Ask Auntie is an online digital platform that’s hoping to restore what once was lost to many Indigenous communities: traditional teaching. The website is described as an online wellness journey, where girls will learn about a “holistic, Indigenous understanding of health and their bodies, connection and relationships, culture and the history of colonization, and what it means to be a strong Indigenous girl.”
Merging the digital with the traditional, Ask Auntie replicates the learning relationship between youth and their Aunties and Elders. Amazing women from around British Columbia and Canada share their wisdom and experience with youth through online video clips and interactive modules.
“It’s an online interactive program that’s framed as a quest,” said Gabriella Emery, Project Manager for Indigenous Health at the Provincial Health Services Authority (PHSA) in British Columbia.
The program came out of an existing initiative called Cuystwi, which targeted First Nations youth in British Columbia. In communication with communities in northern British Columbia, it became apparent that there was a desire and a need for a program specifically targeted to girls and youth who are often left out of “traditional” youth programs in community centres.
The program came out of a provincial mandate for suicide prevention in Indigenous communities. At PHSA, they decided to enact preventive measures instead of reactive ones.
“We wanted to start younger, hopefully get them before suicide was on the table,” Emery said. “That being said, people are using it outside that age range,” she added.
The Ask Auntie journey is grounded in themes of identity, culture and connection, relationships and safety, body knowledge and body transitions, and wellness and healing. By combining an online component with the support of community facilitators, Ask Auntie supplements existing community programming with content that is culturally safe and free of charge.
“This is meant to be a starting point to have discussions around these topic areas, and then the community bring in their own teachings and their knowledge from that area to make it specific to them,” Emery noted.
Ask Auntie has currently partnered with three communities: Old Massett/Masset, T’it’q’et Administration and Kwakiutl Health Administration. But they hope to partner with many more soon, and have the finished curriculum available to the public in the fall of 2016.
While the program is still in its early stages, Emery hopes it will start to rebuild community identity and make youth proud to be Indigenous.
“The biggest takeaway the kids are learning [from the first round of piloting] is our history as Indigenous people, because it’s not really taught in school. It’s given them insight why their communities might be a certain way or have certain challenges,” Emery said.