Wexler awarded NSF grant to study visual methods for engaging indigenous communities

December 31, 2012

Lisa Wexler, Assistant Professor of Community Health Education in the UMass Amherst School of Public Health and Health Sciences, has been awarded a grant of $149,595 from the National Science Foundation (NSF). The study, funded through NSF’s Early-Concept Grant for Exploratory Research (EAGER) program, will study “Using Visual Methods to Engage Indigenous Youth and Community Members in Cross-Site International Analysis.”

The study locations include five Indigenous communities in Siberia, northwest Alaska, southwest Alaska, Canada, and northern Norway. These areas share a similar history in the last 50 years of profound social change as the result of colonial government policies. Social problems resulting from these policies are prevalent throughout the communities, including one of the highest suicide rates in the world for youth.

Wexler and co-PIs Stacy Rasmus (University of Alaska-Fairbanks) and Olga Ulturgasheva (University of Cambridge), along with collaborators Jim Allen (University of Minnesota), Kristine Nystad (Sami University) and Michael Kral (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign), have begun the research process by co-facilitating meetings in each community where they have recruited two young people at each gathering to create a short film or photo montage about everyday life at home focused on the themes of schools, community, and hopes for the future. The completed 15-25 minute videos from each community were shared at the international Circumpolar Indigenous Pathways to Adulthood (CIPA) study workshop in October as a way to engage community members of all ages in a discussion about the challenges and stress that Indigenous youth face and the resources within their communities. The project was also the subject of a panel discussion on October 25 at the Inuit Studies Conference in Washington, DC.

Wexler and her team’s project is one of the first in the circumpolar region to use community-based, participatory research (CBPR) methods on an international level, and the visual process of producing community films has never been used there. Wexler predicts the project will advance the development of a new generation of Artic researchers by engaging the Indigenous youth in a documentary and contemplative examination of their own life experiences.

To learn more about Wexler’s project, please call (413-545- 248) or e-mail her (lwexler@schoolph.umass.edu).