by Andrea V. Breen, Ethan Tassiuk, Jamie Bell
Originally presented at Pathways to Resilience IV in Cape Town, South Africa, 2017

We have reflected a lot on what resilience means for youth in the Indigenous communities we’ve worked with. Andrea teaches a course on Youth, Risk and Resilience at the University of Guelph and we began preparing this paper for the Pathways to Resilience conference while she was teaching that course.

We draw on Masten’s (2001; 2015) notion of resilience as “ordinary magic”, something that exists in all of us and in the natural world. Resilience does not mean being impervious to harm or unaffected by terrible events; it means being able to overcome challenges and traumas; to survive and sometimes even thrive in the face of life’s challenges. Resilience is a process; some people work their entire lives to overcome terrible events and to (re)create healthy lives for themselves in which they can function well.

Resilience lies in the striving; in our efforts to overcome, to get back on track, and/or find new ways to thrive. There are multiple pathways to resilience and our strength and resilience can fluctuate across our life, with development, experience and changes in the relationships that help us cope and thrive (Masten, 2012). Some days we may feel more resilient than others.

Sometimes experiences can leave us feeling shattered while at other times in our lives we can feel stronger in our abilities to survive and thrive.

We also draw on Ungar’s (2008) notion of resilience as being something that extends beyond the individual to the collective; Individual resilience depends on the ability of a society to provide the resources that one needs to overcome challenges and thrive. In the context of Arviat the collective nature of resilience is especially salient; Processes of resilience occur in the context of families and communities. Resilience is not just supported by families and communities; it is a collective process; establishing a life where one is able to thrive is inextricably bound to the ability of families and communities to also be resilient.

The education opportunities we envision are ones that contribute to hope. As we elaborate below, master narratives around northern and Indigenous youth and communities focus on despair, damage and hopelessness.

There is a great deal of focus on trauma, including historical traumas and current traumas such as suicide and too often Indigenous youth are asked by outsiders including researchers and the media to recount their pain. Research on narrative identity suggests that we develop our sense of self through interaction with stories in our narrative ecology (Breen, McLean, Cairney & McAdams, 2016; Mclean & Breen, 2015; Myrie and Breen, in prep).

We look to stories in our families, communities and the media to inform our understanding of who we are and what is possible for us. Storytellling is especially important to Indigenist cultures; As Vizenor suggests, storytelling is an act of “survivance” : “more than survival, more than endurance or mere response; the stories of survivance are an active presence”. (Vizenor, in Taunton, 2010, p.54). Storytelling has always been a tool for resilience; Youth, families and communities need stories that guide, inspire and create real possibilities for hope.

Kids thrive when their families are also able to overcome challenges and thrive. In this context resilience assumes a long view; overcoming challenges and leading a “good life” is a challenge that is shaped and constrained by history. Resilience, in Inuit and many other Indigenous communities, requires creating a future where the traumas of colonialism are indeed in the past and entire families and communities are able to thrive.

This idea is suggested in other cultures as well; for example, the South African concept of “Ubuntu”, I am because you are, is suggestive of this. In our thinking this extends to the idea that “I am resilient because you are resilient”.

Our resilience is interconnected.