Community of La Loche and Sask Polytech celebrate collaborative initiative to create culturally responsive wellness tools using virtual reality

Image credit: Saskatchewan Polytechnic
Image credit: Saskatchewan Polytechnic

Celebration included a local community event and video unveiling

December 2, 2022 – Yesterday the community of La Loche held an event with Saskatchewan Polytechnic to celebrate achievements to date on their collaborative Virtual Reality (VR) wellness initiative.

Held at the local Dene High School in La Loche, the event was an opportunity for researchers to unveil to the community a promotional video created by the Sask Polytech applied research team and La Loche youth. For many of the youth research participants it was the first time they were able to share what they have been working on with their families in a tangible way.

The applied research partnership, which began in 2020, focusses on addressing disparities in mental health care access and supports experienced by Indigenous youth—a group with a suicide rate of five to six times higher than non-Indigenous youth in Canada. Recognizing that the current approach to providing mental health care is not adequate, the applied research team is working closely with the community to explore innovative new ways to support Indigenous youth wellness. The project is currently in its first phase—gathering data and creating community partnerships.

The project focusses on the pillars of safety, identity and belonging and has the ultimate goal of creating a VR platform to enhance the well-being of Indigenous youth living in rural, remote and northern communities. VR technology holds the potential to expand the tools available, reduce the sense of stigma and meet the needs of Indigenous youth in a culturally responsive way.

La Loche youth, who brought forward the idea of using VR for metal wellness, have been integral to the collaboration so far. Research lead, Lindsey Boechler, has been working with them to gather data and begin creating resources.

“The students in this promo video are our project’s on-the-ground innovators,” says Boechler. “They should be proud of what we have accomplished together so far. We are excited to share our vision of what this initiative could be with further development.”

Further funding is needed to continue the project into its proposed second and third years. In these next phases, Sask Polytech will work towards building the secure VR platform and will continue forming and fostering community partnerships and building local capacity surrounding the use and development of VR technology.

“This event was a celebration,” says Alvera Hatch, wellness coordinator at Dene High School. “We came together to feast, enjoy entertainment from local jiggers and share what our youth have been collaborating on with Sask Polytech.”

“We are honoured to be a part of this community applied research partnership,” says Dr. Madeline Press, director of the Centre for Health Research, Innovation and Scholarship (CHRIS) at Sask Polytech, “and pleased to be celebrating milestone research successes like this with the community.”

Sask Polytech’s CHRIS supports faculty in the School of Health Sciences and School of Nursing in achieving their scholarly development goals and aspirations. Through CHRIS faculty can access support for publication and presenting, grant and funding applications, and request in-service sessions on a variety of scholarly topics.

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Saskatchewan Polytechnic is signatory to the SDG Accord. Sustainable Development Goal alignment is one of the ways Sask Polytech is leading the rise of polytechnic education.