Working in Aboriginal communities: What kind of health are we promoting?

DSC01493.JPGWorking in Aboriginal Communities: What Kind of Health are we Promoting?

In this paper, I will explore the paradoxes and dilemmas embedded in intercultural health care practice. It is the intent of this work to reflect on theories and practices of Western-trained health care providers, consider the implications of our practice in an intercultural environment, and accept the invitation to the visitors on Aboriginal territory by Umeek to find guidance in scholarship from the world views as handed down over generations in First Nations creation stories (Atleo, 2004) to explore an Aboriginal understanding of health and health promotion.

Othmar F. Arnold, unpublished manuscript, University of Victoria BC, 2004

Individual beings are designed to help one another in order to fulfill the requirements of wholeness, balance and harmony, interconnection, and interrelationality. Therefore, to practice vanity as a lifestyle can be destructive. (Atleo, 2004, p. 35)

In the traditional Cree language of the Whapmagoostui, there is no word that translates directly into health (Adelson, 2000). In many Aboriginal worldviews, health is a desired state of the universe (Atleo, 1997). In our North-American context, it seems that health as an abstract and isolated concept that can be discussed and analyzed in a pure scholarly manner, a standard that needs to be achieved, is a phenomenon imported by the European colonizers of the continent. In the European tradition, physical and mental health are researched and discussed at least since the ancient Greek times. Since health is mostly defined as a state of physical and mental wellbeing, and therefore linked to the absence of disease and illness, it is associated with the biomedical sciences (Anderson & Reimer Kirkham, 1999). However, only within the last century was the medical profession successful in appropriating the definition of health and therefore dominating the health care system. Continue reading “Working in Aboriginal communities: What kind of health are we promoting?”

Toleranz – Tolerance

Das Verehren des Göttlichen: in verschiedenen Kulturformen und friedlichem Mit- und Nebeneinander - Worshiping the Divine: A variety of cultural forms working peacefully together side-by-side.
Das Verehren des Göttlichen: in verschiedenen Kulturformen und friedlichem Mit- und Nebeneinander – Worshiping the Divine: A variety of cultural forms working peacefully together side-by-side.

An English translation follows below.

Ökumene und interreligiöser Dialog in Bild und Taten. Das Bild stammt von der Insel Mauritius, weit weg von den Luxusstrandhotels und Vergnügungspalästen für europäische Touristen. Auf einem meiner Fussmärsche durch das Innere der Insel, erst durch die grossen Zuckerrohrfelder, dann entlang der eingezäunten Jagdreservate, und endlich durch die tropischen Wälder stiess ich auf dieser Stelle mit drei Schreinen: Continue reading “Toleranz – Tolerance”

Random Act of Kindness #9

Suechätzi öppis?

This was the simple question posed by a young woman that touched me so much after walking all day – all week. I was about to continue my walk in the diminishing daylight towards my chosen destination. I stood on a busy square in front of a lamppost with a collection of directional trail markers, some for hiking trails, some for bicycle trails. As I was contemplating the most appropriate route from Brunnen to Schwyz, considering that I no longer desired to take the scenic one, but rather the most efficient way, a stranger approached me and asked a simple question:

Suechätzi öppis?

“Are you looking for something?” in the local dialect. Of course, I was looking for something. My entire journey is part of ‘looking for something’; but at the moment, I was discerning a very simple question. So, I put that question out to the stranger in front of me. And I accepted her answer without questioning because I knew that this random act of kindness was not random at all, it was a form of guidance that was presented to me. Needless to say that I got to the hostel without delay. Wegweiser

Suechätzi öppis?

Das war die simple Frage die eine junge Frau mir stellte und die mich im Moment, nach einem anstrengenden Wandertag so sehr berührte. Ich wollte meine Wanderung in der einbrechenden Dunkelheit Richtung des gewählten Zielortes fortsetzen.Ich stand auf einem verkehrsreichen Platz vor einer Strassenlampe an der verschiedenste Wegweiser für Wander- und Fahrradwege angebracht waren. Ich war mir am Überlegen auf welchem Weg ich wohl am besten von Brunnen nach Schwyz gelangen würde. Ich suchte ja nicht mehr die Route mit den Sehenswürdigkeiten, ich wollte einfach auf schnellstem Weg zum Ziel. So kam es dass eine Fremde mich unverhofft ansprach mit der einfachen Frage:

Suechätzi öppis?

“Suchen Sie etwas?”, im einheimischen Dialekt. Natürlich bin ich auf der Suche. Bei meiner ganzen Reise geht es ja darum, dass ich etwas suche. Doch in jenem Moment wollte ich ja nur eine unkomplizierte Frage entscheiden. Also, stellte ich die Frage an die mir völlig Unbekannte die vor mir stand. Und ich akzeptierte ihre Antwort ohne zu hinterfragen weil ich wusste dass diese zufällige Güte überhaupt nicht zufällig war: Es war eine Form von Vorsehung oder Führung die mir zukam. Natürlich muss ich gar nicht erst erwähnen, dass ich danach die Herberge ohne Verzögerung aufgefunden habe.

Random Act of Kindness #8

Random Act of Kindness #7

Random Act of Kindness #6

Random Act of Kindness #5

Random Act of Kindness #4

Random Act of Kindness #3

Random Act of Kindness #2

Random Act of Kindness #1

Illumination: Attempted murder – or heated disagreement?

The eerie beauty of the flashing lights from emergency response vehicles.
The eerie beauty of the flashing lights from emergency response vehicles.

I have not met my neighbours, yet. But I have a variety of impressions from living side by side, separated by a wall that is not sound proof.
So far, I have heard only adult voices. There is no other indication that children are living right next door. People come and go. At times, the light is on in the dining room, whose windows are facing the windows of our dining room, six feet apart. Behind the curtains, outlines of human figures are visible. And these figures talk, discuss, and laugh. I consider the interactions animated, loud, passionate, Mediterranean.
In the flow of these voices, I can hear the door open and close, the conversations being carried out onto the street and slowly disappearing. Then it is silent, the light sometimes on, sometimes off.

Last night, there was one point where the mood of the voices turned from cheerful, convincing, passionate, to a much tenser mood. Continue reading “Illumination: Attempted murder – or heated disagreement?”

Daily Random Act of Kindness #5

Viva el Caribe!

I purchased oil and vinegar in one of the supermarket-like grocery stores in Kensington that clearly markets to the Caribbean immigrant community. I was standing out like a streetlight, not only by appearance, but also by language.

It was a busy store, or maybe just a busy time of the day. Couples and multi-generational teams were filling up grocery carts with exotic fruit and vegetables, with dry goods, cans, and fresh meat.

When I got to the lines at the check-out, the other customers took pity on me: They asked me first, and then they insisted, that I go right to the front of the line with my two small items for purchase.

I had all the time in the world to wait my turn like everybody else since I was simply out exploring the neighbourhood; but it was of little avail to explain that to the crowd that was discussing the case in multiple languages and came to the consensus that I should go first.

I expressed my gratitude for the gesture. It made me feel special, it made me feel welcome, and it gave me a sense of genuine community spirit.

Viva el Caribe!

Sharing the Root - Painting by Tenyoh (photo credit: Yoko Sugawara)
Sharing the Root – Painting by Tenyoh (photo credit: Yoko Sugawara)

To learn more about Tenyoh’s art work, please visit: Empathetic Reflections of Human Nature through the Eyes of a Nurse

Daily Random Act of Kindness #1

Among all the waiting people in the lounge of the Naperville railway station, there was a curious pairing of people interacting across those ancient looking benches: Two brown skinned girls with black hair of early school age, and a white, grey-haired lady. The lady was sitting properly, her carry-on luggage neatly in front of her, reading from one of these privileged electronic gadgets. Leaning over her shoulders from the other side of the wooden bench, the two girls with a pinkish-enclosed phone gadget.

Naperville Station - on my way to the other side
Naperville Station – on my way to the other side

“Do you remember those numbers?” – Continue reading “Daily Random Act of Kindness #1”

Traditions – Traditionen (+de)

The tree in our tradition - unser Bäumchen
The tree in our tradition – unser Bäumchen 

How often do we portray traditions as the solid anchors of cultural and societal systems? But how solid and powerful are they really?

Sure they provide us comforts. Like our own family Christmas celebrations: We moved from Switzerland to the Yukon and ended up living on the margins of First Nations villages for many years. Because our children were young, we started to celebrate Christmas – something I have rejected doing in my young adult years.
The only tradition that we adopted for the Christmas holiday during those years was a late night visit to the barn on Christmas Eve. There we treated the farm animals with apples as a bedtime snack. The rest of the year it was hay and water. I never really understood whose tradition it was, but it suited my need to mark what perverted into a commercial holiday with something that was meaningful to me.

A simple message of peace.
The first winter out in the bush in Canada we discovered that the family celebrations here happened on Christmas day, while our tradition was on Christmas Eve. To this day, we maintain the Swiss tradition and it feels right. Real tree, real candles. Ox and donkey became moose and caribou.
While living in the small remote communities, there was also a distinct advantage to having two different timing traditions for the festivities. I was always on call for a variety of emergency services. I got to turn off my radios on the 24th, while my colleagues of the British/North American and First Nations traditions took call. Then on the 25th, I took all calls while the turkeys and hams were roasting and being shared among families. That way, nobody had to miss his or her traditional celebrations due to an emergency response.
It is remarkable to see how our adult children, who grew up in Canada, to this day never questioned the diversity in tradition and seem to be comfortable being ‘outsiders’ in a world dominated by Santa Claus and electrified Christmas trees that get discarded the day after we decorate ours and light the candles for the first time! They hardly know the biblical story that has informed our and our ancestors’ understanding of Christmas; nonetheless, they are now adopting a unique form of a celebration that has a strong connotation to the concern for others, to light, to seasonal change, and thus solstice more than birth of Christ.

Peace to the World – Frieden auf Erden!

Sämtliche Traditionen haben einen Anfang, und alle Traditionen können und werden sich ändern.

Wie oft haben wir Traditionen als den festen Anker der kulturellen und gesellschaftlichen Systeme porträtiert? Aber wie solide und stark sind sie wirklich?

Sicher, sie bringen uns Trost. So wie unsere eigenen Weihnachtsfestlichkeiten in der Familie: Wir sind aus der Schweiz in den Yukon umgezogen und  lebten am Rande der First Nations Dörfer für viele Jahre. Da unsere Kinder klein waren, fingen wir an Weihnachten zu feiern – etwas, was ich als junger Erwachsenen abgelehnt hatte.

Die einzige Tradition, die wir in jenen Jahren für die Weihnachtsfeiertage übernahmen, war ein nächtlicher Besuch im Stall am Heiligabend. Wir brachten den Tieren Äpfel als Feiertagsschmaus. Den Rest des Jahres gab es Heu und Wasser. Ich habe nie wirklich verstanden, wessen Tradition es war; aber es deckte mein Bedürfnis einen Tag im Jahreszyklus bedeutungsvoll zu markieren, welcher ansonsten in einen kommerziellen Festtag pervertiert wurde.

Eine einfache Botschaft des Friedens.

Den ersten Winter draußen im Busch in Kanada haben wir entdeckt, dass die Feierlichkeiten hier am Weihnachtstag angesagt sind, während unsere Tradition auf den Heiligabend fällt. Bis zum heutigen Tag erhalten wir die Schweizer Tradition und es fühlt sich so richtig an. Einen echten Baum, mit echte Kerzen. Der Ochse und der Esel wurden zum Elch und dem Karibu.
Die zwei unterschiedlichen Zeitpunkte für Festtagstraditionen hatten in den kleinen abgelegenen Gemeinden auch einen deutlichen Vorteil. Ich war immer auf Abruf für verschieden Notfalldienste. So konnte ich am 24. meine Funkgeräte abschalten, weil meine Kollegen von den britischen / nordamerikanischen und First Nations Tradition auf Piket waren. Dann am 25. übernahm ich Bereitschaftsdienst während die Puten und Schinken gebraten wurden und die Familien feierten. So musste niemand seine traditionellen Festlichkeiten wegen eines Notrufs verpassen.
Es ist bemerkenswert zu sehen, wie unsere erwachsenen Kinder, die in Kanada aufgewachsen sind, bis zum heutigen Tag die Vielfalt der Traditionen nie in Frage gestellt haben. Sie scheinen zufrieden zu sein mit ihrem `Aussenseiter´ Status in der von Santa Claus und elektrifizierten Christbäumen dominierten Umgebung. Die Christbäume werden hier am Tag nachdem wir unseren schmücken und die Kerzen zum ersten Mal entfachen, weggeworfen.

Sie sind kaum vertraut mit der biblischen Geschichte, die unser Verständnis und das Verständnis von Weihnachten unserer Vorfahren geprägt hat; dennoch haben sie nun diese eigenartige Form der Feierlichkeiten übernommen, als etwas das einen starken Bezug zur Sorge für Andere hat; etwas das sich aufs Licht und die saisonalen Veränderungen und damit der Wintersonnenwende mehr bezieht als auf Christi Geburt.

Peace to the World – Frieden auf Erden!

Valuing democracy – playing by the rules

I was asked to contribute to the ongoing consultation process for the Peel Watershed Regional Land Use Plan. Here are my thoughts:

Monolith Mountain in the Tombstone Territorial Park. A protected natural space in the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in traditional territory adjacent to the Peel River watershed.

Feedback Peel Watershed Regional Land Use Plan Consultation

My personal opinion is that the Peel River region has sufficient natural value to be designated as a whole (=100%) a protected area similar to a National Park. However, I see that various stakeholders have an interest in accessing some resources in the Peel River watershed:

For First Nations it is an area for subsistence, primarily fishing, but also hunting, berry picking and the collection of other plant materials for medicinal uses. As the representatives of a colonial power, the Yukon Government also has to realize that the Peel River watershed has spiritual values to the indigenous people of that area, the people that have lived on the land for centuries, that live on the land today, and the ones yet-to-come. This land is part of the people – a concept that is hard to grasp for us Westerners who have developed property rights, buy and sell real estate like a commodity, with no emotional or spiritual attachment, and see us as enlightened beings separate from the natural world.

Continue reading “Valuing democracy – playing by the rules”

A sorry state – the loss of democracy (+de)

A Sorry State (für eine deutsche Teilübersetzung klicke hier: Ein leider Zustand)

Last week, the Available Light Cinema film series in Whitehorse screened the new documentary by local director Mitch Miyagawa with the catchy title “A Sorry State”. Indeed, much of what we read in the news about politics, be it at the level of the territorial government, the federal government, or many national governments around the world, supports the impression that this world is in a sorry state.

But do not fear: I am not going to write a lament about our current political situation. I’ll leave that for other writers in local newspapers that dared to describe our cage-fighting MP a sock puppet of the Prime Minister… (Yukon News)

The sorry state in Miyagawa’s film refers to the various apologies his extended family has received over the last decade from the government of Canada for political wrongs of its colonial history: Continue reading “A sorry state – the loss of democracy (+de)”

The time for giving – global needs you would have never dreamed of

Over the last few days, I came across several writings in the blogosphere about aid. It started with the blog from a Norwegian family that inquired whether providing employment for a person from a marginalized context (read: Third World country) could potentially constitute a form of development aid at the private, most direct level.

Is hosting an au pair the most direct form of developmental aid maybe?
I´m not being cynical. It is a sincere question. (from Au pair host: “Development Aid?“)

In response, I offered some of my own thoughts for finding an answer:

…However, I have some doubts about the notion of development aid. In the first case, the mother and child have migrated from the less affluent to the more affluent context due to marriage. They have uprooted themselves to significantly improve their social and hopefully economic standing – this is what I call upward mobility. There is no development in Kenya associated with that.
In the second case, the young woman has returned with hard earned and saved cash and is able to run a family business. At least that will have a development effect in the country of origin. But the process is a form of migrant labour, or maybe another form of remittance.
I think that if a person from a marginalized country comes and works as au pair in a highly privileged country and is treated like a human being and not simply as cheap labour, it is a noble exchange.
But it does not constitute charity:

Nick Negerli - the ubiquitous guilt-absorbing church collection boxes of a recent past (photo credit:
(photo credit:

Continue reading “The time for giving – global needs you would have never dreamed of”

Nursing with indigenous communities: The question of membership

Membership and belonging are important factors for well-being on an individual level. It is a topic that resonates strongly with me for a long time. In 2004/05, I have written an article on community membership and belonging from a nursing perspective with a particular focus on cross-cultural practice in indigenous communities. It was never published, but might be of interest to some.

Nursing practice with Aboriginal communities: An exploration of the question of membership.

Othmar F. Arnold, RN, MN,


For most nurses working with Aboriginal people, such a posting is a professional challenge. Nurses do not hold any formal membership in the cultural and ethnically diverse communities they serve. The importance is placed on competent and efficient delivery of needed services for populations that are known for significant health disparities and marginalization. Drawing from Nuu-chah-nulth origin stories, it appears to be important for the realization of Aboriginal health, healing, and well being that health professionals acquire community membership. The difference between the two world views poses an ethical dilemma, possibly constituting a form of cultural imperialism. Nursing science based approaches for bridging the intercultural gap are explored.

Health Centre, Carmacks, Yukon, serving the Village of Carmacks and the Little Salmon/Carmacks First Nation


Membership from an Indigenous Perspective

Membership from a Discussion among Community Nurse Practitioners

Membership from a nursing theory perspective

Ethical questions

Recommendations for action at micro, meso, and macro level
Continue reading “Nursing with indigenous communities: The question of membership”

A call for lateral love from down under

Today I learned through a follower of this blog about an important indigenous healing initiative in Australia. It is called Lateral Love Australia and is intended to explore and help overcome the opposite of lateral love: Lateral violence.

Lateral violence happens when people who are both victims of a situation of dominance, in fact turn on each other rather than confront the system that oppresses them both.

I was touched by this initiative. I have witnessed many instances where people in marginalized communities I served in were hurting each other. Instead of pulling together towards healing from various forms of colonial trauma, people engage in acts of lateral violence (gossip, bullying, blaming, alcoholism, drug use, domestic violence, suicide). This only creates more hurt and pain, helps reinforce stereotypes, and perpetuates racism.

Inuit children in Ikaluktutiak/Cambridge Bay practicing lateral love. Family dance Christmas 2008.

Continue reading “A call for lateral love from down under”