The Foundations of WAY

Weaving together Indigenous & Western best practices

Walking Alongside Youth (WAY) recognizes the rich diversity of Indigenous Peoples’ knowledges and values, which have existed throughout British Columbia since time immemorial. Indigenous perspectives can make a significant contribution to our understanding of well-being and to culturally distinct, safe and relational responses to mental health challenges, such as anxiety. The course respectfully blends Indigenous knowledges with trauma- and evidence-informed approaches to support the well-being of all youth, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous. It is intended to be what the Elders refer to as good medicine for everyone. 

WAY draws on emerging research and established knowledges in the areas of:

Cultural Safety & Humility

The First Nations Health Authority defines Cultural Safety and Cultural Humility as follows:

Cultural Safety – is an outcome based on respectful engagement that recognizes and strives to address power imbalances inherent in the health care system. It results in an environment free of racism and discrimination, where people feel safe and when receiving health care.

Cultural Humility – is a process of self-reflection to understand personal and systemic biases and to develop and maintain respectful processes and relationships based on mutual trust. Cultural humility involves humbly acknowledging oneself as a learner when it comes to understanding another’s experience.

Relationship, connection and togetherness

Relationship, connection and togetherness are essential for survival and growth. In fact, certain relational conditions are responsible for all development and healing. Youth whose relationships with their biological parents and primary attachments have been disrupted may often feel unsafe because of unbearable amounts of physical, emotional and psychological separation. For Indigenous youth, this includes separation from their communities, from a sense of belonging and identity, and from land and culture. Chronic experiences of feeling unsafe, in one form or another, are often the underlying source of anxiety for youth in care. WAY provides culturally safe, relational principles for addressing anxiety by focusing on relationship, connection and togetherness. The established theory of attachment was developed by British psychologist John Bowlby, who studied the early development of children and their interpersonal relationships with the adults caring for them in the mid- to late 20th century. WAY recognizes that Indigenous Peoples have worldviews and ways of knowing and being that are, and have always been, relational. And while science tells us that relationship is the most important factor in all development and healing, Indigenous wisdom provides us with mutually respectful, engaging perspectives and principles for walking alongside each other and within the natural and spiritual worlds to develop a strong mind and heart.

Development and emotions

Developmental psychology is the scientific study of how and under what conditions humans grow, change and adapt throughout life. Affective neuroscience is the scientific study of emotions and their role in the process of adapting. Both fields of study tell us that when certain relational conditions are present, growth and healing unfold spontaneously and sometimes unexpectedly in unlikely circumstances. It is through the provision of safe, relational conditions that healing and growth happen deep within the nervous system, as a result of primal emotions being expressed. This is especially true for youth with anxiety.

Indigenous holistic healing traditions offer a world of possibility for supporting youth with anxiety in ways that are relational, ethical and dignifying. Indigenous perspectives on taking care of the heart-mind connection provide culturally safe guidance that can be tremendously helpful for youth. Providing cultural affirmation that strengthens a youth’s sense of belonging, mattering and identity—which are important factors in development and wellness—has the potential to significantly reduce symptoms of anxiety.

Transformative learning theory and contemplative education

Transformative learning theory is concerned with learning that results in deep shifts within the learner. Deep learning shifts are often disorienting at first and cause the learner to self-reflect and even re-evaluate what they think they know and how they have come to know it. Transformative learning can result in a re-evaluation of one’s belief system.

Contemplative education blends learning from lived experience with self-reflection as a process for increasing self-understanding, which in turn builds our capacity for relationship. Contemplative education, combined with transformative learning theory, offers a learning experience that results in new ways of seeing oneself in relationship to others and to the world.

WAY engages you, the learner, in a process of transformative learning, supported by contemplative education practices, that identifies relationship as the safest and most natural context in which to support youth with anxiety, as opposed to relying on skills and strategies as the answer. Strengthening relationship becomes the answer and therefore the focus.

As you move through this course, you will be supported and empowered to see relationships as the most important factor in supporting youth with anxiety. This requires a shift from the established approach, in which the role of expert and standardized strategies are the focus, to one in which the relationship becomes essential to understanding how to support a youth and their unique identity, community and culture. 

Indigenous place-based knowledges

Indigenous ways of knowing and being are distinct and originate from within specific lands and geographic locations across British Columbia. Indigenous Peoples and their knowledge(s) and practices have evolved over time and in synchrony with nature, and uphold an environmental and relational ethic. Synchrony is the important process of moving and growing together with others. Many traditional Indigenous knowledge(s) have emerged from a process in which lived experience is highly valued, observed and deemed good based on benefiting all—our human and more-than-human kin, including the land, plants, animals and ancestors. Only when an experience is deemed good, relationally, is it considered right and true. Knowledge emerges from living in ethical relationship with all things; it is unique to and lived out by the diverse cultures that exist throughout British Columbia and across Canada.

Blackfoot Elder and scholar Leroy Little Bear teaches us to take care of our relationships. Little Bear describes ceremony as the way in which Indigenous Peoples have always acknowledged and renewed their relationships with those things that make our existence possible, including our human-to-human relationships.

'It's your path but you don't have to walk it alone.'

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