Last weekend, the Honouring Life Network (HLN) was invited to give a brief presentation on how new media and social networking has been imperative to the success of the program (i.e. Facebook, Twitter, Google) to a group of First Nations Inuit and Métis youth from across Canada. Jumping on this opportunity, I recognized that I had the chance to engage these youth in a focus group for an upcoming project of mine (that I am really excited about). This pilot project will involve the development of a dynamic, new media tool that hopes to include; interviews with youth and community members; an interactive tool that addresses healthy lifestyle choices; and supplementary information on youth suicide prevention in First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities.
On the day of the event, the turn-out didn't seem like it would be overly promising due to some miscommunication and flight delays. Fortunately, my colleague had organized a meeting beforehand with some very enthusiastic youth who wanted to participate in the discussion (albeit they were hungry and there was free pizza, but hey, I'll take it!). In total, I had eight youth participate in the focus group from across the country.
I first asked if they knew of any Aboriginal-specific programs that addressed suicide prevention amongst youth in their communities. The response was a unanimous, "No" which (unfortunately) really didn't come as much of a surprise. A few participants said they knew of non-Aboriginal specific programs, which didn't surprise me either. The reality is that we– both Aboriginals and non-Aboriginals– have been really slow in implementing suicide prevention programs that can meet the needs of First Nations, Inuit and Métis youth.
It was when I began asking about the use of new media in suicide prevention that ideas and opinions started to flow. I heard about the benefits and challenges of using new media technologies in remote and urban communities, in which there are many. I also heard about where they are getting their health-related information, and I must admit that some of their responses were very surprising (even as a youth myself). All in all, the focus group was successful and I was able to get a lot of valuable feedback for this project.
Aside from all the project-related information that I took away from this session, I was overwhelmed with the capacity in which my peers are ready to take on these mediums of communication. Social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter have the ability to reach First Nations, Inuit and Métis youth at unprecedented proportions. As consumers, are constantly overloaded with pessimistic statistics and cynical stories coming from mainstream media about this demographic, but it is through these tools that Aboriginal youth are using their voice to gain strength and take back their right to be heard. That in itself makes me excited about our ability to overcome Aboriginal youth suicide using a collective, influential and positive voice...even if it is only 140 characters at a time.