Introducing Natoo’si: On Intergenerational Trauma and Wellbeing

In 2009, the federal government declared June as Aboriginal Awareness Month across Canada and at United Way of Calgary and Area, we’re hosting a series of events to celebrate and raise awareness all month long.


It’s an exciting time for our organization! Our ten-year Aboriginal Youth and Education Strategy (AYES) may have wrapped up in late 2014 but we’re continuing the journey with our Indigenous Healing and Wellbeing Initiative. We are very honoured to be gifted the name Natoo’si for the new initiative by Elder Randy Bottle. The name is Blackfoot in origin and means the source or giver of all life.

Natoo’si has a holistic approach that helps to address the cause of many different but interconnected symptoms, including education, suicide, homelessness, addictions, domestic violence and parenting issues, amongst others. Each of these are possible signs of trauma, passed on from generation to generation. And, in the words of Casey Eaglespeaker, “success is living every day in well-being.” Natoo’si is helping to bring about that success for many in our Calgary communities.

Informed both by the work of AYES and wider developments across Canada, Natoo’si involves a significant shift of focus from increasing graduation rates of Calgary’s Indigenous youth to helping heal intergenerational trauma for youth and families in Calgary.

Over the course of AYES, it became clear that the issue of education was a symptom of something deeper. In 2007, AYES extended their support of students in high school to involve their parents. Although schools played a role, many of the barriers and challenges faced by students when trying to graduate stemmed from intergenerational trauma at home. Parents supported the idea of education but experienced barriers to supporting their children’s success at school – often because of their own trauma with residential schools. As a result of being removed from their parents and families, cultures, traditions and history to attend residential schools, many Indigenous children grew up to be parents who lacked parenting skills as well as sufficient education levels to do things like help their children with homework. Our research shows that a major predictor of academic success is the presence of a positive adult. Natoo’si focuses on giving families and support systems the tools needed to support youth.

A number of external and historical developments have supported and reaffirmed the importance of an initiative like Natoo’si. Prime Minister Harper’s apology on behalf of the Canadian government in 2008 was a significant development in acknowledging the existence of intergenerational trauma. The establishment of the Aboriginal Healing Foundation and the establishment and subsequent recent findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission also all point to the need to heal.

The strong focus of Natoo’si on healing intergenerational trauma is the evolution of our Indigenous work of many years, involving learning, research, and some exciting mixes of traditional and cutting edge preventative work. Stay tuned at the end of June for a second blog post on how Natoo’si is making a difference in Calgary communities!

In the meantime, read some highlights of the ten-year AYES initiative on Calgary Social Voice here and have a look at the report that celebrates the work of AYES here.