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Empowering Indigenous Youth Voices: The Pride Project at Growing Young Movers

By Sarah Kasleder for SHRF

A remarkable initiative is underway in the heart of Regina, Saskatchewan, within the vibrant community surrounding the mâmawêyatitân centre. Dr. Brian Lewis's Growing Young Movers (GYM) youth development program is not just an after-school program—it's a transformative space where Indigenous youth are celebrated as knowledge holders, agents of change, and storytellers of their own lives.

Since its inception in 2013, GYM has positioned Indigenous youth to take on leadership roles within programs at Scott Collegiate. Through the after-school program at Scott Collegiate, Indigenous youth are paid to facilitate meaningful and respectful play-based games for children from the surrounding community schools—this innovative approach, conceived by Drs. Sean Lessard, Lee Shaefer, and Brian Lewis reflect on respect, empowerment, and reciprocity models.

Drs. Tristan Hopper and Michael Dubnewick joined forces with GYM in the spring of 2020. Their commitment to building respectful relationships underscored the importance of amplifying Indigenous voices and narratives and was a perfect match for Dr. Dubnewick's goal of researching the importance of decolonizing wellness programming. The team applied for the Saskatchewan Health Research Foundation (SHRF) Establishment Grant, “Stories to Lead by: Experiences of Indigenous Youth as they Compose their Lives as Wellness Leaders,” which was funded in September 2021 and won the Excellence Award the same year for the top Socio-Health Establishment Grant.

As part of the GYM program, Dr. Brian Lewis does an annual call for youth to write their biographies for the GYM website as a testament to the transformative power of visibility and representation, which is part of wellness leadership. With each biography uploaded online, the youth's pride radiates, reinforcing the importance of meaningful relationships, holistically understanding each other and what it means for them to live as wellness leaders, leading to the conception of the Stories of Pride Project.

The Stories of Pride Project, funded by the SHRF Truth & Action Grant in 2021-22, is a collaboration between GYM and local Indigenous artists to amplify the voices of Indigenous youth. Through a series of art workshops facilitated by a talented local Indigenous artist, Jori Cachene, youth participants were engaged in creating visual storybooks. This medium prioritizes Indigenous youths’ voices, identities, and experiences while providing them with a platform to creatively share their stories, perspectives, and aspirations.

The Stories of Pride Project's essence lies in its commitment to co-production, where Indigenous youth are not just passive subjects but active agents in creating knowledge and representation of their stories. Drs. Lessard, Lewis, Hopper, and Dubnewick, alongside other dedicated research team members, have diligently worked to provide a platform for youth to reclaim their narratives.

Artwork provided by Kyra Lerat, Youth Zine

The Stories of Pride Project builds upon the foundation laid by the SHRF Establishment Grant awarded to Dr. Dubnewick and GYM. This strengths-based project supports youth to control their story as wellness leaders instead of reinforcing pre-conceived narratives that youth programming needs to “fix” their well-being. The Stories of Pride Project represents a significant step towards tangible and sustainable knowledge translation, centering the experience of the youth and giving them a culturally relevant platform to express their truth. This project honours their agency by creating tangible texts—such as miniature books or booklets—that reflect Indigenous youth's resilience, strength, and pride. The materials offer alternative perspectives and insights into Indigenous youth, which provides educators, administrators, and wellness practitioners with a valuable resource.

By amplifying Indigenous youth voices, celebrating their strengths, and challenging narratives, the Stories of Pride Project is not just a project—it's a testament to Indigenous youths’ resilience, creativity, and agency. The project helps shape Indigenous youths’ narratives and empowers them. It fosters a sense of belonging, connection, and collective pride within the community by disseminating their stories and creating a youth-led art booklet. It ensures that Indigenous youth feel seen, heard, and valued for who they are.

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