A Framework for Indigenous School Health: Foundations in Cultural Principles
This question has been at the heart of educator Shirley Tagalik's work in Canada and internationally. Tagalik helped redesign Nunavut's education system based on Inuit traditional knowledge - or Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit. She has also worked with the NCCAH and partners to help rebuild school programs in Canada and more broadly.
Tagalik said many school-age First Nations, Inuit and Métis children face such pressing issues as suicide, drug abuse, disengagement, and teen pregnancies, yet receive little appropriate support in a mainstream education system that is not informed by Aboriginal culture and practice.
Shirley Tagalik and her daughter and grand-daughter take a break during a seal hunt "on the land - where the real education of Inuit takes place."
"I think this is a problem within education generally - that we have a curriculum and a system that is not in tune with an Aboriginal way of being. The question is, "How do you embed Indigenous values and beliefs in the mainstream system, and not just paint those beliefs on top of the existing curriculum?"
A Framework for Indigenous School Health The NCCAH partnered with the Canadian Association for School Health (CASH) and the Canadian Council on Learning – Aboriginal Learning Knowledge Centre in a 2009/2010 national project supporting school health initiatives that are culturally relevant to Aboriginal communities, schools and students. One of the central documents produced under this partnership is A Framework for Indigenous School Health: Foundations in Cultural Principles.
The framework was shared after three years of development, and has received national and international attention. In 2009, Tagalik presented the document at the American School Health Association conference in the United States to gain validation from different Indigenous perspectives. In 2010, she presented in a keynote address at the 20th International Union for Health Promotion and Education (IUHPE) World Conference on Health Promotion in Geneva, Switzerland and then at the 15th Annual Public Health Days (JASP) of Quebec, held in partnership with the IUHPE.
"We began an international dialogue last year when we saw similar work was being done in New Zealand and Australia. We wanted to bring those voices into the conversation," said Tagalik. "We are now asking: How can we make this framework practical? How do we use it? Do you see this as being useful in your practice? We hope people and organizations will come forward and apply the framework so that we can begin to evaluate it in practice."
Five webinars (hour-long web/phone-based seminars presented by research experts and practitioners) on various topics in Aboriginal school health took place through November and December 2009. These typically drew more than 100 participants from across the country. This series focused on engaging and empowering Aboriginal youth, and featured Dr. Claire Crooks, of the Centre for Addictions and Mental Health (CAMH), who co-authored Engaging and Empowering Aboriginal Youth - A toolkit for service providers.