It was an incredible experience to be among 200 providers, researchers, administrators and community members who gathered at Trent University on May 21-22 for the national Inviting Resilience Conference hosted by The Mane Intent, Kawartha Sexual Assault Centre and Trent University. The conference aimed to build community capacity for resilience against the pervasive effects of violence and interpersonal trauma. The conference advisory committee included members from the First Peoples House of Learning, Peterborough Police Services and Peterborough Public Health.
“We know that one in three women and one in six men will experience a form of physical or sexual violence in their lifetimes. These rates are even higher for Indigenous peoples and individuals who identify with the LGBTQ+ spectrum. This conference is part of an ongoing multi-sectoral effort to invite resilience in our communities, families, minds and bodies, to help us heal from past trauma and prevent future violence,” says Lisa Clarke, Executive Director, Kawartha Sexual Assault Centre.
Dr. Kateryna Keefer, Conference Chair and Senior Lecturer in Psychology at Trent University opened the conference with a keynote plenary titled Resourceful Communities, Resilience Youth, in which she emphasized the role of social and community supports in promoting resilience.
“A common misconception people have about resilience is that it’s a quality that resides solely within the individual; you either have what it takes — like high self-esteem or good coping and social skills — or you don’t. But what can through loud and clear at this conference, and what research on resilience shows, is that personal resilience is enabled by the social, physical, and natural environments we are embedded in,” explains Dr. Keefer.
“If we want young people to be able to bounce back from life’s adversities, we as a society, as a community, as a family, as nurturing adults need to create conditions that promote their sense of identity and belonging, and that provide opportunities to develop and maintain all those qualities that make one resilient,” adds Dr. Keefer.
A similar message was delivered by the other keynote speakers. Dr. Sandrina de Finney, Associate Professor in the School of Child and Youth Care at University of Victoria, gave a moving and powerful plenary titled Indigenous Resurgence as Resilience: Promising Pathways for Resilience and Healing in Indigenous Contexts. Dr. de Finney used embodied action, imagery, and research to illustrate how colonial systems have perpetuated trauma in Indigenous communities, and how the issues of resilience and reconciliation can be reconsidered through Indigenous lens, located in relationship with ancestors, lands, kinship, and self-determination.
Dr. Michael Ungar, Professor of Social Work and Canada Research Chair in Child, Family and Community Resilience at Dalhousie University, gave an engaging and story-filled plenary titled Nurturing Community Resilience: Strategies to Build Social Cohesion and Community Engagement, in which he provided examples of collective resilience efforts from his work with communities in Canada and around the world challenged by conflict, violence, and economic marginalization.
The two-day conference included presentations, experiential activities, and poster displays on topics such as promoting resilience among victims of intimate partner violence and childhood abuse; transforming care in pregnancy and Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome; neuroscience of stress and resilience; suicide prevention among First Nations youth; responding to disclosures of sexual violence on campus; addressing partner violence in trans communities; promoting resilience of parents and caregivers; reducing childhood anxiety; teaching emotional competencies; as well as innovative trauma-informed programs involving theatrics, art, hip hop dance, yoga, nature walks, Nato’ we ho win (the Art of Self-Healing), and animal-human bond.
Among the many programs featured at the conference was our community-based offering called Building Internal Resilience through Horses, our partner project with Kawartha Sexual Assault Centre and Dr. Keefer’s research team from Trent University including Master’s student Roya Ghahremani and recent Alumna Nicole Oattes. The program is open to young women ages 13 – 18 who have experienced interpersonal trauma. Over 8 weekly sessions, participants engage in a variety of ground-based equine-assisted learning activities designed to strengthen resiliency skills.
Our program focuses on a number of themes: emotion regulation, boundaries, relationships, confidence and leadership. The connection between horse and human is built on trust and authenticity. Horses are highly attuned to the body language and emotions of those around them. They mirror our anxiety and our calmness back at us. It is very rewarding to witness the self-discovery participants experience as part of this program.
Both the Inviting Resilience Conference and Building Internal Resilience Through Horses are supported by a 5-year contribution fund received by Kawartha Sexual Assault Centre in 2016 as part of the Public Health Agency of Canada Innovation Strategy Supporting the Health of Victims of Domestic Violence and Child Abuse Through Community Programs.
The conference concluded with a community dialogue facilitated by Dr. Rosana Salvaterra, Medical Officer of Health at Peterborough Public Health, which identified key areas for future community action in building a more resilient Peterborough and area.
We are grateful for the additional sponsorship funds received by Trent University Vice-President Research and Innovation Strategic Initiatives Fund, Peterborough Police Service, Trent Central Student Association, Nexicom, Stewart Morrison Insurance, Royal LePage Parkway Realty, and other local sponsors.