Northern Public Affairs is proud to announce the release of its Volume 5: Issue 2 issue on Innovations in Community Health and Wellness, co-edited by Gwen K. Healey and Sheena Kennedy Dalseg. The issue is now available online and in print! For more information about the issue, check the Letter from the Editor below:
Innovations In Community Health & Wellness
By Gwen K. Healey
Our communities are beautiful, loving, creative and resilient. Dominant narratives about the North are often deficit-based. Such narratives paint Northern communities as dark, despairing, troubled places. The deficit-based narrative builds on a community of scholarship that, for decades, has painted Canada’s North as an unpleasant place that is either unworthy of investment or in need of outside advocacy. That is an unfair and one-sided depiction of our communities. There are traumas, poverty, and hardship, but there is also creativity, caring, wisdom, and wellbeing in greater amounts.
As Northerners, we are innovative; our view of the world is unique. We have special relationships with the land, the animals, music, arts, and storytelling that do not get the attention they deserve in contemporary literature about the North. The dominant narratives that highlight our deficits disempower us. This issue of Northern Public Affairs was motivated by a desire to showcase initiatives that build on our strengths, contribute to wellbeing, and empower our communities across the North.
In Project Jewel, we are introduced to a land-based wellness program that engages individuals in land-based activities while learning to manage stress, grief and trauma, and to take care of emotional health. In te(a)ch, we learn of a program for children and youth that uses computer science technology as a medium for storytelling and self-exploration. Qarmaapik House shows us the power of a heart-centred approach to supporting and caring for families. The eNuk project expands on millenia-old processes for monitoring the land to bring our role as stewards of the land into the digital age. Nunavut Hitmakerz explores how music, song, and lyrics breathe life into our stories and the way we tell them, and how music shifts the distribution of power by elevating other voices. The Arctic Institute for Community-Based Research uses filmmaking to document knowledge in the community, strengthen intergenerational relationships, and foster wellness among youth.
To be innovative is to be experimental, creative, revolutionary, or modern. Sometimes the medium of an intervention itself can be innovative, such as in the example of te(a)ch or eNuk. Other times, the intervention builds on well-established evidence and is applied in an innovative way that challenges the service system to operate differently — such as in the example of Project Jewel and Qarmaapik House. In the information age, the use of multimedia is a modern and innovative way to share stories, song, and experiences with a wider audience, as demonstrated by Nunavut Hitmakerz and Arctic Institute of Community-Based Health Research film projects.
A common thread among these projects is that the youth, adults, and Elders who participate feel better as a result, on a number of dimensions. They feel better about themselves, their capabilities, their relationship with the land, and their relationships with peers and others in the community. In the context of the on-going traumas and hardships faced by members of our communities, these programs are essential.
How can and should public policy and funding models change to ensure that more of these projects receive the support they deserve? Decision-makers and funders need to recognize our ability, our capabilities, our intelligence, and how our histories, languages, stories, arts, music, engineering, and sciences can thrive with the right supports. We need systems-level change to effectively ensure that human and financial resources are allocated in a way that facilitates community-led solutions.
Bringing these projects together into one place, such as in this issue of the magazine, can not only help to raise awareness and highlight the important work taking place in our communities but can also contribute to pan-Northern collaboration and knowledge exchange. This is an opportunity to create a space for collaboration, networking and partnership-building across territories and regions. It is critical for policy-makers and for communities and organizations to have the opportunity to learn from one another and to be inspired by each other’s work.
Mary Simon recently released a report on a Shared Arctic Leadership Model. In this model, nine principles of partnership were highlighted, one of which focused on how Northern leadership must be recognized and enabled to ensure community-based and community-driven solutions. The projects that appear in this issue are examples of Northern leadership and the community-driven solutions Simon calls for. These six projects just scratch the surface of what is possible when Northerners take the lead. Our collective Northern knowledge, approaches, and philosophies are brilliant. We work together, across our Northern lands, to achieve what we know in our hearts to be possible. We are innovative. We are intelligent. We are solution-seeking. Our people are our greatest strength. Let’s keep working together, showcasing our creativity, and inspiring our youth – the next generation of Northern leaders. ◉