Inclusive framework is now being used by Alberta Mentoring Partnership and other organizations to build a culturally safe environment
(Edmonton, AB) – At a time when 74% of youth in care in Alberta are Indigenous, a University of Alberta researcher is being recognized for her efforts to make sure their voices are heard when it comes to evaluating the programs and supports in place to help them transition out of the system as adults.
The game-changing work has earned Kirsty Choquette the Mitacs Award for Inclusive Innovation, awarded by Mitacs, a national innovation organization that fosters growth by solving business challenges with research solutions from academic institutions and is supported by the Government of Alberta. The award was presented at a ceremony at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa on November 22.
Choquette — a University of Alberta PhD student in the School and Clinical Child Psychology program, and completing research in the School of Public Health under the supervision of Dr. Rebecca Gokiert — is being recognized for her innovative work to develop an inclusive evaluation framework that is now being used by the Alberta Mentoring Partnership (AMP) and its partner organizations to build a culturally safe environment from the ground up, ensuring that Indigenous youth transferring out of child welfare services feel represented and able to share their stories about their mentoring experiences.
“We really got to the heart of what it means to be inclusive,” said Choquette, who is now getting the opportunity to reconnect with her own Mi’kmaq heritage in new ways thanks to the project. “Rather than simply gathering data to show what these mentoring programs are doing in terms of how many youth are engaged and how many one-to-one matches are made, we’re shifting the focus to hear from the youth themselves so that we can better meet their needs,” she added.
Choquette strongly believes that including Indigenous voices in the mentoring evaluation process is crucial to producing more inclusive youth supports in the province. The project — which relies on funding support from Mitacs — also provided an opportunity to learn more about her own Indigenous heritage, knowledge she plans to carry with her as she builds her clinical psychological practice in the future.
“This project would not have happened without Mitacs,” she said. “My Indigenous culture wasn’t a part of my life growing up, but through working with Indigenous people and groups, I’m now more in touch with that part of my identity. I believe knowledge and awareness is an important step towards building inclusivity, but once we have that knowledge, it’s important to actually take action if we’re serious about making lasting change.”
The goal is to raise the level of youth mentoring in the province through evidence-based learning. After meeting with Indigenous Elders, Knowledge Keepers, evaluators, and community members, Choquette incorporated their feedback to make the process more culturally appropriate.
For example, the online evaluation course now opens in Indigenous ceremony and, reflecting the importance of relationships in Indigenous culture, an in-person learning day was added where participants learn about traditions like smudging and sharing circles from Indigenous Elders and Knowledge Keepers. And instead of simply handing Indigenous youth a survey to fill out or sitting them down for an interview, they are now given opportunities to open up about their mentoring experiences through art, taking part in beading, drum-making and ribbon skirt-making activities led by Indigenous Elders.
“We’re hopeful this will prompt a culture shift in terms of how we define success and what we use as evidence that these programs are working,” said Choquette. “More importantly, we want youth to feel comfortable so they will tell us what is was like to be with a mentor and how it impacted their transition out of the system.”
The Mitacs Award for Inclusive Innovation is presented to a Mitacs intern who has made a significant achievement in research and development innovation during their Mitacs-funded research. Mitacs programs are funded by the Government of Canada and provincial and territorial governments across the country.
Choquette is one of nine Mitacs award winners nationally, chosen from thousands of researchers who take part in Mitacs programs each year. The remaining eight recipients were recognized for outstanding innovation, commercialization or exceptional leadership in other areas of research.
In congratulating the winners, Mitacs CEO John Hepburn reflected on Mitacs’ 25-year history of providing Canadian innovators with opportunities for experiential skills development through strategic partnerships between industry, government and academia. “Mitacs is honoured to play a pivotal role in empowering industry leaders across Canada to foster game-changing ideas, and we couldn’t be more pleased to celebrate their significant achievements with these awards,” Hepburn said.
For more information about the Mitacs awards and a full list of winners, visit www.mitacs.ca/newsroom .
Mitacs is a not-for-profit organization that fosters growth and innovation in Canada by solving business challenges with research solutions from academic institutions. It is funded by the Government of Canada, along with the Government of Alberta, the Government of British Columbia, Research Manitoba, the Government of New Brunswick, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, the Government of Nova Scotia, the Government of Ontario, Innovation PEI, the Government of Quebec, the Government of Saskatchewan and the Government of Yukon. For information about Mitacs and its programs, visit mitacs.ca/newsroom.