign and action research project that championed young people creatively answering the question: What would you do to make your community better? See the amazing performances—and the Mayor’s and Councillor’s talks—on the Shaw TV YouTube Site: www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLARu0rgVPBmwEI5AmSxEpc8FDfkwdqDrU.

Maike, a local Research Assistant, wrote a blog to share her impressions of the fun and inspiring evening:

Pizza, Hipster-Lounge Atmosphere, Talented Youth and Mayor Don Scott

By Maike-Alexandra Schmieding, RbD Lab Research Assistant, Youth Voices Rising

On Nov 10th, at 6.30pm, around 75 youth gathered at the Kingstreet Theatre at Composite High School to perform their songs, poems and stories. The youth had the chance to perform their art through a cooperation of the YouthVoicesWB campaign, the District Recording Studio and 91.1 The Bridge.

I was blown away by the talent and professionalism of the youth performing. Being 16, and sometimes even younger, going on that stage takes courage. And the youth rocked it. The atmosphere was amazing. I felt like I stepped into a hip New York underground lounge. The youth had great messages, too, for making their community better, especially as the area recovers from the 2016 wildfire disaster. For example, Shekinah, age 15, sang a song called “Recovery” with the lyrics: “There’s something about this town that nobody sees. No matter what tries to bring you down, you can’t be beat.  And the fire that burnt down all your hopes and dreams. You came back twice as strong ready to take on anything… If I could do something to make this place any better. I would bring back the people that stuck together. Our hearts stayed strong we’ll carry on forever. It’s all a part of our recovery.”

Wow – what a beautiful message! And what a great venue too. I want to give a special shout out to the people from the District Recording Studio and 91.1 The Bridge at this point for their amazing work for setting up the stage, and to the Kingstreet Theatre at Composite High School for hosting the event!

Besides all the great youth performers, one of my personal highlights of the night was newly elected RMWB Mayor Don Scott and Councillor Jeff Peddle joining us and listening to young people. Throughout the whole event (and the YouthVoicesWB social media campaign) we asked youth: “What would you do to make your community better?” The answers ranged from wanting a Costco to needing support with bullying, to problems with local transportation and more. In our talk about the YouthVoicesWB campaign, I specifically mentioned the challenges of transportation for youth on stage. Councillor Jeff Peddle approached us right afterwards and showed me his phone. He had messaged a person responsible for transportation in the Municipality to explore the issue further to help local youth!

Our excitement became even greater when Mayor Don Scott spoke to the youth on stage about the transportation problem. As well, he said one of the most inspirational things I have heard until this day (which must mean something, because I’m a teacher, and we really like saying inspirational things!): “Prove them wrong.” Mr. Scott advised the youth to never let anybody tear them down, and to prove people wrong whenever they said that they cannot do “it”—whatever “it” is.

It was also an exceptionally special moment for us when he announced that he would display the Justin Slade Youth Foundation YouthVoicesWB sticky note wall for youth feedback and the amazing art installation of angel wings from the Art Foundry. (Here I am with the wings at the event.) Don Scott said he plans to put them in his office to show everybody the great ideas youth have for the Wood Buffalo region, and to encourage more input by youth. What a great way for youth voices to be shared with the support of the Mayor.

As a new Research Assistant with the Youth Voices Rising project, I loved to hear everybody’s stories and to connect with all the youth. There are some amazing kids out there, and together, we can take the world. In the words of Mayor Don Scott to the youth: “PROVE THEM WRONG!”