Our stories and songs are powerful teaching tools to promote healing and wellness in our Native communities and for our youth. The Ogitchidag Gikinooamaagad Peer Education is a youth development program for American Indian teens ages 12 to 18 that teaches youth about preventing pregnancies during adolescence and sexually transmitted diseases. A variety of activities are used to teach these skills, including: visualizations, art, discussion, role-plays, videos, brainstorming, talking circles, and ceremonies. Every unit is active, thought-provoking, culturally grounded, and includes examples, history, statistics, and experiences are woven into play in each of the units.
No formal training is needed to implement the Ogitchidag Gikinooamaagad Peer Education guide.
The content for the teaching material in this curriculum comes from direct experience developing and implementing the Ogitchidag Gikinooamaagad education program over the past 20+ years. We continuously review current literature about youth development and peer education and incorporate strategies that prove most effective along with our own thoughts, knowledge, and experiences working with adolescents. We learned the basics of acting with our first group of Ogitchidag Players through an intensive on-site workshop with Spider Woman Theater from New York City, a reputable native acting ensemble with many years of experience. We continue to learn from Pangea, Illusion, and various Indigenous directors.
The first six adolescents we recruited were our friends’ children, and nieces and nephews. We began simultaneously teaching them information about HIV/AIDS and the basics of acting. We started working intensively, every day for two weeks with the actors and peer educators, and then after the two weeks, it was reduced to weekly sessions. As issues came up, we dealt with them in the best way we knew how. AIDS-phobia and homophobia were issues that came up immediately and so we brought in speakers, including people living with HIV/AIDS to share their experiences with the youth. We used street outreach workers, spiritual teachers, and people living with HIV/AIDS as well as our own staff to provide the human element to broach these difficult issues. It became clear immediately that we needed to deal with issues around death and dying, domestic abuse and love, in order to achieve the kind of emotional investment we needed from the actors and peer educators.
During the past 26 years, we have trained approximately 1,000 young people as Ogitchidag Peer Educators. In 2010, we moved to film work and held two statewide film festivals. In 2012, we resumed theater as the Ikidowin Youth Theater ensemble. The younger sibling of some of our older actors who are now teachers, bankers, college and high school graduates often join the program. It is through this experience that we have developed the curriculum to assist other organizations in providing prevention and intervention services to adolescents. Our primary intervention group is the Ogitchidag Players/Ikidowin. The secondary group is the adolescents with whom we have limited contact through peer education sessions. Our third intervention group is the audience members who view our plays and participate in discussion groups.
It is important to create a safe environment for adolescents. Trust is a major issue and needs to be addressed continuously. Cultural identity also needs to be continuously reinforced. Indigenous adolescents live in a racist and sexist society and face challenges that threaten their self-esteem daily. Positive images and behaviors that are culturally grounded need to be presented to them. One way of incorporating positive cultural messages to our children is to learn the traditional and contemporary tribal practices. The incorporation of singing and dancing into theater pieces is one way to enhance tribal identities. Spiritual practices are another. There are many individuals who are willing to provide these kinds of teachings to adolescents.
The program is intended to have impacts at two different levels: 1) on the peer educators themselves, and 2) on the peers who receive the peer educators’ prevention messages. We expect the greatest program impacts to occur for the teens directly involved in the program.
ATTITUDES & SKILLS CONDUCIVE TO PREVENTION
At post-test, most youth (88%) expressed a belief that their body is a sacred gift from the Creator, increasing from 81% at pretest. This reflects the cultural teachings of the program, and how traditional cultural values and teachings are linked to behaviors.
There was a slight increase of youth who indicated that they had a clear idea of how far they would be willing to go in a situation where someone wanted to have sex with them (from 81% to 86%). Youth expressed the belief that they strongly agree that the decisions they make now will help determine whether they can achieve their goals in life (from 81%% to 100%).
The youth response to “How comfortable do you feel about being able to deal with people who are trying to get you to use drugs and alcohol?” was 56% at pretest (“fairly to very comfortable”) and at post was 81%— an increase of 25%. Eighty percent (80%) of youth reported “fairly to very comfortable” at pretest on the question “How comfortable would you feel saying no to someone if you were not ready or willing to have sex”, while at post-test, the number increased to 93%. The question “How comfortable would you feel talking about using condoms or other ways to have safe sex with someone”, reflected a 19% increase (“fairly to very comfortable”) from pretest to post-test (68% pre- to 87% post). The youth apparently gained a sense of comfort and confidence in discussing these important issues with other people.
Through the peer education model, teens learn that they can make a difference in their community, as the data below show. The percent who reported they feel a responsibility to their community increased from 10% at pretest to 62% at post-test. The percent of those who said they believe they can make a difference increased by 12% (from 10% at pre to 22% at post).
The Peer Educators also reported increased comfort talking about sexual health issues with others, and in dealing with peer pressure. Based on their responses, the peer educator training also helped increase the participants comfort talking with others about teen pregnancy, condoms, Native American culture – including talking with their family, friends, and people they do not know.