Background: Indigenous youth in settler nations are susceptible to poor mental health due to complex inter-generational systemic inequities. The purpose of this study is to assess the impact of a culturally-responsive, land-based, active living initiative on the mental health of Indigenous youth.
Methods: This study is part of Smart Indigenous Youth (SIY), a mixed-methods 5-year longitudinal digital citizen science initiative. SIY embeds culturally-responsive, landbased active living programs into the curricula of high schools in rural Indigenous communities in the western Canadian province of Saskatchewan. In year-1 (Winter 2019), 76 Indigenous youth citizen scientists (13-18 years) from 2 schools participated in the study. At the beginning of the term, each school initiated separate 4-month landbased active living programs specific to their culture, community, geography, and language (Cree and Saulteaux). Before and after the term, focus groups were conducted with the 2 Youth Citizen Scientist Councils, which includes students from both participating schools. This study includes data from focus groups of one participating school, with 11 youth citizen scientists (5 boys, 6 girls). Focus group data were transcribed and analyzed by two independent reviewers using Nvivo to identify themes and subthemes. Both reviewers discussed their thematic analysis to come to a consensus about final findings.
Results: Baseline focus group analyses revealed themes demonstrating the importance of Indigenous culture, identity, history, and language. Youth emphasized the impact of loss of language and culture, the importance of being a helper, and the necessity of intergenerational knowledge transfer. Follow-up focus group analyses indicated that cultural school programming led to students expressing positive mental health benefits, increased interest in ceremonies, increased participation in physical activity, and greater knowledge of culture, identity, and ceremonial protocol.
Conclusions: Land-based active living can play a critical role in improving Indigenous youth mental health. This study highlights the importance of linking active living with culture and the potential of leveraging citizen-owned ubiquitous tools in implementing interventions in rural communities. Digital citizen science shows promise for supporting Indigenous youth mental health initiatives.