Marika Morris: Inuit youth, violence, and social media outreach strategies

In brief

Marijke Morris

Although research on Inuit youth is limited, existing studies suggest that Inuit communities have higher rates of physical violence, sexual violence, and self-violence/self-harm (such as cutting, binge drinking, and suicide) compared to the general Canadian population and to other indigenous groups. Research also suggests that people who experience and witness violence are more likely to have low self-esteem, mental and physical health issues, and substance use/abuse problems.

Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, the national organization that represents Inuit in Canada, has identified mental health, violence reduction, suicide prevention, and reduction of substance abuse and addictions as top health priorities for Inuit communities.

To address the priority issue of violence among Inuit youth, Marika Morris is conducting a participatory action research project in Ottawa that looks at the sexual and physical violence that urban Inuit youth have experienced, messages they receive about violence, and their social media use. The project is a partnership with a national Inuit organization that intends to use the results to develop a social media outreach strategy for Inuit youth related to violence prevention and help for survivors of violence.

EENet has developed a Student Spotlight on Marika’s work. Student Spotlights are brief profiles of up-and-coming student researchers.

Read it below or download the PDF.

What you need to know

With the support of a post-doctoral fellowship from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), Marika Morris is conducting a participatory action research project in Ottawa that looks at the sexual and physical violence that urban Inuit youth have experienced, messages they receive about violence, and their social media use. The project is a partnership with a national Inuit organization that intends to use the results to develop a social media outreach strategy for Inuit youth related to violence prevention and help for survivors of violence.

About Marika

Marika has conducted extensive community-based research in the areas of violence, poverty and social change. She completed a BA Honours degree in Linguistics and Psychology and a MA in Canadian Studies, both from Carleton University, before working as a researcher for the Canadian Panel on Violence Against Women, Research Coordinator for the Canadian Research Institute for the Advancement of Women (CRIAW), a research and strategic communications consultant, and most recently as a senior policy and research advisor at Public Safety Canada.

As Research Coordinator at CRIAW, she wrote a book entitled Participatory Research and Action: A Guide to Becoming a Researcher for Social Change. Marika completed a PhD in Canadian Studies at Carleton University in 2010.

She was recently awarded a post-doctoral fellowship by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) to complete a participatory action research project on Inuit youth, violence, and social media outreach strategies. She will carry out this research in partnership with Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada, a non-profit association representing Inuit women. Marika lives with her family in Ottawa.

What is Marika’s research about?

Inuit youth, violence, and social media outreach strategies

Although research on Inuit youth is limited, existing studies suggest that Inuit communities have higher rates of physical violence, sexual violence, and self-violence/self-harm (such as cutting, binge drinking, and suicide) compared to the general Canadian population and to other indigenous groups.

Research also suggests that people who experience and witness violence are more likely to have low self-esteem, mental and physical health issues, and substance use/abuse problems. Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, the national organization that represents Inuit in Canada, has identified mental health, violence reduction, suicide prevention, and reduction of substance abuse and addictions as top health priorities for Inuit communities.

To address the priority issue of violence among Inuit youth, Marika is conducting a participatory action research project in partnership with Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada (http://pauktuutit.ca), a national organization representing Inuit women that, among other activities, engages in health promotion and outreach.

The goals of the research are:

  • To document the sexual and physical violence that Inuit youth have experienced;
  • To examine the messages Inuit youth have received about violence, including the sources of these messages;
  • To look at the social media experiences that Inuit youth have had; and
  • To draw on the expertise of Inuit youth about how to best reach them with messages about ending violence and seeking help for violence.

To accomplish these objectives, Marika will conduct interviews with 25 female and male Inuit youth between the ages of 17 and 24 living in Ottawa. These interviews will cover a range of topics, including personal experiences of violence, family history, community views and attitudes about violence, social networks, coping mechanisms, experiences with social media, and ideas about using social media to reduce violence.

Youth will be recruited to participate in the research through Pauktuutit’s existing relationships with other organizations in Ottawa and across the country, such as health and social service agencies and Inuit organizations. Ottawa is home to a large Inuit population, making it an ideal community for conducting this research.

A close collaboration

Marika has a longstanding relationship with Pauktuutit, having worked with them in the past on issues of child sexual abuse and violence against women. When Marika decided to apply for a post-doctoral fellowship, she knew she wanted the research to meet an existing need and be used to help the community. She approached Pauktuutit about a research partnership, and asked senior staff about their priority research topics. They responded enthusiastically, offering her a four-page list of ideas.

“I went away with that list and figured out what projects would be feasible within the scope and limitations of a post-doctoral fellowship and wrote up three possibilities. Of those three, Pauktuutit chose this project on violence and social media outreach as its top priority.”

Marika’s community-based approach to research involves a relationship with partners that is built on trust and respect. In this study, the needs of the community are front and centre.

An Inuit project advisory team will be formed to ensure that the research is community-driven and culturally-relevant, with all partners contributing their unique strengths and skills.

“What I contribute to the project is access to the academic literature and research skills. It’s really important to me to do something worthwhile with my skills and education. What the community partners bring to the table is their experience as Inuit and working with Inuit, and their knowledge of what is the most appropriate way of talking with Inuit about issues of violence. They also bring the knowledge of what research questions need to be asked in order to provide evidence for action,” she said.

Ensuring the impact of research is positive

The advisory team will include members of Pauktuutit, other interested Inuit from local and national organizations based in Ottawa, and any interested students from Nunavut Sivuniksavut – an innovative college program in Ottawa for Inuit youth from Nunavut.

The involvement of Inuit youth on the advisory team is a must. For Marika, providing opportunities for Inuit students to develop research skills and provide their expertise as Inuit youth is an important part of the project.

“Because I know that research has an impact on the people involved, I want to make sure that it has a positive impact. It’s important for people to have a say about the research conducted on their own population group. We will be offering Inuit youth from Nunavut Sivuniksavut and other Inuit youth the opportunity to sit on the Inuit advisory team so that they can be involved from the beginning to the end of the research design,” she said.

“I hope that this project will lead Inuit students to become interested in a career in research. There’s always people doing research on Inuit, but it’s very important for Inuit to be able to tell their own stories and do the research that matters to them.”

Marika is committed to ensuring that the research project leads to positive social change. She also wants to make sure that the people she interviews do not experience negative consequences as a result of the study.

“Talking about violence can be extremely difficult for people, and there are ethical considerations that we need to take into account. You can’t just ask people about personal and painful experiences and leave them hanging. Especially if they have not yet sought any help with these experiences, they may have coped by suppressing the feelings and experiences, which have now been unleashed during the interview,” she said.

“It will be important to conduct the interviews in a supportive place, such as an agency where Inuit-specific or Aboriginal-specific counselling is available, to make sure research participants have access to the support and resources they need. It is also important, as a part of the interview, to document the incredible strength and resilience of Inuit participants, and how they cope with multiple challenges. The aim is for the participants to leave empowered, and with greater knowledge of the available resources.”

What will this research bring to the sector?

Contributing to the research literature and creating social change for Inuit youth

This collaborative community-based research will offer a unique contribution by collecting detailed information on experiences of violence among Inuit youth, as the existing academic literature on this topic is rather thin.

The research will help Inuit organizations develop social media outreach strategies on violence, and will provide evidence for encouraging federal, provincial, and territorial governments, as well as health and social service agencies, to provide culturally-sensitive services for Inuit youth.

Participation of Inuit youth in planning and overseeing the research will contribute to ongoing social change, helping Inuit youth gain skills, experience and confidence as researchers, a career in which Inuit are largely unrepresented. The research may also serve as a model for respectful collaborative research partnerships with indigenous communities.

What’s next for Marika?

Marika’s post-doctoral fellowship from the CIHR will support the project until October 2015. After that, she is keeping her career options open. She hopes to continue doing community-based research and would also enjoy teaching and conducting research within a post-secondary institution. She would welcome opportunities that enable her to use research to promote social change.

For more information about Marika’s study, please contact her at marikamorris [at] sympatico [dot] ca.

Project Title: Inuit Knowledge Translation: Community-controlled, culturally-sensitive research with Inuit youth on experiences of violence, health effects and coping mechanisms, engaging Inuit youth in developing a research-based, health promotion campaign on issues of violence using social media.

Project Supervisors: Dr. Claire Crooks (CAMH Centre for Prevention Science and Western University)

Author: Andrea Flynn

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