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Well-being of Indigenous youth enhanced by arts and culture activities

At a glance
The intern

Jessica Blain from the University of Sydney, Australia

Hosted by

Professor Warren Linds and Assistant Professor Elizabeth Fast at Concordia University’s Department of Applied Human Sciences

The research

Evaluating theatre-based programs for improving mental health and well-being in Indigenous youth

In recent years, Indigenous leaders in Canada have sought new approaches to tackle the unique social and economic challenges faced by their communities. These challenges include high rates of youth suicide and mental health crises, particularly in rural and remote areas.

One approach to helping these issues that is gaining traction is participatory arts and culture activities made by and for members of Indigenous communities. By creating tools for storytelling and culture-sharing, researchers and community members are working together to empower Indigenous youth to explore their creative capacities and imagine possibilities for bright futures.

For Jessica Blain, a third-year undergraduate student from Australia’s University of Sydney, a research internship at Concordia University in Montreal this summer has opened her eyes to the potential for these arts-based programs to provide a positive space for fostering the creative development and leadership of Indigenous youth. Through a Mitacs Globalink Research Internship, Jessica is helping to evaluate the impact of a community-based theatre program on the well-being of young people in a remote First Nations community in Northern Saskatchewan.Jessica Blain

Youth participants in the theatre program engaged in performance-based storytelling activities and theatre games with the aim of developing trust, exploring issues of local significance, and generating visions for positive futures. The research team is partly comprised of local community researchers and closely liaises with Indigenous leaders to ensure that these programs have meaning and value to the young storytellers. Jessica will be writing a book chapter on participatory theatre’s impact on Indigenous youth well-being, following her literature review and analysis of participant interviews. The chapter will be part of an anthology exploring the impact of community theatre on health and well-being.

This research has given Jessica a new perspective, especially when combined with her previous experience as a youth program coordinator in rural Australia. “This research at Concordia is giving me a different lens on issues that many Indigenous people in Canada and Australia face. It’s helping me to think more critically and develop my understanding of potential, practical ways to explore and address very complex issues by facilitating and honouring community-based solutions,” she says.

The internship has also exposed her to the many delights available in a Montreal summer, such as festivals, hiking, and food.  Particularly, she’s come to love the many public markets and can’t wait to visit the famous Jean-Talon Market where she can indulge in local ingredients. “I think this is what Mitacs Globalink is all about,” she says, “…Learning all about Canada and Canadian culture, while also contributing to important research that is making a difference. It’s really been a blessing and privilege to come here, and I’m going to relish this experience for years to come.” 


Mitacs would like to thank the Government of Canada, along with the Government of Alberta, the Government of British Columbia, Research Manitoba, and the Government of Quebec for their support of the Globalink Research Internship program. In addition, Mitacs is pleased to work with international partners to support Globalink, including Universities Australia, the China Scholarship Council, Campus France, India’s Ministry of Human Resource Development, Mexico’s Secretariat of Public Education, Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education, and the National Autonomous University of Mexico, Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Education, and Tunisia’s Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research and Mission Universitaire de Tunisie en Amerique du Nord. 

Cover photo courtesy Warren Linds and Acting Out! But in a Good Way.

Photo in text: Jessica Blain, Mitacs Globalink research intern