Michigan State University Extension is honored to be part of a seven-county effort in the eastern and central Upper Peninsula in partnership with the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians. The effort called STAY, which stands for Sault Tribe Alive Youth, is focused on bullying, substance abuse and suicide prevention among tribal youth and is funded through a grant from the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). MSUE staff members Janet Olsen, Karen Pace and Dionardo Pizaña were invited to share their expertise after several tribal members attended the “Mean Girls and Real Boys” bullying workshop in the Sault last spring and were impressed by MSUE’s approach to anti-bullying education and prevention.
A major goal of the STAY effort is to build community capacity among tribal members to address these issues. Dionardo, Janet and Karen, along with emotional wellness counselor, Lisa Davidson, worked closely with elders, youth and members of the Seven Feathers Partnership to co-create a seven-day train-the-trainer process for 34 youth and adults called “Building Circles of Support: Partnerships for Personal Healing, Cultural Pride and Positive Change.” Participants gathered for four days and three nights in Sault Ste. Marie in August and three days and two nights in October on Sugar Island.
The process was grounded in cultural empowerment – honoring and tapping the assets and strengths of the tribe – while participants explored ways to nurture their own and others’ social and emotional health. STAY participants engaged in talking circles, education and activities focused on tapping their own innate wisdom and health, addressing bullying and suicide and making connections to issues of race and other differences, identity development, bias and oppression. Elders and tribal leaders shared cultural teachings connected to the focus of the training, which added significant value to the experience throughout.
Results of outcome data show positive learning and action changes on 28 measures including understanding how stress and state of mind contribute to the participants’ own and others’ emotional health – and the importance of addressing bullying and bias at the personal, interpersonal, institutional and cultural levels. One hundred percent of participants surveyed said the process was very valuable (73 percent) or quite valuable (27 percent).
One participant said, “I feel empowered to make a difference” and another commented that “I feel that I am now able to cause positive change in my community and beyond.”
And STAY participants are doing just that – moving forward and integrating what they’ve learned in their work with native and non-native youth. For example, Joyce Belonga, MSU Extension educator Mackinac County, and Sue St. Onge, Sault Tribe, youth services coordinator, are working regularly in St. Ignace schools to address bullying issues.
Last week, Joyce shared the following: “Sue and I had a review meeting yesterday with the classroom teachers and administrators regarding our work and they had rave reviews for our program! They have noticed behavioral changes in their students and the principal commented that our teaching has made his job easier due to students’ understanding the negative effects of their behavior.”
STAY participants are now working together to share what they’ve learned in a major way. They are planning two community-wide events in April – one in Marquette and one in the Sault – at which youth and adults from the eastern and central U.P. will engage in learning and activities focused on bullying, substance abuse and suicide prevention planned and led by the STAY group. All of the STAY participants received a comprehensive curriculum developed by MSUE to use as a tool for addressing these issues within their home communities.
As Karen, Joyce and Janet move ahead with their work with the Social and Emotional Health Work Team (part of the MSUE Health and Nutrition Institute), they’re excited about ways in which the STAY project partnership and process will inform their team’s work around healthy youth relationships and settings.
“We’ve been so pleased about the development of the ‘Building Circles of Support’ training and curriculum and the critical importance of seeking input, guidance and wisdom from STAY participants throughout this process,” said Janet Olsen. “We’re very interested in how we can apply this process of working within a rich community context and partnership to co-create other learning experiences and materials connected to the well-being of Michigan’s children, youth and families.”