A program that invokes cultural identity is being used to teach children of the Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation how to remain toxin-free.
NimiIcinohabi is an innovative and culturally appropriate substance abuse prevention program that began as a pilot project and has now been turned into a three-year research project. Partnering with the First Nation are the University of Alberta and Dr. Lola Badayla, pediatrician from the Misericordia Hospital, in Edmonton.
NimiIcinohabi is based on the proven concepts of an existing school-based life skills education program, and adapted and revised to dovetail with the Stoney language and culture, said Liz Letendre, director of education for the Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation.
The program outline was developed by Dr. Gilbert Botvin, a psychologist at Cornell University, who discovered that students who received life skills training were better prepared to deal with life challenges and less likely to iduka (smoke), yagda (drink) or use PudaWashdeshid (drugs).
“The Elders felt that if it was delivered in our own language, customs and values, it would be even more beneficial to our First Nations students. The outcomes would be even better, because First Nations people have never been given the opportunity or time to prove that there are things that we do different that no one can teach except the First Nations people,” said Letendre.
Work went into choosing the best ways to include cultural ceremonies, prayer, traditional storytelling and circle theories. Challenges came in translating from English to the Stoney language because similar terms often didn’t exist or the meaning of a phrase would be foreign to the Nakota Sioux “ways of knowing.”
Children were taught to keep in harmony with the Creator, their surroundings meaning people (kinship), nature (inamakocha: take care of the land, water, plants, animals), and to be ahwuctah (watchful).
A naming ceremony was added to the curriculum, where individuals were given a traditional name to acknowledge their gifts and their relationship with the community or the spiritual world. A community artist created culturally appropriate images and student art was also included.
“The project has been meaningful to the children,” said Letendre, “The evaluation has indicated that there is a change in their thinking as well as how they look at themselves, to recognize their responsibilities and most of all that they are First Nations children and they are proud.We have learned a lot from each other on this project, and we are grateful that we were given the opportunity to share this research as a partner with a shared vision on the outcome.”
The NimiIcinohabi consists of in-class lessons to grades 3 to 6 students, as well as several booster class sessions, and will be evaluated to measure changes in the students’ knowledge of the negative effects of drug and alcohol use, attitudes toward drugs and alcohol, how to refuse, as well as associated life skills.
“We are thankful for the Creator in guiding us and especially thankful to all our Elders and especially our ancestors for keeping these stories in their hearts so we can put them on (owabi) paper,” said Letendre.