Western News – AI uses ‘head and heart’ to explore Indigenous youth homelessness
When Rachel Radyk was a teenager, her AnishinaabeKwe voice was not always heard. She remembers being told off by a guidance counselor to study nursing, citing insufficient grades.
“It was a different time,” Radyk said. “People were closed-minded. I just used the experience to feed myself.
Today, in addition to being a registered nurse, Radyk has a bachelor’s degree in communications, a bachelor’s degree in science, and is currently pursuing her master’s degree in nursing at Western. Each step brought opportunities to find and strengthen her voice.
Now, as the recipient of a Head and Heart Research Fellowship from the Office of Indigenous Initiatives, she hopes to help raise the voices of young people, empowering them to help reduce homelessness among Indigenous youth.
Working under the supervision of Abe Oudshoorn, and alongside Miranda Plain, BA’22, recipient of Head and Heart, Radyk participates in the project, EQUIP Housing: Embracing culturally safe housing stability for Indigenous youth who find homes.
Using indigenous participatory research and implementation methods, the project’s goal is to adapt and test “EQUIP”, an equity-focused model used in primary health care to address prevention and the response to homelessness.
Recognizing that Aboriginal youth are overrepresented in the homeless youth population, the Oudshoorn project includes community collaborators from Youth Opportunities Unlimited (YOU), a London, Ontario organization that provides services and operates a shelter for young people aged 16 to 24.
Radyk and Plain contribute to the work of the research group by adapting and testing the survey tools of the EQUIP model to uncover potential barriers preventing Aboriginal youth from accessing the organization’s services.
“We want this to help YOU develop a culturally aware and safe space where Indigenous youth feel supported to access services,” Radyk said.
Sarah Palmer, Youth Development Advisor at YOU, said shelter staff were excited to work with Western and Head and Heart Fellows to adapt the EQUIP model.
“The decolonization of services is work that needs to be done,” she said, “and we are fortunate to have the voices of Rachel and Miranda contributing to this process.”
Now in its fifth year, the Head and Heart program offers undergraduate and graduate students from all disciplines a 10-week paid, culturally relevant research fellowship that teaches and integrates Indigenous methodologies.
Established in 2018, the fellowship responds directly to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s Calls to Action 62-65, which relate to “education for reconciliation” using Indigenous knowledges and epistemologies to stimulate learning and research. The program helped advance the eight strategic directions of Western’s Indigenous strategic plan and the institutional strategic plan, Towards Western at 150.
More and more students are recognizing the value of the programme, with the number of scholarship recipients doubling from 17 to 34 in just five years.
“Head and Heart is a great way for Indigenous students to gain hands-on experience and gain a theoretical understanding of what it takes to conduct research in academic spaces,” said program coordinator Tammy Johnson. . “It also offers fellows and mentors the opportunity to explore what it means to conduct Indigenous research in a way that considers the concepts of respect, relationship, relevance, denial, responsibility and reciprocity.
For Plain, who majored in psychology and sociology, the fellowship offers a chance to expand her skills and explore her interests.
“I am excited to be placed on a research team working to prevent and end homelessness among Indigenous youth and look forward to engaging with Indigenous youth,” Plain said.
Empowering Indigenous Youth
Radyk’s and Plain’s fellowships primarily focus on the “Exploration Phase” of the four-stage project which also includes an Installation, Early Implementation, and Full Implementation phase.
The duo learned about YOU’s services and shelter, shadowing staff and seeing how the organization operates to understand how to best modify and integrate the EQUIP model of care.
The next step is to recruit and establish an Indigenous Youth Council, comprised of Indigenous youth who have used YOU services in the past and those from surrounding communities, to better understand how to create a culturally safe space.
“At the end of the day, it’s important for us to listen and elevate and give space to that voice if that can help break down some barriers,” Radyk said. “This is the most exciting part of this project for me, as it allows me to work on something that I am truly passionate about: empowering Indigenous youth and discussing the opportunities that can arise when we take on leadership roles. leadership. »
Radyk hopes that youth-led research can be implemented in all areas of Indigenous care and support services.
“I believe Indigenous youth voices need to be at every table and I hope this model can be adopted in different service settings to continue this youth empowerment. In my experience, when I found my place in my community and my own voice, it really surprised me how many people were willing to listen. I think it’s really important that others do the same, and that we help them establish the relationships and the safe spaces that allow them to do that.
A full list of Head and Heart scholarship recipients and their projects can be found in the current issue of Laotsyá:nthe newsletter of the Office of Aboriginal Initiatives.