Friday, October 29, 2010

Indigenous Health Perspective

My only experience with Indigenous health has been when I worked in healthcare facility in southern Manitoba in the Diagnostics department. This particular facility was the central location for all of the Northern (Berens River, Gods Lake, Norway House) health care facilities for interpretation of the diagnostic tests that were performed there. One of my tasks at this facility was to transcribe the x-ray reports in a timely fashion and send them back to the awaiting doctor at the facility. Here, I did not necessarily have that much contact with the people directly besides the odd phone call, but even as I was reading the reports and the history of each situation I became more aware of the lack of resources and nutrition some of the facilities had. Up until I began this job, I had no idea of the challenges Indigenous people have or still face each day.

I found it challenging to find an article that provided a clear perspective on the social policy of Indigenous health and culture regarding people with mental illness. A website I did find was Aboriginal Healing Foundation. It includes many links for healing assistance for those in need.

I focused on the article, Commentary: Indigenous Health Special Issue. The article expresses that indigenous health issues are among the people worldwide. According to the article, there is a tension between individual needs and the structural risks that drive the problem for indigenous people (Tonmyr & Blackstock, 2010, p. 137). "Many of the poor health outcomes experience by Indigenous people are driven by structural issues that are often outside the personal domain for change" (Tonmyr & Blackstock, 2010). It seems that the Indigenous people have been forced to change their ways of life over the past few decades. To me, it seems that the Indigenous people are forced by people of majority to change their culture and language, for example the 60's scoop.

In our last class lecture, the ``60`s scoop`` was brought up in discussion. The "60's scoop was when Aboriginal children were scooped up from their families to be adopted by Euro-Canadians and Americans. I was not aware of its entirety until that class. It was sad to hear the trauma the children faced. The effects of this was so severe that years after Indigenous elders are still suffering from emotional and psychological consequences, including mental illness and alcohol abuse.

We also discussed the Residential School event. Indigenous children were forced out of their homes and taken to residential schools. The children were abused physically and sexually and were not allowed to speak their own language. They were taught another way of life than their parents and elders knew. The children of this event were also traumatized. The consequences of this event were so severe for many that the Prime Minister still felt that there was a need for a public apology. The children that went through that era now face effects such as alcohol abuse, cognitive and psychological illnesses and emotional unrest, even years of counselling cannot erase the memories of that traumatic time for their minds. ``The negative consequences of the unnecessary removal of children has eroded Indigenous cultures and languages set in play personal and communal inter-generational trauma`` (Tonmry & Blackstock, 2010). Their culture was taken away from them and slowly it diminished in some individual opinions.

While taking care of the Indigenous people that may be affected by a mental illness, either as a result from a traumatic episode in their life or from natural causes, we need to remember to provide the culturally appropriate care for them. Each culture has different beliefs and methods when it comes to healthcare. We need to be sensitive and aware of the different beliefs.  According to Williamson & Harrison (2010) there are two approaches to being culturally appropriate when caring for those of another culture. The first approach focuses on beliefs and values of the culture. It is important to remember that some Indigenous people have a different perspective that may be different from ours. Before the Europeans, Indigenous people were very egalitarian, all members were equal and there were no individuals (Mawhiney & Hardy, 2009). Their culture is still that way in many ways even as the European people tried to break that up and conform many to a different way of life. An Indigenous person with a mental disability / illness would need assistance more than ever for basic life needs. In my opinion, for some Indigenous elders who have Alzheimer’s or another mental illness, it may be hard to depend on and allow a person of a different culture to assist them in their treatment and care. Many of them may have been victims of the 60's scoop or the Residential School and may still be holding a grudge or resent them. Some Aboriginal elders may not believe in the medical care and have their own preferences for care.

The 2nd approach focuses on their social position and how this has affected their health and well-being (Williamson & Harrison, 2010). Those people with a mental illness are already stigmatized. An indigenous person is sometimes stigmatized to be of a lower social class whether they are or not. Many have suffered from severe maltreatment. An indigenous person with a mental disability may have suffered tremendously and have a lower self-esteem or emotional health.

Each individual will have different views and beliefs, and those views need to be remembered and respected. This is especially important for those with a social worker perspective to remember. Each person has a different story, different history, different belief system, and a different upbringing. We all deserve to be treated equally no matter what our culture, race or beliefs may be.


Aboriginal Healing Foundation. (2010). Retrieved October 30, 2010, from

Mawhiney, A.M. & Hardy, S. (2009). Aboriginal Peoples in Canada.

Stolen Nation. (n.d.). Retrieved November 10, 2010, from

Tonmyr, L. & Blackstock, C. (2010). Commentary: Indigenous Health Special Issue. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction. Special Issue: Indigenous Health, 8(2). 135-144. doi:10.1007/s11469-010-9272-7

Williamson, M. & Harrison, L. (2010). Providing Culturally Appropriate Care: An Literature Review. International Journal Of Nursing Studies, 47(6), 761-769. doi:10.1016/j.ijnurstu.2009.12.012.

Dana W


  1. Great blog Dana! You did a great job of compiling personal experience, knowledge, history, and personal views in your writing. I totally agree with you about being sensitive to people's personal experiences, culture, and beliefs when providing care. Good points made!

    Sarah H

  2. Nice Dana! I really liked how you talked about the fact that it's probably hard for an indigenous person to recieve help from a white person after they have possibly been mistreated by a white person in their past. I've never considered that before. You did a great job of combining personal expereinces and opinions with resources and facts. You're blog post really made me think. (Kind of made me sad too.)
    Crystal M.

  3. A well written post Dona. I thought you did a great job with the available information that you drew your comments from. In my group we are writing through an immigration perspective, so you could imagine how hard it was for me to find articles with the key words “indigenous and immigration” since the two contradict themselves.

    What also came as a surprise to me was to learn about the 60’s scoop in class. I did know of some details, but I didn’t realize how much of an impact that really had to those who had been effected, and unless you had been the victim of that crime, I couldn’t even begin to comprehend how devastating it would have been and continues to be for indigenous people.

    I think you would agree that when it comes to health care for indigenous people, we as a society still have a lot of work to do, since they’re not getting the same attention as the rest of Canadians.

    -Rocco Scarcella

  4. Good job Dana!

    I too became more aware of the "60s scoop" last class. I could not help but feel shocked, as it is hard to believe something like that could actually happen.

    I agree that each person has their own views and beliefs and no matter what we all should be treated equally. Unfortunately, in life many are not treated equally. It is a shame that indigenous people, especially those with mental illnesses are treated below white individuals.

    It would be nice if everyone could be treated equally, and for cultures to be respected and taken into consideration. This would make the world a better place

    Ashley R.

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

  7. Dana,

    Interesting read! It’s unfortunate that there is a different standard of care for indigenous people; often times because the reservations are rural, northern, and remote; the government has a harder time staffing qualified professionals to fulfill the healthcare needs of the community members. In terms of culture differences and caring for the Aboriginals, I have never linked the two, but one can understand your perspective about how hard it may be for "indigenous elders… [to] allow a person of different culture to assist them." Most qualified professionals are not aware of cultural differences or Aboriginal values and beliefs. If all the Aboriginals can recall is what happened 50 years ago, one could understand how hard it would be to trust any other culture, let alone to let them help with basic life skills or support. I can only imagine the complications that must have resulted from their children being taken from their home. I grew up in a remote northern community in Manitoba near a reservation and the instability of healthcare and the turnover of doctors was astonishing. It was hard to have a doctor truly have time to learn the history of the patients let alone the cultural differences important in caring for Aboriginal people. It was unfortunate that many of the doctors completed no more than a 6 month term in our community. Clearly the limitations of care play a huge role in remote communities; however the traumatic history of the residential schools remains present in the hearts and minds of the Aboriginals and it does have a direct result on a person’s physical and mental health.

    -Darcie B.

  8. I'm not sure if I made it clear enough that the Indian Residential Schools were still running right up until 1996 when the last one closed. However, there were fewer operating in the 20 years before that -- for example, in 1979 there were 12 residential schools operating with approximately 2000 students (unlike the 80 schools of earlier years).

  9. I also agree with you that when we are providing care for the Aboriginal people we need to provide culturally appropriate care. I believe that it is very important to provide the care that suits the Aboriginal culture because there culture differs from White culture. They are very spiritual, therefore might not want to take the medication that is prescribed to them. Also, I like how you pointed out that they might not want help from another culture because they might still hold a grudge or resent them. That was a very good point that you made in this blog! As you said every individual is different and should be treated equally, so why is it that there is still so many people that our treated unequally in our country?