Engaging Urban Aboriginal Men
Men’s health is an issue for all communities, including the urban Aboriginal community. There is a significant gap in service delivery directed toward men and boys. White Buffalo has been working to not only include a gendered health approach to its programs but, also to raise awareness within the community and engage men in a positive way.
In 2017, the life expectancy is 79 for men in the general population & 64 for Aboriginal men. This age gap means that Aboriginal families have male role models, and the support they provide, leave their life almost a generation earlier than their Caucasian counterparts. This leaves a significant gap in teaching traditions & role expectations. This is compounded by the historic effects of colonialism, residential schools and the 60’s scoop that has separated children from adults for several generations.
When services are offered to men they are too often underutilized. One reason for this is that programs often don’t meet men where they are at, particularly from an image standpoint. Too often, the messaging we have to men is that the traits we socialize them to have, are the ones they need to ditch to become healthy.
We are taking a different approach to engaging men, by focusing on the positives. Aboriginal communities and the teaching of roles are as diverse as the land they inhabited immemorial. The role of warrior is one of the traditional roles often discussed, but so was that of fire keeper, provider and teacher. We want to promote a balanced role for men. Further, we want to engage in a way that is low barrier & positive. We promote the positive things men do through health promotion activities that help remind our community of the things we are appreciative of men for, like the commitment that comes with being a fire keeper.
Our experience is that communities do care about men’s health. Through partnerships and support with local government, private business, women’s groups, post-secondary institutions & individuals, White Buffalo has been able to engage men in novel health promotion ways.
Over the last 3 years, we have had Men’s Health week proclaimed, a DUDES Club group, Man of the Month award, Know Your Numbers campaigns and a city to city Movember challenge. This year we are asking local people to post a picture of a dad in their life on Facebook or Twitter with the hashtag #KamloopsDads. So, while our programs continue to work with men on a one to one and group basis we are also raising awareness in the community about the good things men are doing and highlighting the positive characteristics they bring. Because drumming on the positive is more engaging than harping on the negative.
Jeff Conners, MSW RSW is a board member for White Buffalo Aboriginal Health Society in Kamloops BC. He can be contacted through whitebuffalosociety.ca, firstname.lastname@example.org or at 250.819.0316.