“Because we have really unique art”: Decolonizing Research with Indigenous Youth Using the Arts

  • Sarah Flicker Associate Professor Faculty of Environmental Studies York University
  • Jessica Yee Danforth Executive Director Native Youth Sexual Health Network
  • Ciann Wilson PhD Candidate Faculty of Environmental Studies York University
  • Vanessa Oliver
  • June Larkin Professor Women & Gender Studies Institute, University of Toronto
  • Jean-Paul Restoule Associate Professor Department of Leadership, Higher and Adult Education, OISE University of Toronto
  • Claudia Mitchell Professor Department of Integrated Studies in Education (DISE) McGill University, Faculty of Education
  • Erin Konsmo Media Arts and Projects Coordinator Native Youth Sexual Health Network
  • Randy Jackson Doctoral Candidate School of Social Work McMaster University
  • Tracey Prentice PhD Candidate, Population Health Program, University of Ottawa


Indigenous communities in Canada share a common history of colonial oppression. As a result, many Indigenous populations are disproportionately burdened with poor health outcomes, including HIV. Conventional public health approaches have not yet been successful in reversing this trend. For this study, a team of community- and university-based researchers came together to imagine new possibilities for health promotion with Indigenous youth. A strengths-based approach was taken that relied on using the energies and talents of Indigenous youth as a leadership resource. Art-making workshops were held in six different Indigenous communities across Canada in which youth could explore the links between community, culture, colonization, and HIV. Twenty artists and more than 85 youth participated in the workshops. Afterwards, youth participants reflected on their experiences in individual in-depth interviews. Youth participants viewed the process of making art as fun, participatory, and empowering; they felt that their art pieces instilled pride, conveyed information, raised awareness, and constituted a tangible achievement. Youth participants found that both the process and products of arts-based methods were important. Findings from this project support the notion that arts-based approaches to the development of HIV-prevention knowledge and Indigenous youth leadership are helping to involve a diverse cross-section of youth in a critical dialogue about health. Arts-based approaches represent one way to assist with decolonization for future generations.


Research Papers