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A Community Story - Blueprint for Life

The project took place in Kagaaruk, a community with a population of 717 located on the shore of Pelly Bay, in Canada's Nunavut Territory.

We (Blueprint for Life) have delivered over 120 dance week intensives in over 50 remote Inuit and First Nations communities, often brought in when the community is in a state of crisis; when the community is struggling.   As a street dancer, and a front-line social worker for over twenty five years, I have seen how traditional counselling ways do not work with trauma victims. We use the power of spoken word, hip hop , graffitti and often team up with mental health and social work counsellors in remote communities in the North to do better social work.  Communication between young people, elders and parents is fractured. We start this communication by starting the conversation through dance. We are out there doing the work, returning to communities when we can, to generate conversation and discussion on issues that need to be addressed in a safe but alternative way to the common practice of counselling.

The project, "A Community Story", came about through a discussion around social work with social workers (abuse prevention) at a Justice conference in Montreal. These women were from Pauktuutit. This is the national representative organization of Inuit women in Canada. Their challenge was how to talk to guys. No matter how they came up with fancy programs and posters on topics such as abuse, domestic violence and other social issues in communities  - five people would show up. We at Blueprint for Life have the same goals but we have the hip hop/dance link.  We asked the questions: Why don't we work together? Why don't we tag along with your concept of a healing group for elders and parents? They (Pauktuutit) sent two counsellors with a team of diverse artists from Blueprint for Life to a remote community to begin a conversation on abuse.

The project's purposeful agenda was around the state of suicide; the impact of residential schools and healing. It's the first time in a lot of communities that these issues are raised. 

Process

Our foundation and structure is very strong. We adapt it every time we are in communities. The diversity and experiences and stories our staff make it possible to work authentically with everyone. The team is a broad swath of what is community. Unique stories and unique gifts that allow us to continually and collectively heal and this we bring to communities. That honesty of our own vulnerability you can't fake. That's why we can connect on day one. It is one of our great gifts. We create that environment as a team.

Many elders/communities think it is pretty crazy that an old white guy from the South is coming to their community and asking questions, and working with community members. However, we are known as safe, well trained people who can steer the difficult conversations to at least put it on the table and keep it safe. Some of the skill comes from me being a front-line social worker for 25 years.

The week long intensive in Kugaaruk looked like this:

Day 1 & 2

The two counsellors from Pauktuutit did work with parents and elders (skinning hides and chatting) to make a connection, engage in the activity and open the conversation.

Day 1

There were 80 kids

Part one: Our method - just hook them (meditation methods) using leaders in training with their team to get experience.

Part two: Healing through hip hop

With markers/words they worked on things that are important to the Inuit culture. These words and concepts became their voice in the hip hop spoken word works that were developed. Twice a day - the white boards from the elders/parents to the gym; kids white boards went to the elders. On these boards, there was noticable cross over between the words and concepts. This was getting to the residential schools/fears.

The last three days brought them all together. On a large graffitti piece done by the elders, they left a white space for kids to respond to what they had drawn. There is not this kind of communication happening between parents, elders and youth. Kids hearing an elder speak (in Inuit) about losing their child to suicide. We approach it from honouring the emotions. Conversations that have not previously happened give a community hope that they feel heard.  A large presentation was held at the end of the week where community came. For those elders in the audience and others that did not participate - they could still connect because their friends were part of it. They do not typically have performances in their community. We were breaking the ice that issues of abuse, suicide, residential school, can be talked about. The community doesn't want to be news. It is complicated.  

Timeframe

A one-week intensive residency - 9am - 5pm. It is a replacement for school for youth aged 14 - 20

Communities Involved

Youth (14-20), Parents and Elders

Genre/Art Form

Hip hop, dance/visual arts and spoken word

Outcomes

A guide on how to replicate this in other communities, an evaluation and a 15 minute video.

Contact Information

Stephen Leafloor BA, MSW, M.S.C, Ashoka Fellow Canada

Founder of BluePrintForLife.ca

112 Coriolis Court, Stittsville

Ontario, Canada K2S 0P3

T  613-592-2220

blueprintforlife [at] bell [dot] net

www.blueprintforlife.ca

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