Our Approach


Our work is rooted in listening to the needs of each unique community, and working together to design solutions. We work in Treaties 6, 7 and 8. We partner directly with First Nations and Métis school communities in Alberta, as well as facilitate meetings, events and networks that allow communities to teach and learn from one another, sharing successes and tools across the province.

We know resilience starts with communities, and that communities know best what they need. Using creative techniques to amplify the voice of youth and creating opportunities for educators, Elders, parents, coaches and community members to develop their own strategies to enhance student success, we ensure a supportive partnership where each side teaches, learns and grows.


The backbone of our work is a Resilience-based approach to Comprehensive School Health: supporting the creation of positive structures around the individual, while simultaneously strengthening the individual themselves through Indigenous scholar Dr. Martin Brokenleg’s Circle of Courage. For more up-to-date information on the Circle of Courage, please visit Starr Commonwealth.

  • Independence: Through this work, we create opportunities for youth and families to gain control over their wellness: to learn about, cook and eat nutritious foods, to be physically active both in and out of the classroom, and to gain the tools needed to be active and well throughout their lives.
  • Belonging: We work to create inclusive spaces where all students are able to learn and develop themselves using their own skills and abilities, and where teachers can use their creative classroom to give students the individual and group attention they need to succeed. We know that staff also need space to prepare, recharge, reflect, and support each other, in a place that feels healthy and safe.
  • Generosity: School is a place to develop the whole person. Providing opportunities for students, staff, and community members to share knowledge and mentor one another creates protective factors against the impacts of intergenerational trauma, including high rates of suicide and addictions, and other mental health concerns. By creating spaces for individuals to share their knowledge and skills with others, this work builds resiliency across the entire community.
  • Mastery: School is a place where knowledge is shared and where students are prepared for the rest of their lives. We aim to give students and staff tools they need to be successful at school, to promote wellness in their own families, and to live healthy, disease-free lives.  Collaborating on novel teaching methods, designing culturally active curriculum, and bringing communities together to support one another all contribute to greater mastery.

While the Circle of Courage strengthens from the inside-out, the Comprehensive School Health approach builds positive structures around the individual, creating communities where staff and students thrive.

We work to create safe and caring environments by focusing on:

  • Social and Physical Environments: Designing physical spaces where staff and students can be active, learn in new ways, and feel comfortable, while also creating social settings where they feel safe and cared for.
  • Teaching and Learning: Highlighting and mentoring novel teaching practices, such as outdoor classrooms or teaching curriculum through movement, and creating opportunities for students to teach others and be active participants in their own learning.
  • Partnerships and Services: Bringing together people, organizations, and communities that are all working towards the same goal of school wellness, we provide space, facilitation, resources and support to promote positive connections.
  • Healthy School Policy: Creating systems change over the long term, supporting the creation or review of wellness supporting policies at the school, district, and provincial level.

Why is there a need to specifically support First Nations and Métis communities? Why not focus on supporting all schools in Alberta equally?

We support equity over equality. Equality means treating everyone the same, and therefore assumes that everyone needs the same thing, and is beginning from the same place. Equity means working to understand what people need based on the different historical and contemporary realities they experience, and providing relevant support guided by that understanding.

An example of this is a sprinting race around a track. Working from equality, everyone would start from the same line - on the surface, that seems fair. However, it ignores the fact that the outside lanes then have a longer distance to travel. It erases the inherent differences in experiences that the different runners will face, and automatically positions the outside runners at a disadvantage.

Instead, runners start from staggered lines, offsetting the natural imbalance created by the design of the track. This is an example of equity: acknowledging that there are multiple factors contributing to, or opposing, the success of a person or group, and changing the practice to reflect that.

Indigenous communities throughout Canada experience the lasting effects of colonization, with many oppressive structures, including Indian Residential Schools, enacted through the education system. This legacy includes a higher risk of diabetes, heart disease, malnutrition, obesity, and other health issues, as well as clear negative effects on suicide rates, graduation rates, and overall quality of life.

Our work acknowledges that these realities create barriers to success for communities. We also recognize that the rich culture and knowledge that helps communities endure these hardships can form the pathway to equity in the school system, and wellness for all students.