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An Interview with Catherine Broomfield (Part Two)


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2018/11/08


Catherine Broomfield is the Executive Director of iHuman Youth Society. She discusses: the narratives of iHuman; belief systems and ways of life; initiatives for 2018/19; ways to become involved; and other organizations.

Keywords: Catherine Broomfield, Executive Director, iHuman Youth Society, Indigenous, youth.

An Interview with Catherine Broomfield: Executive Director, iHuman Youth Society (Part Two)[1],[2]

*Please see the footnotes, bibliography, and citation style listing after the interview.*

1. Scott Douglas Jacobsen: Before I touch on the topic of belonging, I have observed something in life. People who have the self-worth void. That perpetual feeling of lack. One group will go into the path of not really knowing what to do with themselves and their negative feelings.

Another group become super high achievers. But they hit a wall. Because this stops working in terms of dealing with the fundamental emotional and self-esteem issues that they might be harbouring. It is a reaction as a driver, but an unhealthy driver.

Does that path come forward in narratives through iHuman or elsewhere?

Broomfield: Honestly, I can only speak to observing the youth here, not those who do not come here. There is an observation that some people are able to use their early life as a motivator. Yet, that still has its limits. I think that’s true.

There are so many barriers, deficits, and challenges that the young people at iHuman come to us with; that’s why they come to iHuman is actually the belonging, which is expressed by their peers, and out in the community.

It is our street credibility. It is the word of mouth to say, “Hey, come here. I found a place where it is safe. People know my name. They know what I’m up to. Let me introduce you to iHuman.” Maybe, the belonging is the first route to being at iHuman and to us being given the gift of trust by the youth.

Trust is so invaluable.  It is risky to be at an organization, to share your story, acknowledge that you need help.  At iHuman, they recognize peers’ similarities in the traumas that they’ve faced. Also, their experience of being somewhere safe is in some ways unnerving.

iHuman is an experience in belonging. It is a gateway in. We have a guiding principle: we are relational. The relationship with the youth is the driver of the organization. It is not something that we compromise on. Therefore, we do things differently.

We look to the youth to tell us, “How would you solve the problem? How would you do it?” We build what they want us to build. For example, the way in which a meeting, sharing your story can feel safe and so on.

2. Jacobsen: Youth live in a context with parents and grandparents with trauma. That trauma coming from formal institutions within a nation. Those, basically, get passed on as avoidance stories, “Do not get involved in that institution. Distrust it.”

You mentioned earlier on the Residential schools as well as the ‘60s scoop. With regards to the Residential school system, it is 150,000 kids for over a century. It was both the mandate of the Government of Canada and the Christian religious sects in the country.

I know there’s an admixture now. Because I note that there are Indigenous spiritual beliefs around Creator and creation. There are also Indigenous Christian beliefs. It is a new phenomenon. But it is a certain form of reconciliation.

There are new Native American and Indigenous theologians cropping up, who work to reconcile the Indigenous spiritual beliefs and their Christianity. There are others who reject the Indigenous spiritual beliefs and something enforced through family lineage with Christian belief heritage.

So, youth, not necessarily a belief in a Creator or not – Indigenous or Christian – but a kind of cultural milieu that comes with both, coming in without a belief in either of those.

Do you try to bring back some of those beliefs or work with the youth where they’re at? They don’t want that belief system in their manner of being, in their way of life, moving into the future.

Broomfield: We work from a place of where those youths are at. Not only in the spiritual sense but holistically, “Where are they at emotionally? Where are they at intellectually? Where are they socially?” We are providing a space for that exploration, those realizations, or expressions of needs to be shared.

From that, we are individualizing an approach for the young person, which may include our creative studios and spaces that we have. It would be both from an art as therapy approach or art as an expression for creativity.

It could also be that the young person is interested in our caring services, which would be more focus on the basic needs, e.g., mental health working in partnership with the local health unit that comes and works with the social workers.

Or the other way we weave all this together is through the authenticity pillar of our portfolio. We, as we say, “Keep it real.” It could be from a cultural safety perspective. We are offering to the young person an opening to reconnect and re-identify with their culture.

However, [Indigenous cultural opportunities] is not something that we actively offer because we are a non-Indigenous organization working primarily with Indigenious young people.  We invite exploration through role-modelling. It is through the youth who will identify, acknowledge, or ask questions to be able to learn and to understand, to talk things through.

Because you’re right.

There could be a mix of shame, guilt, resentment, exclusion. There are many layers there. It, certainly, isn’t something that can be generalized. That every person comes to that question in a different way. They will seek out the answers in a different way.

We are here to encourage or support or provide something if we can; if not, then that’s the need for a provision of a referral in order to help this young person find answers.

3. Jacobsen: Moving into 2018/19, what are some of the initiatives that you’re hoping to build on or found for iHuman?

Broomfield: We have recently gone through a weeklong closure at iHuman. The youth acknowledged that we need some training. We spent some time looking at the values and principles. We have not examined them, since 23/24 years ago. We wanted to examine them.

Do these still fit for us? We have trained around attachment theory and how this may manifest in behaviours that we see in youth, and in us as staff because we’re are fallible humans too. We have trigger points and so on.

How can we recognize when we cross that boundary of being here as an advocate to a young person versus satisfying our own ego or some other need?

It has to be about what we do for the kids and what they need. One of the things that we are looking to continue out of the week is implementing a review of our entire programming structure using social design and how the outcomes we’re after can be implemented in the best possible way in order to get to those outcomes.

Something that we also learned and are exploring is Principles Focused Evaluation. How can we use the principles of the organization to evaluate the quality of the impact on young people and to share the story? For the next few years, we will look under the rocks of what we do: is it useful? Does it honour the youth and our principles?

It is to evaluate ourselves and make ourselves efficient. It is to get some funders and resource streams to see what we do here is unique and provides for young people who come here. To understand the value and appreciate how transformative it is that these young people attain goals that they have.

That is the aim of us being here. Society has already invested millions of dollars in each of these children/youth: education, the court system, police, and so on. All these institutional structures are pouring money. But that is a model about the negative and the punitive approach.

We are a strengths-based approach. What are the gifts this person has, if they can see it, they can go back to the sense of purpose and worth? They make the journey with self-affirmation rather than some outside source saying, “You’re only good enough for this.” ‘This’ being jail, incarceration of some other kind, wandering the streets homeless or dead.

There is so much that these young people have to share if given the opportunity. They can turn down a different path and then have a different outcome. They are contributing to reconciliation in a lived way. They can have healthy families with their kids and break the cycle.

The violence and intimate partner violence and these things; it starts with giving young people a platform where they can work on some things while having role models.

4. Jacobsen: What are some ways to be involved with iHuman?

Broomfield: We have opportunities for volunteers, champions out in the community. We are selective. Because we want to make sure safe people come here, for the volunteers and the youth. We have board positions available, staff positions available, and so on.

We need to be sure people connected to iHuman know where these young people are coming from. What brought them to this situation? There are structures and institutions in society that have helped create this situation. So, it is understanding that.

It is being aware, fundamentally, that there are things wrong in society and communities. People informing themselves about our national history around the genocide of the Indigenous people. Our failure in honouring the treaties that were signed. It is educating yourself about that.

That is a start. If you know, it will be less likely to happen again. That, in itself, will be positive.

5. Jacobsen: Any other organizations? Also, any books or authors who write on this topic for a lay public in a clear, concise but educated way?

Broomfield: Any organization that is doing good work. That fits with your values; you can align with them. That is a good use of anyone’s time to support in the community. In terms of writers and researchers, I think there are a number of Indigenous writers, who we can look to and their stories and narratives.

Richard Wagamese is an author I’d recommend especially the book “One Story. One Song”.  “Speaking my Truth: Reflections on Reconciliation & Residential School” is a collection of stories well worth reading.

Also, there are a couple of textbooks that touch on relevant aspects to iHuman’s work.  A text was written by a colleague, Peter Smyth “Working with High-Risk Youth: A Relationship-based Practice Framework”.

While I don’t like or use the term “high-risk youth” because it isn’t the youth that is high-risk it’s their behaviours, their choices, their associates and networks; the book is descriptive of this demographic or this population.

Peter has worked within the sector for many years – he knows what he’s talking about. The book is trauma-informed and strengths-based.  Another is “Learning Social Literacy” by Joyce Bellous & Jean Clinton.

Anything by Brené Brown – I especially like “Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead”.

6. Jacobsen: Thank you very much for your time, Catherine.

Broomfield: Thank you, Scott. I appreciate our conversation. Usually, it is not the case where you get reciprocal conversation. I appreciate that. Thank you, too.

Appendix I: Footnotes

[1] Executive Director, iHuman Youth Society.

[2] Individual Publication Date: November 8, 2018:; Full Issue Publication Date: January 1, 2019:


In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at


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