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Indigenous youth reconnect with cultural identity: The evaluation of a community-and school-based traditional music program

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Abstract and Figures

Reconnecting Indigenous youth with their cultural traditions has been identified as an essential part of healing the intergenerational effects of forced assimilation policies. Past work suggests that learning the music of one's culture can foster cultural identity and community bonding, which may serve as protective factors for well-being. An 8-week traditional song and dance program was implemented in a school setting for Indigenous youth. An evaluation was conducted using a mixed-method design to determine the impact of the program on 35 youth in the community. A triangulation of qualitative and quantitative data revealed several important themes, including personal development, cultural development, social development, student engagement in school-based programming, and perpetuating cultural knowledge. The program provided students with an opportunity to connect with their cultural traditions through activities that encouraged self and cultural expression. Community responses suggested that this type of programming is highly valued among Indigenous communities.
Content may be subject to copyright.
Received: 21 November 2019
Revised: 2 October 2020
Accepted: 3 October 2020
DOI: 10.1002/jcop.22481
Indigenous youth reconnect with cultural
identity: The evaluation of a communityand
schoolbased traditional music program
Arla Good
|Lori Sims
|Keith Clarke
|Frank A. Russo
Ryerson University, Toronto, Ontario,
Selkirk First Nation, Pelly Crossing,
Yukon Territory, Canada
Yukon Department of Education,
Government of Yukon, Whitehorse,
Yukon Territory, Canada
Arla Good, Ryerson University, 350 Victoria
St, Toronto, Ont. M5B 2K3, Canada.
Funding information
Social Sciences and Humanities Research
Council of Canada
Reconnecting Indigenous youth with their cultural tradi-
tions has been identified as an essential part of healing the
intergenerational effects of forced assimilation policies.
Past work suggests that learning the music of one's culture
can foster cultural identity and community bonding, which
may serve as protective factors for wellbeing. An 8week
traditional song and dance program was implemented in a
school setting for Indigenous youth. An evaluation was
conducted using a mixedmethod design to determine the
impact of the program on 35 youth in the community. A
triangulation of qualitative and quantitative data revealed
several important themes, including personal development,
cultural development,social development,student engagement
in schoolbased programming, and perpetuating cultural
knowledge. The program provided students with an op-
portunity to connect with their cultural traditions through
activities that encouraged self and cultural expression.
Community responses suggested that this type of pro-
gramming is highly valued among Indigenous communities.
community building, cultural identity, Indigenous youth, music
program, program evaluation
J Community Psychol. 2020;117. © 2020 Wiley Periodicals LLC
Reconnecting Indigenous youth with their cultural traditions has been identified as an essential step in healing the
intergenerational effects of forced assimilation policies (Chandler & Lalonde, 1998; Kirmayer et al., 2003).
Kirmayer et al. (2003) assert that culturally appropriate strategies are best for healing and promoting wellbeing,
both at the individual and community level. Artsbased healing techniques are an excellent example of applying a
culturally appropriate strategy. These techniques provide an opportunity for individuals to reconnect with their
culture and encourage self and cultural expression (Archibald & Dewar, 2010). To date, there has been limited
research evaluating the potential impact of artsbased programs for Indigenous youth. The current project aimed
to fill this gap in the literature by implementing and evaluating the impact of a traditional song and dance program
in a First Nation (FN) community school in the Yukon Territory, Canada. It is critical to understand how and to
what extent these programs have a positive impact on Indigenous youth to inform and optimize future program
development. The evaluation was a community research collaboration and involved a multisectoral partnership
between the community, the school, and the university.
For more than a century, Indigenous communities in Canada have existed under the forces of colonial history.
Cultural oppression, arising largely from the forced assimilation policies, such as the residential school system, as
well as the Indian Act has led to a significant loss of cultural knowledge, values, languages, and spirituality within
the FN community (Little Bear, 2009). This cultural oppression has been widely recognized as a leading cause of the
widespread social and mental health problems in the Canadian Indigenous population of FN, Inuit, and Métis
(Chandler & Lalonde, 1998,2008; Kirmayer et al., 2003;). The burden of colonial history contributes to ongoing
disparities in health, economy, and social status in Indigenous communities.
The ramifications of cultural oppression are intergenerational. FN youth in Canada face disproportionately
higher levels of educational, social, and psychological difficulties than other cultural groups in the country (First
Nations Information Governance Centre, 2012; Kirmayer et al., 2016). Most striking is the disproportionately high
rate of selfharm and suicidal behavior among youth in many, though not all, FN communities in Canada (Chandler
& Lalonde, 1998). Given these alarming patterns, there is an urgent need to develop evidenceinformed,
community initiatives that mitigate the educational, social, and psychological challenges faced by FN youth.
Resiliency models have highlighted cultural connectedness as a key protective factor for the wellbeing of FN
youth (McIvor et al., 2009; Snowshoe et al., 2015,2017). In particular, communitybased initiatives aimed at
promoting cultural identity and community integration create a healthy and culturally rich environment that can
better support the mental health and social wellbeing of FN youth (Chandler & Lalonde, 1998; Kirmayer et al.,
2003). Critically, Chandler and Lalonde (1998,2008) found a reduced risk of youth selfharm and suicidal behaviors
in FN communities that had taken steps to reconnect and preserve cultural traditions.
Communitybased initiatives involving art tend to be highly effective healing strategies as they reconnect
individuals with their culture in a deep and meaningful way (Archibald & Dewar, 2010; Goudreau et al., 2008;
Hämäläinen et al., 2018). In a review of almost 100 communitybased healing programs, Archibald and Dewar
(2010) highlight several important outcomes that are observed as a result of incorporating creative arts in healing
programs, including increasing selfesteem and confidence, reconnecting individuals with their culture, restoring
cultural pride and identity, and building social cohesion and sense of community. Artsbased healing programs that
involve traditional song and dance may be particularly advantageous given the empirically demonstrated influence
of group musicmaking on personal, cultural, and social development. The impact of group musicmaking on each
outcome is discussed below.
3.1 |Personal development
Engaging in group musicmaking supports personal development. It is well documented that active participation in
musicmaking can induce pleasure and happiness, selfesteem and confidence, and general wellbeing in children
and youth (Hallam, 2010; Saarikallio & Erkkilä, 2007). Gains in personal development as a result of engaging in
musical programming has been demonstrated for youth in school settings of socioeconomically disadvantaged
areas (Barrett & Bond, 2015).
3.2 |Cultural development
Traditional music communicates deeprooted cultural knowledge and provides a window into the language, lifestyle,
behaviors, and belief systems (Lomax, 1959; Merriam & Merriam, 1964). Musical activities are often a focal point of
important cultural events. For example, in FN culture, traditional musical activities appear prominently in community
gatherings and ceremonies, such as the traditional potlatch, baby naming, and coming of age ceremonies. Traditional
song and dance programs also provide exposure to the native language. Singing songs has been shown to be a highly
effective way to learn aspects of a second language (Good et al., 2015; Ludke et al., 2014), and the combination of
songand speechbased language teaching can be a valuable addition to the classroom (Busse et al., 2018). Given that
the Yukon FNs' languages are currently threatened with extinction, ongoing special attention is being paid by the
Yukon Department of Education (2009,2019) to support and improve native language learning strategies.
According to Berry (1999), Indigenous cultural identity refers to both the psychological elements of selfidentification,
as well as the behavioral elements of engaging in activities that express identity. Music creates a platform for self
expression in young people and often provides insight into social and cultural group membership (Tekman & Hortaçsu,
2002). Actively engaging in traditional music offers an opportunity for selfexpression and an embodiment of cultural
traditions, and thus may be an effective means of fostering cultural pride and identity (North & Hargreaves, 1999).
3.3 |Social development
Group musicmaking has a profound effect on social development. Some theorists claim that one of the evolu-
tionary purposes of music, particularly song and dance, is for the promotion of community and social belonging
(Dunbar, 2012; Huron, 2001). Group musicmaking blends elements of social interaction, positive shared experi-
ences, and common goals. Furthermore, moving together through singing or dancing has been shown to be an
effective tool for enhancing social cohesion and cooperation (Good et al., 2017; Hove & Risen, 2009; Wiltermuth &
Heath, 2010), even in children (Good & Russo, 2016; Kirschner & Tomasello, 2010).
Over the last decade, the Yukon Department of Education has highlighted the urgent need for communitybased,
culturally appropriate programming in the school (Ed Reform Report, 2007; Auditor General Report, 2009,2019)
Teachers have been encouraged to work collaboratively with the Yukon FN communities to integrate language and
culture into the school curriculum, to develop culturally inclusive lessons, and to host school events that reflect the
cultural context. Accordingly, our program took place in the community school of a small, selfgoverned Indigenous
community located in Yukon Territory, Canada. The community school serves kindergarten to Grade 12, with an
overall enrollment of 46 students.
A traditional song and dance program was implemented from September to December of 2012 as part of
the school curriculum. For a total of 8 weeks, students learned cultural knowledge through traditional song and
dance. The program was integrated into the curriculum in two ways: (1) Twice a week during the regularly
scheduled gym class, students learned how to sing and dance the traditional songs. (2) During the weekly
native language class, students learned the native language lyrics of the songs, including the translations and
cultural importance of the content. The program culminated in a final gala event hosted by the school. The gala
event was an opportunity for the school to host a cultural event and for the students to perform their new,
traditional musical skills for the community. The community took an active role in the planning and orches-
tration of the gala event. Many community members came out to watch, and at times, danced along with the
students. Moreover, community members collaborated in preparing a stew and bannock feast that was
The program involved a high level of community engagement that extended beyond students and faculty.
The songs were gifted to the program by the community Keeper of the Songsand taught by the community
traditional dance group leader. Elders were invited to the school to help with the teaching of the singing, dancing,
knowledge reflected in the song and dance. In addition, community members launched a sewing and beading
program whereby students participated in the making of traditional regalia. With these collective efforts,
each student was provided with regalia, including vests, dresses, and moccasins to wear while they danced
(see Figure 1).
Drawing on previous academic research, as well as initial conversations between the evaluators and the key
stakeholders, five targeted outcomes of the program were identified. The first was personal development,aswe
expected students to experience personal growth, including increased selfesteem and confidence, and happiness
and wellbeing. The second was cultural development, as we expected students to develop new cultural knowledge
FIGURE 1 Each student was provided with regalia, including vests, dresses, and moccasins to wear while they
and skills and an increased connection to cultural identity. The third was social development, as we expected that
students would experience stronger social bonds within the school and the community. We also expected that the
program would generate a connection between the school and the community. The fourth was enhanced student
engagement in schoolbased programming, as we expected that the program would be highly engaging and that some
positive transfer would occur in regard to students' general attitudes toward the school. The fifth was perpetuating
cultural knowledge, as we expected the program to highlight the importance of learning and passing down cultural
knowledge. A basic program logic model outlining the program inputs, activities, and expected outcomes was
created to help guide the evaluation (see Figure 2). These five targeted outcomes guided the design of the
The present study sought to evaluate whether the traditional song and dance program had a positive impact
on the Indigenous youth. In particular, the outcome evaluation was designed to determine the effect of the
program with respect to the five targeted outcomes.
6.1 |Participants
A total of 35 FN students (M = 23/F = 12), ranging from Grade 1 to Grade 12, from the school agreed to participate
in the program evaluation. Although a small number of students (n= 7) had some prior experience with the cultural
materials through their participation in the notforprofit community dance group, the majority of the students
were learning the songs and dances for the first time. We also invited the participation of stakeholders that were
familiar with the program and could provide additional insight on its impact, including school teachers (n= 6) and
other key community stakeholders (n= 3). We have combined the key stakeholders into one group to maintain
anonymity. See Table 1for a breakdown of the sample.
FIGURE 2 Program inputs, activities, and expected outcomes
6.2 |Design
Parents and students were informed of the program evaluation and provided consent and assent to parti-
cipate, respectively. Using a mixedmethod design, we integrated quantitative questionnaires, as well as
qualitative interviews and focus groups to acquire a holistic understanding of the program's impact. Before
the program began, the students completed a preprogram questionnaire to obtain a baseline measure of
their attitudes toward their culture and their school. Eight weeks later, following the conclusion of the
program, the students completed a postprogram questionnaire as well as oneonone interviews. Also,
following the conclusion of the program, the teachers participated in a focus group, and the key community
stakeholders were interviewed. In addition, the community members that attended the gala event were
invited to complete a short survey regarding their reactions to the performance and the traditional song and
dance program.
6.3 |Measures
6.3.1 |Quantitative measure (Questionnaire)
Students were asked to complete an attitude questionnaire designed to tap into several constructs including
attitude toward culture, traditional knowledge, community, and school engagement before and after the program.
The questionnaire contained 30 statements that required participants to rate their level of agreement using a
Likert scale, ranging from 1 (disagree)to5(agree). The statements were modeled after several tools in the
literature, including The Cultural Connectedness Scale (Snowshoe et al., 2015), Vancouver Index of Acculturation
measure (Ryder et al., 2000), and a measure of school engagement (Libbey, 2004). Items were combined into one
scale of general attitudes.
Due to the lower literacy level of younger students, only students from Grade 6 and older completed this
questionnaire. A total number of 20 participants completed both the preand postprogram questionnaires. To
assess whether the items in the questionnaire were internally consistent, we ran a test of Cronbach's α. The
questionnaire demonstrated a high level of internal consistency; Cronbach's αat pretest was .82 and at posttest
was .88.
TABLE 1 Number of participants in each group broken down by school grade (students) and category
Participant Group Total (interview)
Students total 35 (17)
Grades 12 7 (3)
Grades 35 5 (4)
Grades 67 6 (3)
Grades 89 10 (5)
Grades 1012 7 (2)
Stakeholders total 9
Teachers 6
Key community stakeholders 3
Participants total 44
6.3.2 |Qualitative measures (Interviews and Focus group)
Student interviews
Interviews were used to gain a deeper understanding of the students' experiences beyond the questionnaires.
Interviews took place in a private room and followed a semistructured script. More specifically, the interviewer
had a prepared list of questions; however, they also asked spontaneous followup questions and encouraged the
interviewee to elaborate on incomplete responses. This semistructured process afforded a discussion with
the participants regarding their experiences during the program, including what they learned and how it affected
the way they feel about their culture, school, and community. Each interview was conducted facetoface
and lasted between 10 and 15 min. The interviews were audiorecorded with the permission of the participant and
their parents. A total of 17 students (at least two students from each grade cohort) participated in the interview
following the program.
Key stakeholder interviews
Interviews were conducted with key stakeholders of the program. Interviews followed the same semistructured
style as was used during the student interviews and lasted between 10 and 20 min.
Teacher focus groups
As a group, the teachers participated in a focus group to determine their individual and collective thoughts on the
program. The focus group followed the same semistructured style as was used during the student interviews and
lasted about 30 min.
7.1 |Questionnaire results
A comparison was made between the preprogram responses and postprogram responses to determine whether
the students' general attitudes had changed. For questionnaire data, outliers defined as a data point more than
1.5× the interquartile range were removed from all analyses (Bakker & Wicherts, 2014). Consistent with our
expectations, students adopted a significantly more positive attitude toward their culture and their school from
preprogram (M= 4.089, SD = .21) to postprogram (M= 4.36, SD = .40), t(18) =3.15, p= .006. The effect size for
this improvement was large (d= 0.722). The median value for postprogram attitude toward culture and school
exceeded the maximum value before the program (see Figure 3).
7.2 |Qualitative results
The interview and focus group data were subjected to a thematic analysis following an immersion/crystallization
approach (Crabtree & Miller, 1999). The first author and an independent rater (who was not involved with the
program) individually read through the interview transcripts, immersing themselves in the experiences of the
participants until themes and patterns emerged. We chose a hybrid approachto analyze the emergent themes,
whereby we incorporated both an inductive, datadriven approach, as well as a deductive, a priori framework
approach, with special attention paid to the five targeted outcomes of the program. Together, the two raters
reviewed and refined the emergent themes until consensus was reached, and a reportable interpretation was
crystallized. Although a variety of additional themes emerged through the inductive analysis (e.g., overcoming
challenges), they will not be described here given the scope of the present evaluation. A full list of themes can be
found in Appendix A.
7.3 |Triangulation of data
To further elucidate the themes, we integrated corroborating quantitative evidence from questionnaire items that
explicitly tapped into the targeted outcomes. In the section that follows, we outline the themes, provide brief
interview excerpts from the students and stakeholders, and include changes observed in a subset of the ques-
tionnaire items with respect to observations from the qualitative analysis.
7.3.1 |Personal development
Selfesteem and confidence
The majority of students (76.5%) reported feelings of selfesteem and confidence as a result of program activities.
Students reported confidence in themselves and in their musical abilities. As one student said: I'm not afraid to
show people that I can dance my kinda way”—Gr. 35. In particular, students noted that the gala event was a key
source of pride and selfconfidence. One student said:
FIGURE 3 Attitude toward culture and school before as compared to after the program
proud to be in front of all those people cuz after all of it I'm going to feel proud of myself because
everyone told me I was a good dancer.Gr. 35
The stakeholders also observed an increase in student selfesteem and confidence throughout the duration of
the program. As one stakeholder stated:
It gave the kids, those who don't always excel at conventional school, the chance to excel. [One student]
who struggles at most things in school, he just excelled
They were proud to perform. They took pride in their dancing.
Happiness and wellbeing
Students expressed happiness following program activities. One student said: I am happier after I'm dancing. I feel
good about myself”—Gr. 89. In particular, students reported increased wellbeing as an outcome of performing at
the gala event. One student commented: I liked dancing in front of a crowdthe audience cheers. That makes me feel
better.”—Gr. 67.
As the questionnaire was designed to measure attitudes toward culture and school, it did not include any items
designed to measure personal development.
7.3.2 |Cultural development
New cultural skills and knowledge
The majority of students (76.5%) reported that the program supported various culturerelated skills, including a
general increase in cultural knowledge: Until now,I didn't know anything [about my culture] and now I do”—Gr. 35,
an increase in musicrelated skills: I learned how to sing songsI didn't know before, but I do now”—Gr. 35, and an
increase in native language skills: We learneda little bit of languagewords that I didn't know”—Gr. 89.
In particular, the finding regarding native language learning was corroborated by the item on the questionnaire
associated with language learning, namely, I can speak some [native language]which showed a significant increase
from preprogram (M= 3.5, SD = 0.95) to postprogram (M= 4.05, SD = 1.146), t(19) = 2.6, p= .017 (see Figure 4a).
Connection to cultural identity (Psychological and Behavioral elements)
Following the program, many students (58.9%) expressed a connection to their culture and pride in their identity.
Both psychological and behavioral elements of cultural identity emerged as themes in the interviews. In particular,
the traditional song and dance contributed to cultural identity by providing the students with an opportunity to
transmit their culture through an act of selfexpression. One student stated:
I learned that I'm more Indian than I am. Cuz before I was a regular Indian but now I'm not, but am I more
Indian now because I didn't dance or sing or anything, I feel more Indian now.Gr. 35
The questionnaire item associated with psychological cultural identity, namely I connect with the FN traditions
showed a marginal significant increase from preprogram (M= 3.61, SD = 1.115) to postprogram (M= 4.17,
SD = .618), t(17) = 2.05, p= .056 (see Figure 4b).
The amalgamation of two questionnaire items associated with behavioral cultural identity and expression,
namely I like to join in FN traditionsand I like to show off my FN identityshowed a marginally significant increase
from preprogram (M= 7.56, SD = 0.89) to postprogram (M= 8.44, SD = 1.46), t(16) = 2.098, p= .053 (see
Figure 4c).
Stakeholders also reported cultural identity as an important outcome of the program. They noted the asso-
ciation between the skills learned in the program and the opportunities for the students to participate in culture
and express themselves culturally. One stakeholder noted:
They felt and learned the respect for their culture. The feeling of the culture once they learned the songs
and dances. They started becoming proud. And now they just shine.
7.3.3 |Social development
Social bonds in school
Students and stakeholders alike felt a greater sense of togetherness in the school as a result of activities from the
program. Many students (35%) reported that they enjoye d dancing with their friends and recognized that the final
product was a group effort. One student noted: Everybody gets to dance at the same timeThe whole school made it
and everybody cried”—Gr. 89. Similarly, one stakeholder noted:
When you see a group coming together learning like that, it healsand another stated, There was a new
energy put into the group when the whole school was brought together.
Social bonds in community
The interviews revealed the high level of community integration. The involvement of the community at the gala
event helped students realize that they live in a community of family and friends. One student said: I think my
culture is a good thing cuz we are all family in a way”—Gr. 89.
The questionnaire item associated with community bonding, namely I feel like I'm part of a community
increased significantly from preprogram (M= 3.7, SD = 1.03) to postprogram (M= 4.35, SD = 0.93), t(19) = 2.67,
p= .015 (see Figure 4d).
Stakeholders also noted the community efforts during the program. Of particular note, this program estab-
lished a new partnership between the school and the community. The community was engaged in the schoolbased
(a) (b) (c) (d) (e)
FIGURE 4 Changes on selected questions from the attitude toward culture and school questionnaire with
respect to observations from the qualitative analysis
program and contributed to the cultural education of the students. As one stakeholder stated: There was a bridge
built between the school and the first nation tonight.
7.3.4 |Student engagement in schoolbased programming
Student engagement and participation was high throughout the program. The majority of participants (94.4%)
reported that they enjoyed the program. In particular, students reported that they enjoyed singing and dancing,
learning about the culture, and performing in front of the community. Furthermore, this engagement seems to have
transferred to general perceptions of school. As one student reported:
I liked having the program in my school because I got to learn not just math and stuff but I got to learn [the
native culture].Gr. 67
The questionnaire item associated with enjoyment of schoolbased programming, I like what I learn about in
school,yielded a significant change from preprogram (M= 3.75, SD = .967) to postprogram (M= 4.3, SD = .571),
t(19) = 2.6, p= .017 (see Figure 4e).
Stakeholders also noted student engagement in the program. As one stakeholder said:
All are participating most of the time. There is a level of engagement that says this is right. These kids want
to do this. The majority are 100% engaged for 55minute block.
7.3.5 |Perpetuating cultural knowledge
During the interviews, several students (33.3%) shared that they value learning and maintaining traditional
knowledge. Importantly, several students recognized the importance of perpetuating that knowledge by passing it
down to future generations. As one student explained:
I think it's a good thing that I'm supposed to learn and its important, some kids don't pay attention to it, but
it's important to pass down until we are elders and we can teach the younger kids. And that's kinda
important.Gr. 89
Stakeholders also recognized the importance of teaching the students cultural knowledge so they can continue
to pass it on to the next generation. One stakeholder said:
They lost their culture and in a way they lost their identity and its very important that they bring it into the
school to teach to help bring it back to the people.
Another stakeholder stated:
When they get older like my age, they will be able to carry it on. We need to teach the kids now and keep it
going strong.
Although no specific questionnaire item provided evidence that students acknowledged the importance of
perpetuating cultural knowledge, 92.5% of the students expressed an interest in joining the community dance
group, thereby demonstrating their continued interest in the traditional song and dance.
7.4 |Community survey response
Community members that attended the gala event were invited to fill out a short survey to gain an understanding
of the impact of the performance on the community at large. Community members reported being extremely
impressed by the performance and overjoyed to be witnessing the youth connecting with their culture. In parti-
cular, community members felt Proud!,Happy, excited, want more!,Emotionalfull of tears, and Beyond happy
tears of joy flowed!Moreover, several community members noted the importance of continuing culturally ap-
propriate programming. One community member stated: Keep up all the hard work! We all need it! Our kids and
community need this.
In a multisectoral partnership involving the FN community, the community school, and the university, a traditional
song and dance program was integrated in the school curriculum. An outcome evaluation was conducted to
determine the effect of this program on the youth. Through a mixedmethod analysis, the findings from the
evaluation suggest that the program had a positive impact on the youth. More specifically, we found evidence to
suggest that program activities promoted personal, cultural, and social development. The traditional song and
dance program fostered cultural identity and community bonding, which have been highlighted as important
protective factors for mental and social wellbeing in Indigenous youth (Kirmayer et al., 2003).
In accord with Archibald and Dewar (2010), traditional song and dance was a highly effective strategy for
reconnecting the youth with features of their cultural traditions. Indeed, the musical activities of the program were
often explicitly referenced in the interviews as facilitators to the positive psychosocial outcomes. In particular, the
final gala event was a crucial activity of the program that strengthened self and cultural pride in the students.
Moreover, participating in traditional song and dance was instrumental in boosting cultural identity as many
students conveyed that this was a cultural tradition with which they could connect through an act of self
In addition, the program gave the students the opportunity to connect with each other and their community
and to work together toward a common goal. All the grades from elementary to high school worked (and danced)
together to create a sense of unity during the performance. The social bonding capacity of group musicmaking has
been proposed by some evolutionary theorists as one of the core adaptive functions of song and dance (Dunbar,
2012; Huron, 2001).
8.1 |Program strengths and weaknesses
Interviews with students and stakeholders revealed several strengths and weaknesses of the program. First,
community involvement was a crucial element for the success of this program. The music teacher had a strong
relationship with both the community and the school, which provided a partnership that both parties could trust. In
addition, the participating Elders provided wider access to the culture and community. The Elders supported the
program by adding their personal knowledge of the song and dances, in addition to helping students to interpret
the song lyrics. Dance instruction given by community Elders provided students with dance step variations that
appeared to help them in developing their own personal style. Community members took the initiative in sewing
and beading regalia and slippers for all the students, which added a further element of tradition to the final gala
event; the students dressed the part. The inclusion of these individuals in the program gave the community a sense
of ownership over the program and strengthened the partnership between the school and the community.
However, interviews with the stakeholders and teachers revealed that there could have been an even stronger
Elder presence in the program. More frequent Elder presence in the program would have fostered a greater
knowledge of the history of the songs through stories to support students' understanding of why the songs are so
important to their culture.
Second, building culturally appropriate programming into a school setting has been an effective way to pro-
mote wellbeing for Indigenous students (Crooks et al., 2015). The current program took advantage of the previous
existing infrastructure of the school. Song and dance classes were embedded into the school schedule, where we
were able to reach the largest number of youth in the community. The schedule provided a routine on which the
students could rely. However, due to external circumstances, the class routine was occasionally broken, which led
to some expressions of frustration, especially with the older students. The focus group with the teachers revealed
the importance of maintaining consistency in scheduling, and future programmers should be mindful of the routine
for the students.
8.2 |Research limitations
The evaluation had some statistical limitations that should be considered. The small sample size, multiple com-
parisons, and marginal statistical significance justify a degree of caution when interpreting the statistical findings
reported in this paper. In considering the implications of artsbased programming for the FN youth, we opted for a
pragmatic approach, prioritizing capture of the full scope of the program's impact at the possible cost of a false
positive. Moreover, interviews provided information on the lived experience of individuals in the community, which
may not have otherwise been captured by standard questionnaires. By integrating qualitative and quantitative
results, we expect to have neared the true nature of the impact of this program despite these statistical limitations.
8.3 |Final conclusions
Students and stakeholders agreed on the importance of continuing the culturally appropriate programming in the
community. Although recovering cultural traditions is an essential step in this process, the challenge of sustaining
these cultural traditions remains. Stakeholders made a note of the uphill battle in the fight against cultural
oppression. For example, one stakeholder stated, We still have a lot of work to doand another stated, We will need
to continue to ensure that there is longevity in this.
Traditional song and dance are charged with cultural history and has the potential to rapidly promote social
bonding and identity. By connecting with their culture and with each other through song and dance, the program
afforded an opportunity for FN youth to develop a positive cultural identity and a strengthened sense of com-
munity. In summary, we strongly recommend the adaptations of culturally relevant, multisectoral initiatives, such
as a communitybased traditional song and dance program, as a means of promoting Indigenous cultural traditions
for FN youth.
This study was supported by AIRS (Advancing Interdisciplinary Research in Singing), a Major Collaborative R
esearch Initiative funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (
and SingWell, a Partnership Development Grant funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of
Canada ( Moreover, the authors would like to thank the Selkirk First Nation, Kelly McShane, and
Cyndy Baskin, for their support and guidance on this project.
The peer review history for this article is available at
The data that support the findings of this study are available from the corresponding author upon reasonable
Arla Good
Frank A. Russo
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How to cite this article: Good A, Sims L, Clarke K, Russo FA. Indigenous youth reconnect with cultural
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Code Name Definition When to use Code Examples
Enjoyment of
When participants address an
enjoyment for activities in
the program
Keywords: Fun,
Enjoyed, Liked
[The songs] are fun. The way
you have to dance makes
them fun
(a) Music I liked it becauseyou're
learning about the Selkirk
Culture and that's
pretty fun
(b) Culture
(c) Language
When participants express a
new skill or increased
knowledge as a result of
activities in the program
Learned, Know
I learned that I can dance, I
didn't used to know how
to dance
(a) Music (song/
I learned how to sew and
make vests and slippers
(b) Language Until now, I didn't know
anything, and now I do
(c) Traditional skills
Prior knowledge
and/or skills
When participants expressed
that they had previous
knowledge of their culture
Already knew
I already knew a lot about
my culture
I knew about my heritage
and the stories
When participants express
being happy, feeling good
about themselves, or being
good at something
Keywords: Good at,
Feel good, Not/
Wasn't shy
I am happier after I'm
dancing. I feel good about
I'm a good dancer, Northern
Tutchone dancer
This code was also used when
participants expressed a
lack of shyness
I felt cool to dance in front of
I'm not really shy now, for
some reason I was shy at
Christmas concerts, but
when I as out dancing I
wasn't really that shy
Shyness/nervous When participants expressed
feeling nervous or shy,
typically this code was
noted in regard to
performance anxiety
Keywords: Shy,
Nervous, Shaky
It was shakynervous.
Nervous and ya
Code Name Definition When to use Code Examples
When a participant or
educator notes an initial
fear or inability and then
demonstrate an
overcoming and fulfillment
of this challenge
Keywords: Before/
after, Then/now
Before you started the
program, I didn't think I
would be ready. I didn't
know how to dance or
sing. Now, I am happy
Hearing the feedback, I can't
do it' and then seeing the
end result and watching
them actually do it
Cultural Pride When participants express
pride or fulfillment in
themselves or their culture
Keywords: Proud,
Happy, Feel cool
I felt proud, because I was
representing my culture
I think its cool. Everything is
cool about it. Two thumbs
up for the culture
I think its good, great,
awesome. Because we can
dance, we can sing, we
can sew, and everything
Importance of
learning Cultural
When participants
communicate an
understanding of the
importance of learning and
desire to learn more
Keywords: Want to,
Good to, Keep
It's good to learn about the
traditional ways
I want to learn more
I see it getting lost because
of all the alcohol abuse. I
think its good because
kids were dancing
Cultural identity
and connection
When a participant or
educator elaborates on the
experience of a connection
with the Selkirk First
Nation identity
Keywords: Identity,
Connect, Feel
I learned that I am more
Indian now than I amI
am more Indian now
because I didn't dance or
sing or anything, I feel
more Indian now
Being who I am and being
proud of it
Togetherness and
When a participant or
educator expresses a
developed connection
within the community, the
school, or a bridge between
the school and community
Bridge, Whole
Amazing how many people
contributed to the end
The whole school made it
and everybody cried
I think that there was a
bridge built between the
school and the First
Nation tonight

Supplementary resource (1)

... In order to preserve the cultural heritage, in the curriculum study for art and culture. One of the efforts to preserve it is by arranging regional songs (Good et al., 2021). The arrangement is composing or composing a musical work in the form of vocal or instrumental songs. ...
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This study aims to motivate students' creativity in making musical compositions in Cultural Arts and Fine Arts learning. Student creativity is needed to preserve cultural arts. This study focuses on making folk song medley arrangements and their implementation for high school choirs. This study uses a qualitative descriptive method. Data was obtained through literature study, observation, and field studies. The sample of this research is the student choir group at SMA Muhammadiyah 2 Yogyakarta. Data were analyzed using the Miles and Huberman models, namely by data reduction, tabulation, presentation, and conclusion. The results showed that the arrangement of a medley of folk songs could make students more enthusiastic and creative in learning Arts, Culture and Arts, especially music. In addition, it was also shown that students were more creative in expressing their musical performances through the choir. The songs that were successfully arranged were “Gundul-Gundul Pacul”, “Cublak-Cublak Suweng” and “Padang Bulan”.
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There is growing evidence that singing can have a positive effect on language learning, but few studies have explored its benefit for children who have recently migrated to a new country. In the present study, recently migrated children (N = 35) received three 40-min sessions where all students learnt the lyrics of two songs designed to simulate language learning through alternating teaching modalities (singing and speaking). Children improved their language knowledge significantly including on tasks targeting the transfer of grammatical skills, an area largely neglected in previous studies. This improvement was sustainable over the retention interval. However, the two teaching modalities did not show differential effects on cued recall of song lyrics indicating that singing and speaking are equally effective when used in combination with one another. Taken together, the data suggest that singing may be useful as an additional teaching strategy, irrespective of initial language proficiency, warranting more research on songs as a supplement for grammar instruction.
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Music as a possible health-promoting agent has attained increasing academic and scientific interest over the last decades. Nonetheless, possible connections between indigenous singing traditions and health beyond traditional ceremonial healing practices are still under-researched worldwide. The Sami, the indigenous people living in Northern Fennoscandia, have a distinct ancient vocal music tradition called “yoik” practiced from immemorial times. The Sami share a history of assimilation with many indigenous people. During this period of nearly 400 years, yoik alongside other cultural markers was under hard pressure and even banned at times. Compared to other indigenous people in the Arctic, Sami public health shows few significant unfavourable differences to the majority population. The potential role of yoik as a protective health and resilience factor within the Sami culture is the topic of this review. We suggest a two stage model for the health promoting effects of yoik through i) emotion regulation and stress relief on the level of the individual, and ii) as a socio-cultural resilience factors within the Sami population. This review is to be understood as theory-building review article striving for a scholarly review of the literature.
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Studies show that synchronizing movements with others encourages a collective social identity, leading to increased cooperation within a group. The current study investigated whether movement synchrony impacts social categorization and cooperation across intergroup boundaries. Two 3-person groups were brought together under movement synchrony conditions designed to emphasize different social categorizations of the aggregate: all individuals moved to the same beat, each minimal group moved to a different beat, or each individual moved to a different beat. Results demonstrate that movement synchrony influenced social categorization and cooperation across intergroup boundaries. Implications for approaches to intergroup relations using movement synchrony are noted.
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Over the past 10 years, Aboriginal women from a northern Ontario urban community have been gathering to hand drum as a way to revive their culture and support one another. As a member of an Aboriginal women’s hand-drumming circle called the Waabishki Mkwaa (White Bear) Singers, I had a vision of exploring the connection between hand-drumming practices and health promotion, and was the primary researcher for the study described in this article. Adhering to Aboriginal protocols as part of an Indigenous research methodology, I offered traditional tobacco to members of the Waabishki Mkwaa Singers, as an invitation for them to be both co-researchers and participants in the study. In accepting the tobacco, the members agreed to help facilitate the research process, as well as to journal their experiences of the process and of their own hand-drumming practices. Using an Aboriginal Women’s Hand Drumming (AWHD) Circle of Life framework—a framework developed by the co-researchers of the study—we explored the physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional benefits of Aboriginal women’s hand-drumming practices, and examined how culture and social support networks are key determinants of Aboriginal women’s health. Results of the qualitative analysis show that the Aboriginal women’s involvement in hand-drumming circles has many health promoting benefits and builds on strengths already existent within their community. Through their experiences with hand drumming, the women reported gaining a voice and a sense of holistic healing, empowerment, renewal, strength and Mino-Bimaadiziwin (“good life”). These findings are consistent with evolving Aboriginal perspectives on health promotion.
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We explored the interrelationships among components of cultural connectedness (i.e., identity, traditions, and spirituality) and First Nations youth mental health using a brief version of the original Cultural Connectedness Scale. Participants included 290 First Nations youth (M age = 14.4) who were recruited from both urban and rural school settings in Saskatchewan and Southwestern Ontario. We performed a confirmatory factor analysis of the Cultural Connectedness Scale-Short Version (CCS-S) items to investigate the factor stability of the construct in our sample. We examined the relationships between the CCS-S subscales and self-efficacy, sense of self (present and future), school connectedness, and life satisfaction using hierarchical multiple linear regression analyses to establish the validity of the abbreviated measure. The results revealed that cultural connectedness, as measured by the 10-item CCS-S, had strong associations with the mental health indicators assessed and, in some cases, was associated with First Nations youth mental health above and beyond other social determinants of health. Our results extend findings from previous research on cultural connectedness by elucidating the meaning of its components and demonstrate the importance of culture for positive youth development.
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Previous research involving pre-school children and adults suggests that moving in synchrony with others can foster cooperation. Song provides a rich oscillatory framework that supports synchronous movement and may thus be considered a powerful agent of positive social relations. In the current study, we assessed this hypothesis in a group of primary-school aged children with diverse ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds. Children participated in one of three activity conditions: group singing, group art, or competitive games. They were then asked to play a prisoner’s dilemma game as a measure of cooperation. Results showed that children who engaged in group singing were more cooperative than children who engaged in group art or competitive games.
Indigenous youth in many countries face high levels of mental health problems, including suicide. While many of the relevant strategies for the promotion of mental health and well-being and the prevention of mental disorders are similar to those for youth in other contexts, there are some unique challenges and opportunities for Indigenous populations and communities. These include the histories of colonization, cultural suppression, and marginalization that have profoundly affected many communities across multiple generations as well as the distinctive ways of life and current social and geographic contexts that shape the values and aspirations of youth and their families. These historical and social structural issues contribute to specific social determinants of health and illness, influence well-being and resilience, and have important implications for mental health promotion. In this chapter, we review some of the salient features of Indigenous contexts and characteristics that affect the well-being of Indigenous youth. We outline an approach to mental health promotion that takes into account historical, transgenerational, and contemporary contexts and seeks to build on the strength and resilience of Indigenous communities and youth. Our examples come from Canada but have broader application for Indigenous peoples in many countries as well as for youth from other marginalized communities that have faced historical loss and devaluation and must meet the challenges of globalization and ongoing culture change.
A comprehensive review and analysis of the literature related to the role of Indigenous language and culture in maintaining and improving the health as well as reducing the risk factors for health problems of Indigenous people. Although much literature exists on various topics related to culture, language and health, the specific focus of this paper was studying the effects of the use of language and culture on the health of Indigenous people. Once all relevant literature was gathered, six linked themes emerged as protective factors against health issues; land and health, traditional medicine, spirituality, traditional foods, traditional activities and language. Findings included evidence that the use of Indigenous languages and cultures do have positive effects on the health and wellness of Indigenous people. However, the majority of the existing literature focuses on culture and its effects on health. Therefore, more studies are needed specifically on the potential health benefits of Indigenous language use. Other recommendations for ways forward include more targeted research on urban Indigenous populations, and making links between the loss of traditional land, contaminants in the food chain and the health of Indigenous people in Canada.
Schools are expected to promote social and emotional learning skills among youth; however, there is a lack of culturally-relevant programming available. The Fourth R: Uniting Our Nations programs for Aboriginal youth include strengths-based programs designed to promote healthy relationships and cultural connectedness, and improve school success during the transition from elementary to secondary school. A mixed methods evaluation of these programs was undertaken utilizing 35 elementary and secondary student interviews, survey data from 45 secondary students, and 7 educator, and principal interviews. Four themes emerged: (1) programming was perceived to contribute to student success; (2) participants experienced improved relationships, and an increased sense of belonging; (3) participants gained confidence and leadership skills; and (4) the provision of culturally relevant experiences and role models was key to program success. The results underscore the importance of developing and implementing culturally relevant programs for Aboriginal youth, who as a group have been historically marginalized in the education system. Furthermore, promoting cultural connectedness in schools facilitates the development of bicultural competence, and reduces the pressure many of these youth experience to choose between success at school and their Aboriginal identity.