April 28, 2023

‘A new way of doing research’: Indigenous communities and U of A allies partner to support family, women and children’s well-being

Showing moms-to-be how to sew a moss bag, a pair of tiny beaver fur mitts or a ribbon blanket for their babies, Elder Beverly Tourangeau’s heart lifts.

As they journey into parenthood guided by traditional Indigenous knowledge, she sees how the young women in her northern Alberta community of Fort Chipewyan light up as they reconnect with their cultures.

“They are so proud that they sewed something for their baby. You can just see it in their faces, hear it in their voices, and I know it is something they are going to keep and pass on,” says Tourangeau, a member of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation.

That meaningful experience is just one way she and other elders have been guiding Indigenous families for the past five years, through a mentorship program co-designed by the Fort Chipewyan community and University of Alberta health researchers.

Called the Elders Mentoring Program, it also helps expecting families access support as they leave their remote communities in the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo to give birth at the nearest hospitals in Fort McMurray or Edmonton. And when the families return home and begin to care for their babies, the elders continue to offer cultural guidance on everything from bathing to feeding.

That support builds the young women’s confidence in who they are, Tourangeau says.

“We are bringing back the old culture of the way things used to be, and that helps them in their pride as First Nations ladies.”

Now, the work of Tourangeau and her fellow workers in the program will be expanded to support moms and their families from other communities in Wood Buffalo, as part of a new long-term project focused on improving health and wellness for Indigenous families, women and children.

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