Toolkit on Effective Mentoring for Youth
Facing Barriers to Success

Best practices and resources to build, strengthen, evaluate and sustain effective mentoring programs for youth considered at high-risk of under education, unemployment, homelessness, criminalization, and other negative outcomes.

Indigenous Youth

Key Lessons

  • Mentoring for Indigenous youth should emphasize cultural appropriateness by:
    • Conducting a needs assessment to ensure the program design is a fit for the community;
    • Involving community members, including Elders and family members;
    • Establishing an advisory committee to oversee planning and program activities;
    • Providing cross-cultural training for staff and mentors; and
    • Supporting and encouraging mentors and mentees to participate in cultural activities.1, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 9, 10
  • Garnering community support for mentoring may be more difficult with Indigneous communities due to previous experiences of colonization and marginalization. Additionally, mentoring staff should work diligently to promote reciprocal relationships that breakdown any power imbalances.4, 5, 10
  • Mentors should receive training in community specific issues (e.g., intergenerational impacts of residential schools) so they can best support their mentees.2, 5, 9

“Grandmothers, Elders themselves, are teachers. They’re older, and they have more knowledge, and they’ve been through a lot more experiences and can teach younger ones — future generations.” (Big Brothers Big Sisters of Canada Youth In Care Focus Groups)

Existing Toolkits & Resources

Guidelines for mentoring with First Nation, Métis, and/or Inuit communities:

Engaging and empowering Aboriginal youth: A toolkit for service providers: and Empowering Aboriginal Youth – Toolkit for Service Providers_0.pdf

Effective Mentoring for Indigenous Youth


Standards & Good Practices

(linked to positive outcomes for participants)

Other Pertinent Info

(from other studies & reports)

Program Planning

Some tips for making programs more culturally appropriate for Indigenous youth:

  • Involve Indigenous community members (including Elders) in program planning, implementation, and evaluation.
  • Setup an advisory committee to oversee the program and ensure cultural appropriateness of program design and activities.
  • Conduct a needs assessment to ensure the program is a good fit for the community and if so, that it is designed with the community’s traditions, needs and interests in mind.
  • Provide cross-cultural training for staff and mentors facilitated by Elders.
  • Include group and one-on-one mentoring models.
  • Provide cultural teachings, such as using native languages and customs as part of the programs (e.g. sharing circles and the medicine wheel).
  • Involve family and extended family members.1, 4, 5, 7, 8, 9, 10

If implementing online mentoring for Indigenous youth, there are some factors which can help lead to success:

  • Open relationship founded on trust and respect.
  • Mentors and mentees connect regularly.
  • Responding to messages in a timely fashion.
  • Having face-to-face meetings where possible.6

When approaching community members and Elders, mentoring program staff should follow appropriate protocol. Programs should consider the following when partnering with Indigenous organizations/ communities:

  • Relationships take time to develop.
  • Acknowledge conflicting priorities.
  • Make partnerships a priority from beginning of process, e.g., using partners to support designing plan and program and then applying to funding.
  • Commit to overcoming challenges that may arise.
  • Be realistic about timelines and give partners plenty of time for reflection.
  • Select partners that have strong relationships in the community and needed expertise.
  • Make a conscious effort to include the voice of youth and women in your partnerships.
  • Ensure you have a basic understanding of political, cultural, and community issues.
  • Use varying forms of communication for different groups.
  • Clarify expectations of partner involvement.
  • Develop strategies for working with parents and guardians.4, 9

Engage with community throughout the program by:

  • Connecting with family members regularly;
  • Hosting open houses and community celebrations with food for families, Elders, and community members; and
  • Asking parents to observe/participate in activities.7, 8

Hire a person from Indigenous communities to coordinate the program. If not possible, hire a person who has worked with Indigenous communities and is respected by the community.7, 10

Mentoring programs should not operate as independent initiatives, but should be embedded within other programs and operate in conjunction with other community projects. Program leaders should be aware that if there are already programs that provide support and guidance to youth, an additional service (especially if facilitated by outside organizations) may be seen as unnecessary.3

Group mentoring may be more culturally appropriate than one-on-one mentoring.3, 8

Although, the term mentoring is not typically used in Indigenous communities, there is a cultural practice in many communities where older community members actively support younger members.4, 8

If programming will be based in schools, assess whether the Board and school community align with your organization’s values. See example in Engaging and Empowering Aboriginal Youth Toolkit.9

Youth in northern Canadian communities have limited access to formal mentoring programs, thus e-mentoring may be a promising model for this population as it reduces barriers related to distance between mentors and mentees. E-mentoring can also minimize power dynamics because visible marginalization cannot be seen. Due to the “irregular pace” of online mentoring, it has been found to be less effective that in-person mentoring.6

Indigenous communities may be more wary of mentoring programs due to previous experiences of colonization and marginalization at the hand of Eurocentric initiatives. Similarly, programs should be cautious of targeting specific communities for mentoring as this can lead to further stigmatization of a group.4, 10

For example of mentoring programs for Indigenous youth see Engaging and empowering Aboriginal youth.9

Refer to Handbook for Aboriginal Mentoring Checklist for Developing an Indigenous Mentoring Program.8


Program Implementation

Implementing programs for Indigenous youth requires particular attention to cultural needs and combatting marginalization. Staff should consider:

  • Implementing a wide range of activities;
  • Incorporating cultural wisdom to create a strengths-based and more holistic approach;
  • Using appropriate language. If you’re not sure about what terminology to use, ask participants and community partners for their preferences;
  • Acknowledging roots of particular cultural practices, especially when combining traditions; and
  • Establishing goals based on the interests and needs of the individual mentee as traditional mentoring is based on Western values, thus it is not always most appropriate for Indigenous youth and a more power-balanced model should be used.3, 5, 9, 10

Some suggest that informal/natural mentoring is the most successful mentoring model for Indigenous youth.5

Mentoring can present challenges in an Indigenous context because the mentor-mentee role sets up a power imbalance, which can reinforce deep rooted cultural conflicts.5

A New Zealand study found that only 21% of mentoring programs for Maori youth were deemed to be highly culturally appropriate for the mentees. Programs that are not culturally appropriate have been found to be less effective.1

Mentoring for Indigenous youth can help with passing on traditional values/ cultural teachings, respect for Elders, and build a sense of pride for one’s culture.8, 10


Mentee Referral, Selection & Training

Youth need to see themselves reflected in the program, for example, use posters that depict Indigenous youth.9

Programs should target mentees who are experiencing many barriers and do not currently have any natural mentors.8, 10

Mentor Recruitment, Screening & Selection

When recruiting mentors for mentoring programs with Indigenous communities:

  • Have community partners/ advisory committee review mentor screening tools to ensure they are appropriate for the cultural/ community context.
  • Limit information collected from candidates when applying to be a mentor.
  • Build relationships with mentor candidates.
  • Work with community partners to recruit/ screen.
  • Be open to having Indigenous mentors who may have past experiences with harmful substance use or the criminal justice system. A protocol should be established to support these individuals in becoming mentors.4, 7

Mentor Training

Mentor training should include knowledge about:

  • How to work with Elders;
  • Cultural competency;
  • How to work with Indigenous families;
  • Issues specific to the community (such as, understanding of FAS/FAE, child abuse and neglect, gang activities, and residential schools);
  • Basic counselling techniques; and
  • Program expectations.2, 5, 9

Matching Process

Mentoring relationships are more successful when the mentors and mentees have similar values, interests, and backgrounds. There can also be benefits to having providing mentors of the same race and socioeconomic status. For Indigenous mentees, having Indigenous mentors can support them in cultural teachings.2, 5, 8 For matches participating in e-mentoring, shared ethnicity and gender is much less important than shared values and interests.6

Mentoring relationships in Indigenous communities may be more successful if they emphasize a reciprocal relationship where both the mentor and mentee can learn from one another.8

Mentoring Relationship Development

Mentors for Indigenous youth can support relationship development by:

  • Helping mentees address challenges and meeting goals through collaborative problem solving rather than imposing solutions;
  • Fostering an environment where mentees are involved in decision making and have a choice about the level of involvement with their mentors;
  • Building trust with mentees by being non-judgmental and consistent;
  • Recognizing mentees for their strengths and achievements; and
  • Having a sense of humour as Indigenous children are generally responsive to people who are fun and funny.5, 8, 9, 10

Parent/ Caregiver/ Family Involvement

It is important to connect with community stakeholders to ensure parents know about the program and can refer their children.8 Awareness of Indigenous family dynamics is important for non-Indigenous mentors to help them better understand the cultural needs of their mentees.5


Other Best Practices from Culturally Appropriate Programs for Indigenous Youth

“There are culturally specific protective factors for Indigenous individuals:

  • Traditional culture and values, including spirituality.
  • Access to community Elders.
  • Increased cultural emphasis on specific protective factors – such as health families and strong community networks” (p. 7).9


Avoid tokenism of Indigenous youth and instead provide meaningful opportunities for engagement and contributing to planning- move toward using youth-led strategies when possible. One strategy that supports meaningful engagement is meeting the youth “where they are”. Be aware that one youth’s voice cannot be representative of ALL perspectives.9

Feeling culturally disconnected is a risk factor for Indigenous individuals to be involved with violence.9

4 Principles for successful programming for Indigenous youth:

  1. Understanding and integrating cultural identity (loss of culture is a risk factor)
  2. Increasing youth engagement
  3. Fostering youth empowerment (including helping youth learn to use these skills to promote social change)
  4. Establishing and maintaining effective partnerships (more important for Indigenous programs)9




  1. Farruggia, S., Bullen, P., Solomon, F., Collins, E., & Dunphy, A. (2011). Examining the cultural context of youth mentoring: A systematic review. The Journal of Primary Prevention, 32(5-6), 237-251.
  2. MENTOR. (2015). Elements of effective practice for mentoring, 4th ed. Retrieved from content/uploads/2015/09/Final_Elements_Publication_Fourth.pdf
  3. Crooks, C., Chiodo, D., Thomas, D., & Hughes, R. (2010). Strengths-based programming for first nations youth in schools: Building engagement through healthy relationships and leadership skills. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 8(2), 160-173.
  4. Klinck, J., Cardinal, C., Edwards, K., Gibson, N., Bisanz, J., & da Costa, J. (2005). Mentoring programs for Aboriginal youth. Pimatisiwin: A Journal of Aboriginal and Indigenous Community Health, 3, 109–130.
  5. Sinclair, R., & Pooyak, S. (2007). Aboriginal mentoring in Saskatoon: A cultural perspective. Indigenous Peoples’ Health Research Centre and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Saskatoon. Retrieved from
  6. Wallis, J. A. M., Riddell, J. K., Smith, C., Silvertown, J., & Pepler, D. J. (2015). Investigating patterns of participation and conversation content in an online mentoring program for northern Canadian youth. Mentoring & Tutoring: Partnership in Learning, 23(3), 228-247.
  7. Alberta Mentoring Partnership. (2011a). Guidelines for mentoring with First Nation, Métis, and/or Inuit communities. Retrieved from
  8. Alberta Mentoring Partnership. (2011c). Handbook for Aboriginal mentoring: What. why. how. who? Alberta Children’s Services & Alberta International, Intergovernmental, and Aboriginal Relations. Retrieved from,%202007.pdf
  9. Crooks, C., Chiodo, D., & Thomas, D. (2009). Engaging and empowering Aboriginal youth: A toolkit for service providers. Public Health Agency of Canada. Retrieved from
  10. Ware, V. (2013). Closing the gap clearinghouse: Mentoring programs for Indigenous youth at risk. Australian Government, Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, and Australian Institute of Family Studies, Resource Sheet No. 22. Retrieved from
Funding provided by the Ontario Ministry of Children and Youth Services