Combating substance abuse

(Edmonton) A customized substance-abuse program developed by the Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation and the University of Alberta has now been permanently implemented in the community’s school, with the Aboriginal organization taking over funding for the initiative.

The program has been so successful that it was officially expanded into schools in Hobbema this fall as well.

Lola Baydala, an associate professor of pediatrics in the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry, and colleague Fay Fletcher, an associate professor in the Faculty of Extension, worked with people in the community to find a strong program that would meet their needs.

After the program, known as Nimi Icinohabi, was offered for three years, thanks to funding from various agencies, the Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation decided to permanently implement the program in their school curriculum this fall. The First Nation has taken over the funding and continuation of the program. And the program is now also being offered in Hobbema schools.

Several years ago, Baydala was working as a pediatrician in the local Alexis Nakota school, providing developmental and educational assessments of children in the community. Leaders and elders there noted they needed a substance abuse prevention program due to the high prevalence of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. They approached Baydala and the U of A to see if they could work together to develop an FASD prevention program, as part of an overall substance abuse prevention strategy for the community.

Baydala worked with colleagues at the university and decided to start her research with a literature review in an effort to find successful substance abuse prevention programs that had evidence to prove their effectiveness.

Baydala presented the program to community leaders and elders, who embraced the idea. Baydala and her colleagues received funding from various agencies throughout the life of the project—the Alberta Centre for Child, Family & Community Research, the Canadian Institutes for Health Research, and Alberta Health Services. The funding was used to culturally adapt the program, evaluate its effectiveness with First Nations children, deliver the program for a total of three years, and then expand the program to Hobbema schools.

The three-year program was delivered in elementary school, in Grades 3 to 5, and again in junior high in Grades 6 to 8. The program has four main components: Knowledge of substances and their harmful effects; substance abuse-resistance skills training, which teaches kids how to say no to drugs or alcohol; self-management, which teaches children how to deal with their anxiety and fear when saying no, and social skills that focus on how to make positive choices.

Sherry Letendre, Nimi Icinohabi facilitator and research assistant for the Nakota Heritage Project in the Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation education department, is confident the program will have a domino effect, where each new generation will teach their children the skills they’ve learned in this program, and teach them about their culture.

“The elders who supported this program valued the fact their Nakota way of being was incorporated into the program, because it is honouring who we are as a people,” says Letendre.