Horse as Healer: An Examination of Equine Assisted Learning in the Healing of First Nations Youth from Solvent Abuse





Canada is an international leader in providing residential treatment to First Nations youth who abuse solvents. The residential centres are linked through the national Youth Solvent Addiction Committee (YSAC), which provides theoretical direction for the treatment provided at the centres. In this article, we discuss YSAC’s culture-based model of resiliency, and illustrate it through the offering of Equine Assisted Learning (EAL) at one of the residential centres — the White Buffalo Youth Inhalant Treatment Centre. YSAC has expanded the Western concept of resiliency, which focuses on the individual, to include both the individual and community. A Western worldview associates several resiliency dynamics with an individual, including insight (which is internal) and external relationships; whereas from a First Nations worldview, YSAC identifies an individual at the same time being their inner spirit (internal) and relations with their collective community. White Buffalo’s application of a culture-based model of resiliency is illustrated from the intersecting perspectives of its program, the Cartier Equine Learning Centre’s EAL program, and Elders’ stories. We also highlight through the EAL example how YSAC’s culture-based model of resiliency and a Western health promotion approach are complementary. There is much to be learned from YSAC’s holistic approach to treatment and healing for both First Nations and Western health promotion responses to substance abuse. A limitation of this article is that we discuss the theoretical intersections between a culture-based model of resiliency, EAL, and health promotion, but do not test them empirically. We conclude the article with five key research suggestions as next steps to further our understanding of EAL, and with a specific emphasis on how it relates to First Nations community health.

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