Cross-Cultural Conflict in Social Service Provision With Indigenous Youth: A Case Study of Power Dynamics in a Circus Program for Inuit Youth
Method: A longitudinal, qualitative method was employed in order to access participants’ nuanced accounts. In-depth, semi-structured interviews were conducted over a period of 2 ½ years with four circus trainers, the Director of Cirque du Monde, and the Director of the Nunavik Recreation Department. Each was interviewed at least twice. Employing a modified grounded-theory approach, thematic analysis was conducted using NVivo and themes were analyzed in relation to historical data on settler-indigenous relations in that region. Research findings were presented to interviewees, who provided important feedback and revisions.
Results: Data analysis indicated that circus trainers identified the main challenges to the program to be: non-commitment from youth, frequent quitting among participants, infrequent attendance, and lack of adult volunteerism. Analysis suggested that trainers’ narratives about these behaviours commonly focused on individual pathology, family problems, or substance abuse, and consequently that disciplining and modeling “healthy” community was viewed as a solution by trainers. However, when Inuit youths’ behaviours were put in conversation with both historic and contemporary colonial practices (e.g. residential schooling, outlawing of spiritual and artistic practices, etc.), our research suggested that these behaviours are better understood as micro-interactional efforts towards decolonization rather than deviant, unhealthy, or maladaptive. Our analysis indicated that the contrast between Western and Inuit conceptions of time, accountability, health, and community was not critically addressed in program design, and thus may not have met youths’ needs.
Conclusions: This study suggests that we need to develop and analyze social service programs for indigenous youth with attention to local and contextualized experiences of colonialism. Such a re-orientation requires that we re-frame participant behaviour in ways that are not only culturally-sensitive, but do justice to both colonial histories and power asymmetries within the program. This research indicates that we need to foster and respect resistance in response to social service programs with indigenous youth, which requires a re-thinking of how we conceptualize program success.