Fostering Healthy Lifestyles in the Next Generation

Dustin Brass

Dustin Brass is an advocate for the inclusion of Indigenous worldviews in both his professional and personal lives.

Dustin works as a community field worker with a health research project that tries to prevent suicide. It uses the arts to gather stories about participants and help them develop coping strategies.

But he didn’t always know his career would lead him here. Growing up on the Key First Nation, Dustin learned the importance of understanding other people’s “ways of knowing and being.”

As a young man choosing a career, it was his cousin who helped him decide between being a veterinarian and a teacher when he said, “You won’t be helping our people if you become a vet.”

So Dustin enrolled at the First Nations University of Canada where his Indigenous values were reinforced.

He still remembers the day he did his entry interview. Dustin found the formal university setting made him nervous, until he saw an old lady who reminded him of his own grandmother.

Over the years, Kokum Bea, as the University Elder Beatrice Lavallee was commonly known, became family to him.

The presence of Elders is part of the school’s embedded Indigenous identity, which also includes intimate classroom settings, a tipi camp, traditional ceremonies, and community events.

He says another Elder, Tony Cote, told him that FNUniv was created as, “a space where we could maintain who we are.”

These days, Dustin visits schools within the File Hills Qu’Appelle Tribal Council (FHQTC) where he facilitates arts programs for children, youth, teachers, other staff members, and even the tribal council members.

Dustin prefers to say he facilitates rather than teaches, because he says teaching refers to an authoritative action whereas facilitating allows everyone to be both the learner and the teacher.

Dustin says he has learned a great deal.  For instance, after participating in the visual art program, a suicidal youth came up to him and said, “I used to see the world in darkness, now I see it in colour.” That was a great moment for Dustin.

“Indigenous Education fosters a person’s unique skills, giftings, and an identity that seeks wholeness in the four domains; mental, emotional, physical and spiritual,” says Dustin.

In addition to working with the Indigenous Peoples’ Health Research Centre, Brass teaches Indigenous Education at First Nations University of Canada.