Introduction: Aboriginal people in Canada (First Nations, Inuit and Métis) have a lower health status compared to the Canadian population. There is a particular concern about the mental health and wellbeing of First Nations adolescents living on reserves. Interventions following principles of outdoor education and adventure therapy appear to be an appropriate fit for this population. These approaches have proven effective in non-Aboriginal populations, yet there is very little evidence on the efficacy of these types of program for Aboriginal adolescents. The primary purpose of this study was to evaluate the impact of an outdoor adventure leadership experience (OALE) on the resilience and wellbeing of First Nations adolescents from one reserve community. The secondary purposes were to explore whether this impact was sustainable, and whether there were any intervening factors that may have influenced the impact.
Methods: The collaborative research team used a mixed-method design to evaluate the 10-day OALE for adolescents from Wikwemikong Unceded Indian Reserve in northern Ontario, Canada. The main outcome assessed was resilience, measured by self-report, using the 14-Item Resilience Scale (RS-14). Several other exploratory measures assessed other aspects of health and well-being. The questionnaire package was administered at three different time periods: (T1) one day before the OALE; (T2) one month after the OALE; and (T3) one year after the OALE. The Mental Component Score (MCS) of the SF-12v2 was used to confirm any changes in resilience. Open-ended questions were appended to the questionnaire at the 1-year point to identify any intervening factors that may have impacted any changes in resilience and wellbeing. The primary analysis compared mean RS-14 scores at T1 with those at T2. Responses to the open-ended questions were analyzed using content analysis.
Results: Over two summers (2009 and 2010), 73 youth 12-18 years of age from Wikwemikong participated in a standardized 10-day OALE program. This represented 15% of the on-reserve population of adolescents in this age range. Survey responses from 59 (80.8%) participants were available for analysis at T1, compared to 47 (64.4%) at T2 and 33 (45.2%) at T3. The mean RS-14 score was 73.65 at baseline, and this improved 3.40 points (<i>p</i>=0.011) between T1 and T2. However, the resilience scores at T3 (1 year post-OALE) had a mean of 74.19, indicating a return back to pre-OALE levels. The mean MCS score at T1 was 48.23 and it improved over the subsequent two time periods. Several intervening factors reported at T3 may have influenced the decrease in resilience scores from T2 to T3. These included changes in family living situation, death in the family, and other life stressors that occurred over the course of the year.
Conclusions: Outcome scores from this study provide a unique glimpse into the self-reported health and wellbeing for adolescents within one First Nations community in Canada. The OALE program was beneficial in promoting resilience for adolescents in Wikwemikong over the short-term. Future studies are necessary to assess whether the OALE (or similar outdoor type interventions) are effective within other communities.