Aug. 4, 2017

Poo'miikapii Program puts Indigenous knowledge at forefront of mental health treatment

Wellness program teaches service providers to deliver better health services to Indigenous peoples
Karlee Fellner is leading the Poo'miikapii Program that explores how counselling and health services could be made more effective for Indigenous communities.

Karlee Fellner is leading the Poo'miikapii Program.

Werklund School of Education

Indigenous ways of knowing, being and doing have not been at the forefront when supporting wellness needs for Indigenous communities. The Poo’miikapii Program seeks to change this by educating service providers, educators, health-care professionals, and other community members on how to provide better mental health services to Indigenous peoples. Karlee Fellner, an assistant professor in Indigenous Education Counselling Psychology in the Werklund School of Education at the University of Calgary is conducting research for the development, implementation and impact of the Poo’miikapii Program, the first of its kind.

Through Fellner’s academic career, she has become progressively more attuned to her Cree and Métis culture. “My personal journey of reconnecting with who I am as a Cree/Métis woman has been interconnected with my professional journey in Indigenous psychotherapy, mental health, education and research,” she says. Her career path has led her to interesting places, with projects like her current one on how counselling and health services could be made more effective for Indigenous communities.

Fellner is working with a group of Elders and knowledge holders deemed Eminent Scholars within the Kainai community, known as a Council of Aawaahskataiksi, on the Poo’miikapii Project, which focuses on local Blackfoot approaches to wellness. The Aawaahskataiksi are affiliated with Red Crow Community College and include Sophie Tail Feathers, Evelyn Striped Wolf, Andy Black Water, Bruce Wolf Child, Calvin Williams, and Pete Standing Alone. Betty Bastien and Roy Weasel Fat, president of Red Crow Community College, are also directly involved.

The Poo’miikapii Program is a four-course interdisciplinary Master of Education topic offered through the Werklund School of Education, and delivered on the land using traditional Blackfoot pedagogical practices of experiential learning, including oral knowledge sharing and cultural mentorship.

Community knowledge at the heart of researcher's work

In this and her other work, Fellner has made an emphasis on the community and community knowledges. She believes that to better serve Indigenous people, providers need education and training that centres local Indigenous ways of knowing, being and doing. The Poo'miikapii Program is unique in that it is based on-reserve, helping to implement purposeful and effective community-based wellness services, designed specifically for Indigenous peoples.

“Most mental health service providers do not receive education or training in how to serve Indigenous communities in ways that are most effective for the people in those communities,” she says. “The majority of practices implemented at this time are based in the system of knowledge that has led to many of the difficulties our people face in the first place.”

For those seeking to be allies and advocates for the Indigenous well-being, Fellner explains that the first step is to listen.

“I went into the community and asked about their traditional approaches to wellness, what has worked for their people for generations, rather than imposing any ideas that I had on how to approach wellness,” she says.

“For so long, we've had voices speaking over us, or telling us what is best for our communities. We need people who are listening to what we say we need, and speaking up with us to advocate for real, meaningful changes.” 

The support and development of community-based infrastructure and programs like the Poo'miikapii Program is an example of exactly that. The inaugural offering of the program is taking place over the Summer 2017 term, and includes both online and face-to-face courses on the Kainai reserve and at Red Crow Community College. Courses will also take place in the fall and winter semesters.

Read more about the Poo’miikapii Program, how to register and course schedules (expand the Program Schedule and Course Description section).