How Indigenous Elder-Youth Relationships Influence Health and Well-Being

Intergenerational relationships play an integral role in maintaining cultural continuity through the process of storytelling and knowledge transmission. These processes also have positive implications for the health and well-being of Indigenous elders by promoting social inclusion, identity and belonging, empowerment, cognitive functioning, and self-rated health.

McMaster Researcher


Gabel, C., Pace, J., & Ryan, C. (2016). Using Photovoice to Understand Intergenerational Influences on Health and Well-Being in a Southern Labrador Inuit Community. International Journal of Indigenous Health11(1), 75–91.

Funded by


NunatuKavut Community Council (NCC), The St. Lewis Labrador community

What is this research about?

This research explores relationships between Indigenous elders and youth in St. Lewis, Labrador, to better understand how such relationships impact the health and well-being of both groups.

What did the researchers do?

Researchers relied on a community-based participatory research approach to blend Indigenous knowledge and academic practices, and establish mutual trust between the community and researchers. Extending these efforts, researchers provided 10 participants (5 youth, 5 elders) with cameras to record their lived experience using pictures, a method called ‘photovoice’. To better understand the content of these photographs, participants were interviewed using questions based on a “SHOWED” approach: 

  • What do you SEE here? 
  • What is really HAPPENING here? 
  • How does this relate to OUR life? 
  • WHY does this exist in your community? 
  • Who could the image EDUCATE? 
  • What can we DO about it? 

 Interviews were followed by a potluck meal where participants were encouraged to share stories, view each other’s photos, and reflect on shared experiences.

What did the researchers find?

Strong relationships exist between elders and youth in St. Lewis, and these relationships appear to contribute positively to the health and well-being of both the community and its individual elders. Researchers identified three major themes - family, teaching, and tradition: 

  • Family: Family relationships were particularly important, especially those formed between elders and youth, and across multiple generations.  
  • Teaching: Elders expressed the importance of being able to maintain the traditional role of passing knowledge to youth, both at the individual level and within the community through presentations and demonstrations. Elders also appreciated a reciprocal relationship with youth, who would teach them about technology and other modern ways of life.  
  • Tradition: Closely related to the importance of teaching and storytelling, elders wanted to maintain the value of their heritage and traditions through these methods. These include traditional skills and activities, as well as the knowledge of and appreciation for their community and natural environment. 

 Each of these areas supports the health and well-being of elders by encouraging engagement in activities which reduce social isolation while promoting identity and belonging, empowerment, cognitive functioning, and self-rated health.

How can you use this research?

Other indigenous communities can use this research to develop targeted social programs that  promote youth-elder interactions. Further, given the health outcomes of these strategies this research can also aid in the development of programs in non-indienous communities for seniors who experience similar issues, such as social isolation.

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Research Impacts

Photo Exhibit in St. Lewis

September 7, 2016

A photo exhibit in St. Lewis has been organized as a way to share the results and reflections with a larger audience.

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