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Funding awarded for U of R research focused on mental health and wellness of young Indigenous men

By University Advancement and Communications Posted: October 6, 2020 5:00 a.m.

Dr. Elizabeth Cooper at the Walking with our Angels teepee camp waiting for a sunrise pipe ceremony to start is support of suicide prevention.
Dr. Elizabeth Cooper at the Walking with our Angels teepee camp waiting for a sunrise pipe ceremony to start is support of suicide prevention. Photo: Dr. Elizabeth Cooper

Health lifestyle choices that bring positive outcomes can be found in many activities, particularly when they take place within a supportive community.  The conversations that take place while fixing a car,  camping on the land, playing hockey, or creating music videos, can make a difference in men’s lives, and young, Indigenous men are no exception.  

Creating opportunities for such activities and maximizing the positive outcomes they carry is the goal of a University of Regina project called Nurturing Warriors: Understanding Mental Wellness and Health Risk Behaviours among Young Indigenous Men, funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR). 

“We know very little about the health of Indigenous men in Canada,” says project lead Dr. Elizabeth Cooper, an assistant professor in the Faculty of Kinesiology and Health Studies. “By bringing together Indigenous men between the ages 18-34, and having them connect while engaging in strength-based activities, they will be able to explore mental wellness and healthy behaviours in a supportive environment and work towards meaningful changes in their communities.” 

In July, Cooper received $119,911 in provincial funding for this project. Now, with an additional $673,200 in funding from CIHR, she is able to expand the project to include more participants. 

“Our focus is to create caring communities of young Indigenous men who will together identify their health priorities, as well those for the children and youth in their communities. We also want this work to centre on supporting mental wellness, and to build on the momentum created by different Indigenous communities determined to find a way to address the suicide crisis in our province,” says Cooper.  

The research project will run for two years, during which time Cooper will work with researchers from Lakehead University, McGill University, McMaster University, and the Universities of Manitoba and Saskatchewan. The researchers will collaborate with participants from three different communities across Saskatchewan. During 24 different sessions in each community, the participants will together take part in activities while engaging one another in conversations. Participants will also document their discussions through photographs, videos, and notes, and keep in touch and receive support from the research team.

“Having this long timeline will allow for deep and ongoing conversations. We will be able to focus on these young men as caregivers in their communities and as warriors for their communities,” says Cooper. “From other work I have done, I know a lot of good comes from people connecting while they are in their own community with people they trust.”

A few years ago Cooper led a similar successful project with Indigenous mothers and daughters.

“At the beginning of that program, many of the participants found making basic decisions, such as what they wanted for supper, to be extremely challenging. By the end, after being part of a supportive community of Indigenous women where they discussed their lives, the difficulties they were facing, their accomplishments, and their joys, many began to make positive changes in their lives,” says Cooper. “Some made appointments that were hard for them to make, some moved their children to schools that better suited them, many parents even went back to school.”

Cooper adds that during that program, she frequently heard about the need for something similar for Indigenous men and boys.  

“These types of programs help to show people that they have voices, can make changes, and figure out how to do difficult things,” explains Cooper. “Once someone builds a community of support, of people they are responsible for and responsive to, positive changes can occur. That’s what we hope will happen with this new project for young Indigenous men.”

Dr. Kathleen McNutt, Vice-President (Research) at the University of Regina, says that through her community-based research, Cooper is helping to advance goals that are outlined in the University’s 2020-2025 Strategic Plan, All Our Relations.

“Dr. Cooper’s work is building and strengthening relationships with many different Indigenous communities, as well as prioritizing and supporting research in mental health,” says McNutt. “She is firmly placing the University of Regina at the centre of work with young Indigenous men, and is helping to develop successful programming that other communities and universities across Canada and around the world will be able to adapt for themselves.”

Cooper is excited to start the project, but says current pandemic restrictions will delay the start time to January 2021. “I’m excited to start this work when it’s safe to do so, and I am determined to ensure that our results make their way into policy, programming, and practice in meaningful, and timely ways,” says Cooper. “Ultimately, our hope is that this research can help to foster community resiliency to address health needs as identified by young Indigenous men.” 

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