by John Copley
(ANNews) – The Bent Arrow Traditional Healing Society (Bent Arrow) was established in Edmonton in 1994 by Brad and Shauna Seneca to provide programming for Aboriginal children and families that were based on traditional Indigenous teachings. The one-year pilot was launched with funding through the federal government’s Pathways initiative. The program was a huge success and as a result the Society was born through the cooperation and support of community members, Elders and funders.
Bent Arrow Executive Director Cheryl Whiskeyjack said the goals of the organization have expanded with the addition of new programs over the years, but in essence remain the same as they always have: “to build the strengths of Aboriginal children, youth, and their families and to enable them to develop spiritually, emotionally, physically, and mentally so they can walk proudly in both the Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities.”
Bent Arrow is one of 53 Parent Link Centres across Alberta. Bent Arrow’s offerings range from youth employment programs and comprehensive family services to supported referrals and soup and bannock lunches. Bent Arrow participates in many activities including Aboriginal Day, Round Dances, Smudging and Prayer, Aboriginal Awareness Training and more. Family wellness, cultural activities, employment, health, housing and youth programs are among their many initiatives. Children’s cultural programs, Family circles, Foster care, and Wichitowin Family Nights are just a few of their many unique programs.
The Bent Arrow Traditional Healing Society is also involved in the Welcome to Parenthood Alberta research study through the University of Calgary and funded by Alberta Human Services. It began in the fall of 2014 when then-Alberta Human Services Minister Manmeet Bhullar announced a $500,000 grant (over two years) in support of the Welcome to Parenthood (W2P-AB) study.
“Some parents don’t have natural supports, like close relationships with extended family, to help them navigate pregnancy and the first few months of parenting,” noted Bhullar. “This research study will ensure that these parents have access to quality early childhood education so they can provide their children the security they need to grow and thrive.”
The W2P initiative was created by Faculty of Nursing’s Karen Benzies and her research team.
“We are encouraging parents who are expecting their first child to contact us if they would like to be involved in the study and what the benefits of participating would be,” explained Whiskeyjack. “Eleven Parent Link Centres across Alberta are delivering the W2P program; we are one of them.”
The study is designed to acknowledge the importance of parenting and mentorship to new parents. W2P-AB provides two major enhancements to existing programming: a baby kit consisting of tangible resources to engage first-time parents, and new family mentorship.
“There is a screening process and consent needed for the expecting mother and her mentor so it is imperative that interested first time parents contact us for additional information,” added Whiskeyjack.
Participants must be in their 30-34th week of gestation, about to raise their first child and meet the criteria of the study.
The Baby Kit is utilized as an engagement tool with first-time parents who are transitioning from pregnancy to parenthood. The kit consists of evidence-based supplies for families of newborns, including a layette and minor equipment (e.g., digital thermometer) contained in a rectangular cardboard box with a lid. The supplier of the box tested it and provided documentation that it meets the Government of Canada code for a bassinet.
“The W2P-AB is designed to capitalize on the families’ existing social network for support during the transition from pregnancy to early parenthood (up to 6 months postnatal age),” noted Whiskeyjack. “Given that many families in Alberta are socially isolated because they are new to our province or to Canada, traditional forms of social support from extended family members may be limited. Thus, ongoing informal mentorship from the family’s existing local social network will be critical. Informal mentorship may be identified in mothers’ or fathers’ places of employment, through religious affiliations, neighbours, and other community affiliations.”
Key to this mentorship model, is that the family identifies a mentor who can learn with the parent, and engage and provide support during the transition from pregnancy to early parenthood. Baseline data collected from Parent Link leaders suggest that there is limited capacity to provide informal mentorship from the volunteer sector.
“However,” assured Whiskeyjack, “if a family is unable to identify a parent mentor in their existing social network, efforts will be made to help identify someone who can volunteer in that capacity.”
The Bent Arrow Traditional Healing Society has always prided itself on its ability to build positive and trusting relationships throughout the community by working closely with its partners and offering culturally-based and face-to-face programming. Since its inception Bent Arrow has successfully and meaningfully collaborated with numerous community agencies and organizations and that trend continues today.
“At Bent Arrow, we believe that we are all ultimately working towards the same goals of peace, health and wellness, quality of life, and success for individuals and families,” noted Whiskeyjack. “Bent Arrow is committed to working with others to maximize our positive impact. We are always interested in forming new alliances and new partnerships and anyone reading this article who wants to partner with us is welcome to contact us and share your ideas.”
The Bent Arrow Traditional Healing Society is located in the Parkdale School at 11648-85 Street in Edmonton. For more information visit www.bentarrow.ca, call 780- 481-3451 or email inquiries to [email protected].