Walking the Prevention Circle: Bearing witness to an Indigenous process for sharing knowledge

"...the focus of Walking the Prevention Circle is on connecting people across communities and generations, and also connecting and organizing pieces of knowledge," Samantha Yamada

In brief

Walking the Prevention Circle (WTPC) is a program of the Canadian Red Cross that helps communities build their capacity to recognize and prevent violence and abuse against children and youth. Over 300 communities across Canada have implemented the program to date.

Samantha Yamada, a researcher in the final year of her PhD at York University, had the opportunity to work in partnership with the leadership of WTPC to investigate the program’s process for knowledge translation or knowledge sharing. WTPC presented a unique opportunity to better understand how knowledge is effectively shared in Indigenous contexts across Canada.

In this edition of Research As It Happens, EENet’s Angela Yip describes Samantha’s work.

Research As It Happens highlights evidence as it is being generated.

Read it below or download the PDF.

Background

Shelley Cardinal and Samantha Yamada

Walking the Prevention Circle (WTPC) is a program of the Canadian Red Cross that helps communities build their capacity to recognize and prevent violence and abuse against children and youth. Over 300 communities across Canada have implemented the program to date.

The Canadian Red Cross developed WTPC with the aim of better meeting the needs of Indigenous communities across Canada.  The program was developed by and for Indigenous peoples, and the process of implementing the program is community-driven.  The Canadian Red Cross employs a “train-the-trainer” model; Master Trainers provide training to facilitators who deliver the program in local communities.  

The individuals who attend might be health professionals, local leaders, teachers, mothers, grandfathers – anyone the community thinks would be in the best position to receive the knowledge and spread it.  The content is tailored for each community, but also includes core components that help individuals to identify violence and abuse and recognize the historical factors that have contributed to ongoing challenges.  Read more about the program.

Samantha Yamada, a researcher in the final year of her PhD at York University, had the opportunity to work in partnership with the leadership of WTPC to develop and implement a research project investigating the process of knowledge translation or knowledge sharing in the program.  WTPC presented a unique opportunity to better understand how knowledge is effectively shared in Indigenous contexts across Canada.  

What is the research about?

Knowledge translation is currently recognized in western mental health as a key factor in helping to improve the quality and effectiveness of practice.  Through a search of previous studies, Samantha learned that Indigenous knowledge sharing appears to be qualitatively different from western knowledge exchange. But research on the topic was limited. 

Samantha’s research project, which was funded in part by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Ontario Mental Health Foundation, is titled ‘Walking the Prevention Circle: Bearing witness to an Indigenous process for sharing knowledge’.  

The process of developing and implementing the research has been collaborative with the Canadian Red Cross. Specifically, Samantha worked closely with the leadership of Walking the Prevention Circle and, with Shelley Cardinal in particular, to form the overarching research question: What knowledge did the facilitators think was essential to the program? She also looked at the process of knowledge sharing and implementation of the Walking the Prevention Circle program. Finally, Samantha asked facilitators about knowledge tailoring - for example, if they change any of the content/processes to better suit the needs of the community, and also about barriers to knowledge sharing and solutions. 

Who is conducting the research?

Samantha’s PhD supervisor, Debra Pepler, had been working with Shelley Cardinal from the Canadian Red Cross and had built a strong, long-standing relationship. Debra connected Samantha and Shelley and supported the collaborative development of the research study.  Samantha is the lead researcher for this project. Her current main area of focus is knowledge translation; however, other areas of interest for her include program evaluation, health policy, Aboriginal health, child development, and wilderness/adventure-based therapies. 

What did the researcher do?

For the study, Samantha did a series of nine interviews, which she calls reflective conversations, with two master trainers and seven trainers selected by Shelley, who is also the lead master trainer. These trainers were located across Canada and had varied levels of experience in facilitating the program.  Most of the conversations were conducted in person, and a few over the phone.

Samantha also observed master trainers training facilitators, as well as facilitators facilitating in the community. However, Samantha respectfully did not interview members of the communities that participated in the program because the timeline for the project limited her ability to establish the safe and trusting relationships with the communities necessary to engage in a safe process of research. 

What did the researcher find?

Knowledge sharing in the context of WTPC is carried out in a way that acknowledges and pushes back against the historical context of colonization that has affected Indigenous peoples.  

Samantha observed the importance of understanding the legacy of the use of education as part of the colonization process. Through policies such as the Residential Schools Act, education and knowledge sharing became fused with violence for many Indigenous peoples.  These experiences create barriers for safe and effective knowledge sharing when outsiders come to communities as “experts” - a paradigm that is common to many Indigenous communities.  

To create a safe knowledge-sharing environment, WTPC takes many steps that change the paradigm and foster trust and safety within communities.  Facilitators take the time to gather local knowledge during a process of preparation, to learn about each community’s strengths, needs, and their unique social protocols.  Whenever possible, WTPC is facilitated by a member of the community. If the program facilitator is not a member of the community, they connect with key community members, such as elders, and learn about the relevant historical elements and local knowledge, including lived experience. This array of knowledge and familiarity enables people to be responsive to the community’s needs and build on knowledge that already exists.  Local and personal knowledge are critical for finding solutions.

One of the legacies of colonization is the privileging of western knowledge over alternative types of knowledge. For example, personal experience and traditional knowledge are not always viewed as being valid in western health knowledge translation paradigms.  WTPC is facilitated in a way that validates, values, and builds upon the many types of knowledge that already exist in communities.  By creating safety and bringing different people together, it also encourages the emergence of collective knowledge.  Sometimes the process creates enough safety to connect those who have had difficult relationships with the community, such as child welfare or RCMP officers. Though this process, new knowledge can be revealed or suppressed knowledge remembered.  

Additionally, Samantha observed the significance of naming and differentiating experiences of violence as being important. For example, the definitions of the words “violence” and “discipline” need to be clarified, because experiences in the residential schools often led to an understanding that fused these two terms. 

Samantha further notes that all of the facilitators of Walking the Prevention Circle self-identify as Indigenous. They also draw on their own backgrounds and training (in areas like social services and education) as well as the knowledge they gain from the community. The program puts an emphasis on the recognition and validation of participants’ knowledge.

Facilitators take a humble stance when entering communities and this humility allows facilitators to listen, be attuned, and respond to the needs of community members. Facilitators are seen as outsiders, but in a way, they’re also insiders; they can have a personal relationship with the knowledge and the program’s content.  Facilitators must recognize the impact colonization and violence has had on them. It’s a stance that is different from one where a person goes into a community as an outside and detached “expert,” Samantha noted.
Safety is further enhanced by facilitators’ awareness that the focus of the program is to enable a knowledge-sharing process, not a therapeutic process.  Still, they ensure there is always a community elder or counsellor, present during the workshop and available to anyone who might need support.

The workshops are tailored to participants’ learning styles. This includes visually stimulating approaches as well as interactive activities. Modelling and learning through observation are often used, as are story-telling, as well as small group activities and discussions. Participants are asked, “What does this look like in your community?” or “How would this work in your community?”

That said, Samantha found that facilitators sometimes chose not to tailor the knowledge. They took a more general approach to create a connection across Indigenous communities with regards to the historical experiences of violence and colonization. 

Samantha’s final thoughts highlight the importance of humility, safety, validation, and being attuned and responsive to the needs of Indigenous communities. One facilitator described the workshop as celebrating the knowledge that’s already there and helping to bring this knowledge forward.

“There’s a lot of fragmentation around colonization,” Samantha explained, “so the focus of Walking the Prevention Circle is on connecting people across communities and generations, and also connecting and organizing pieces of knowledge.  The overall approach is to counter the layers of harm created by colonization by creating layers of safety through which knowledge can be re-membered, shared, and co-created in ways that serve the needs of the community.” 

What are the limitations of the research?

Samantha noted that a limitation of the study is that she is not Indigenous. In an effort to increase the validity of her findings, a research assistant who self-identified as being First Nation, worked with to code the interviews.

Shelly, the founder of WTPC also helped to review the themes to make sure that it reflects the concerns of her community.  Samantha noted that she didn’t look at the process in the communities where the program was implemented. Furthermore, this is a single case, and findings may not generalize to other communities. 

Are there any future areas to expand or build on this research?

Samantha is synthesizing the findings of this study in her Doctoral dissertation and is on track to have the work completed by summer 2014. She will then connect with participants and organizations, and try to find out how they can use it, before she shares it more broadly.
She feels that more research is needed around Indigenous knowledge translation. CIHR has a model for knowledge translation that works in certain contexts, she said, but in other contexts, like this one, the model needs to be expanded or a new one needs to be defined. In the wake of colonization, Indigenous communities have demonstrated their tremendous strength to survive, and they continue to face challenges around the health and wellbeing of their members.  It’s important to understand how to better support a knowledge sharing process in and across these communities that is safe, responsive, and effective in meeting the unique needs of each community. 

For more information about her research, contact Samantha Yamada at yamadasa [at] gmail [dot] com

Author: Angela Yip