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Brown Bag Speaker Series on Aboriginal Health November 18, 2010 Centre for Aboriginal Health Research, UVIC Onowa McIvor, MA Doctoral student, Department.

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Presentation on theme: "Brown Bag Speaker Series on Aboriginal Health November 18, 2010 Centre for Aboriginal Health Research, UVIC Onowa McIvor, MA Doctoral student, Department."— Presentation transcript:

1 Brown Bag Speaker Series on Aboriginal Health November 18, 2010 Centre for Aboriginal Health Research, UVIC Onowa McIvor, MA Doctoral student, Department of Language and Literacy Education, UBC Senior Lecturer, Indigenous Education, Faculty of Education, University of Victoria

2 Sneak peek Little research on the link between language and culture and health outcomes or predictors, especially language The research that does exist is very convincing Huge potential for L&C to have greater effect on health outcomes, health predictors Exploration of intersection between Indigenous language revitalization and health research – further collaboration is needed

3 Overview of Indigenous languages in Canada At the time of contact there were an estimated 450 Aboriginal languages and dialects in Canada belonging to 11 language families (Office of the Commissioner of Official languages, 1992). There are now approximately 60 Indigenous languages still spoken in Canada belonging to 11 different language families (Statistics Canada, 2008). Of these, only 3 of the Indigenous languages in Canada are predicted by Statistics Canada to survive (Nihiyaw, Anishnaabe & Inuktituk) “All of them are endangered. There are no exceptions.” Dr. Lorna Williams, (University Affairs, Nov. 2010)

4 LANGUAGES OVERVIEW - CONT’D Determiners – number of speakers, New research states number of speakers alone is a poor measurement rather what is most important is rate of intergenerational transmission and especially how many children are learning the language (Barrena et al., 2007; Norris, 2003). The 2001 Census reports that only 15% of Aboriginal children in Canada are learning their language Only about 2% of Indigenous language speakers in BC are under the age of 25 (FPHLCC, 2010) “A language dies when its last speakers do.” FPHLCC, 2010

5 State of languages in BC “British Columbia is home to 60% of the indigenous languages in Canada” In roughly 100 years we have gone from 100% of pop. speaking to about 5% Most fluent speakers are over 65 About 8% of First Nations pop. is semi-fluent and another 11% are learning

6 Strategies for language revitalization Collaboration Planning Curriculum/resource development Research Language classes Immersion initiatives Teacher training Advocacy/political action Personal/family action Archiving/documentation Lexicon development

7 Link between language and culture Inextricably linked “It is through language that a culture is transmitted” (FPHLCC, 2010) Defining protective factors Concept that captures the notion of resources that build resilience, buffer against risk and may even have preventative effects for, in this case, health outcomes for Indigenous people.

8 Indigenous culture as a protective factor – 5 themes 1) Connection between land and health 2 key studies (Wilson, 2003 & Wolsko et al, 2006) Turning to the land for healing, seeing the land as alive “It doesn’t matter where you go. If I have problems I talk a walk in the bush. I talk to the trees and they listen. They take my problems away.” (Participant - Wilson) “You know, just walking out in the Tundra and looking at the surroundings. That’s a form of stress release. To become part of nature is a form of stress release.” (Participant – Wolsko et al.)

9 Culture as protective factor 2)Traditional medicine as a protective factor “Harvesting medicine is medicine” (Hill, 2008) Example – evergreen tree extracts & blueberry plant roots used to control Type II diabetes (Floren, 2004) Efficacy believed to be linked to spirituality – “believers” most likely healed by traditional medicine (Hill, 2008) 3) Spirituality as a protective factor Several studies were located linking spiritual practices to reduced harm and greater health – studies such as Garroutte et al. (2003) & Kendall’s report (2002)

10 Culture as protective factor (cont’d) 4) Traditional foods “culturally and bio-regionally specific” (Milburn, 2004) plant and animals foods harvested from local environment Food as medicine Harvesting is spiritual and links to land 5) Traditional activities – such as: hunting, fishing, storytelling, arts, crafts, dancing, singing Several researchers found participation in traditional activities to an effective protective factor against conditions such as depression and substance abuse

11 Indigenous language use as protective factor Most research linking Indigenous language use and health outcomes reports a negative correlation in that Indigenous-only home language use lowers rates of access to health care (Northern and international) 2 studies located which included some kind of measure of Indigenous language use and its effect on health outcomes. Bjerregaard & Curtis, 2002 – interesting due to the remote location of the study, such a high fluency rate the protective influence could not be measured The other - Chandler, Lalonde & Hallett (2007)

12 Indigenous language use as protective factor Hallett, Chandler & Lalonde, 2007 – most relevant article located linking language use to health outcomes (in this case suicide prevention) Hallett acknowledges some of the concern that the former work (C&L, 1998) was not actually measuring cultural continuity Language a more direct indicator of cultural continuity Analyzed language separately from other 6 factors

13 Language as protective factor (cont’d) Rates of suicide in First Nations with high level of language knowledge dropped to zero in all but one community The results indicate that the use of Indigenous languages is a “strong predictor of health and wellbeing in Canada’s Aboriginal communities.” Hallett et al. (2007)

14 Future research Most studies to date focus on rural communities which leaves urban communities and the particular issues associated ignored Further research needed on effects of environmental contaminants in the food chain on human health Research needed on link between the decimation of lands and the psychological and physiological effects on those Indigenous to those lands (particularly urban communities, communities effected by oil and gas development, etc.)

15 Recommendations Explore feasibility of (gradual) return to subsistence lifestyle/food sourcing for urban and rural pop. Eg. Camas harvest, salmon run Serious and swift attention to language revival in Canada is needed Cultural protection strategies needed

16 Conclusions More research needed linking Indigenous language and culture and health outcomes The research that exists is powerful and convincing Great potential for overlap between these two fields Further collaboration is needed to fully explore the potential that will have many positive outcomes As Canadians, we all need to hold Indigenous languages and cultures high and support their protection and revival – it is our shared heritage. Ikosi, HISKWE

17 FURTHER READING… First Peoples Heritage, Language and Culture Council. (2010). Report on the status of BC First Nations languages. Retrieved from McIvor, O. & Napoleon, A. (2009). Language and culture as protective factors for at-risk communities. Journal of Aboriginal Health, 5(1), pp Retrieved from McIvor, O. (2009). Strategies for Indigenous language revitalization and maintenance. Encyclopedia of Language and Literacy Development (pp. 1-12). Retrieved from


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