Collaboration makes a difference in remote community

June 9, 2015
Meaghan Trewin and Barb Milne, The Society for Safe and Caring Schools & Communities

Wabasca benefiting from partnership with Safe and Caring Schools

As an organization that has been around since 2001, the Society for Safe and Caring Schools & Communities has worked with many Alberta communities. One of our longest-standing relationships has been with the small northern community of Wabasca, home of the Bigstone Cree Nation and many hardworking people in a strongly oil, gas and forestry-based economy.

Safe and Caring has been working in partnership with the Wabasca community for more than a decade, and in 2009 we were awarded the opportunity to deliver Stop Now And Plan (SNAP) training to help local students build skills to form positive relationships within their school and broader communities.

Located 300 kilometres north of Edmonton, and with limited access to many valuable government services, Wabasca residents face many of the challenges that are common in remote Alberta communities: poverty, housing scarcity, unemployment and a prevalence of family violence. Within Alberta as a whole, the impact of violence against women and their families is dramatic, representing more than a quarter of all reported violent crimes, according to a 2013 Statistics Canada report.

Despite the challenges that they face, Wabasca residents and leaders are passionate about their community, and passionate about the safety of their women, children and elders. Thanks to the generous ongoing support of Status of Women Canada, as well as from corporate sponsor Cavalier Energy, Inc., Safe and Caring has experienced first-hand how this community can come together to support the well-being of its people.

Each community has unique needs and priorities. When Safe and Caring first came to Wabasca, we connected with those who knew best what the young students in the community needed to thrive: the people of Wabasca itself. We engaged community stakeholders from start to end, beginning our research with a community-driven needs assessment and consultation to identify Wabasca’s specific needs. Using findings from this preliminary research, we developed a steering committee of local leaders, educators, businesses and support services to help interpret findings and oversee program implementation.

Overall, this evidence-based and collaborative approach has not only ensured that the work we do is relevant and contributing to lasting change — this approach has also helped empower the Wabasca community to build its own long-term capacity.

Through the steering committee, Safe and Caring has witnessed the people of Wabasca work together to identify the issues that are most important to them, pursue a strong shared commitment to end the pervasiveness of cyclical violence, strengthen connections within and across their community and support collective action to impact change.

Safe and Caring has continued to work closely with the Wabasca steering committee, finding ways to adapt SNAP program delivery to better meet the needs of the community.

This has included using interactive classroom instruction that emphasizes role modelling and role playing, as well as providing opportunities for students to give back to their communities through individualized mentorship and community volunteering, with the goals of strengthening positive relationships and developing trust among students, families and the community as a whole.

Further, with a high First Nations population in the schools involved, the steering committee and Safe and Caring have integrated culturally appropriate games and activities, in order to give students the chance to engage with their heritage while gaining confidence and learning valuable life skills.

These strategies, along with reaching out to and advocating with parents and family to reinforce the skills learned in the classroom, have helped bring these lessons outside the classroom and into students’ everyday lives.

Overall, the program has helped students develop an awareness and common language for dealing with violence and empowered them to build healthy relationships for the rest of their lives. As one teacher commented: “The children are making use of strategies. Many of the students are using these skills in the hallways and on the playgrounds, and sharing that with other students … their parents, staff and each other.” ❚