Improving Health and Well-Being for Indigenous Children and Youth

The Ispimihk Awâsisak Program is an initiative dedicated to enhancing the health and well-being of Indigenous children, youth, and their families at the community level. Affiliated with WCHRI, this program embraces a community-led research approach to develop, implement and evaluate impactful health initiatives.

About the Program

Ispimihk Awâsisak, which means “sky children” in the nêhiyâwin (Plains Cree) language, was named in a ceremony with môsom Rick Lightning. This five-year initiative is currently based in Maskwacîs (encompassing the Louis Bull, Ermineskin Cree, Samson Cree, and Montana Nations) and will expand to include other communities in Treaty Six over time.

Naming ceremony for the Ispimihk Awâsisak Program, pictured Florence Glanfield, Todd R. Alexander, Grant Bruno, môsom Rick Lightning, Sandra Davidge, Sarah Forgie, and Wayne Clark. 

Program Lead

Grant Bruno, Nehiyaw  PhD candidate, Department of Pediatrics, University of Alberta, member of the Samson Cree Nation 

WCHRI staff

  • Tierney Littlechild, community research coordinator,  member of the Ermineskin First Nation
  • Bethan Kingsley, WCHRI research associate

Research Partners

  • Heather Dreise, community pediatrician, Maskwacîs Pediatric Clinic
  • Carmella Cutknife, coordinator, Maskwacîs Parents Place

(Left to right) Tanya Voth, Bethan Kingsley, Tierney Littlechild, Grant Bruno, and Carmella Cutknife

The Approach

The Ispimihk Awâsisak Program is guided by the Nêhîyaw concept of Wâhktotowin, emphasizing relationality and interconnectedness. Key community principles include relationality, community-centred, reciprocity, meaningful engagement, equitable partnerships, respect and action-oriented. These principles ensure that the program’s outcomes are relevant and beneficial to the communities served.

Key Initiatives

    • Community-led research: Engaging community members and researchers as equal partners to ensure research goals align with community needs.
    • New pediatric clinic: A pediatric clinic in Maskwacîs, led by Heather Dreise, provides comprehensive health services for children and youth.
    • Indigenous children community events: Annual events such as International Children’s Day and Autism Awareness Day to connect families and professionals, increasing access to support for Indigenous children.
    • Health promotion and mentorship: Programs to promote health service access, health education and mentorship for current and prospective Indigenous health students.
    • Health education: Teach and promote Indigenous health at the university and within communities. 

At the 2024 Maskwacîs Autism Awareness event on March 7 with Grant Bruno (far left) and community partners.

Community-University Partnership

The program builds on existing partnerships, engaging with Maskwacîs community members and researchers from:

Maskwacîs Autism Awareness event on March 7, 2024.

By integrating community-led research with culturally grounded initiatives, the Ispimihk Awâsisak Program aims to create lasting, positive changes in the health and well-being of Indigenous children and youth.

The Ispimihk Awâsisak Program is funded in part by the Stollery Children’s Hospital Foundation through WCHRI.

For more information, please contact Grant Bruno.