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Othmar F. Arnold, unpublished manuscript, University of Victoria BC, 2004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

Healthism – a war on wholeness

“We choose to define ourselves” [ad line]

Healthism is a holistic ideology, which focuses on an individual’s responsibility for his/her health based on informed choice (MacDonald, 1998). Health promotion is deeply embedded in this ideology. Healthism is the culmination of individualistic and consumerist thought, making one’s own body as the sole focus of values and decisions. Health, as a narrowly defined medical standard, and beauty, as expressed in outward physical appearance, become the most important indicators of personal well-being. In combination with these individualistic thinking patterns, the physical environment is being seen as a constant threat to human health and well-being. Society and cultural expression become almost irrelevant in the context of health.

Pfarrkirche in Vrin, GR, Switzerland: Gedenkstätte für die Pestopfer - Memorial for the victims of the Black Death.
Pfarrkirche in Vrin, GR, Switzerland: Gedenkstätte für die Pestopfer – Memorial for the victims of the Black Death.

Healthism is an expression of extreme privilege. It makes us believe that we can be creators of our own fate and destiny. Continue reading “Healthism – a war on wholeness”


Ein Krieg gegen die Ganzheitlichkeit

For an English version of this article, please click hereHealthism – a war on wholeness

„Healthism“ (aus dem Englischen und ungefähr mir Gesundheitswahn übersetzbar) ist eine ganzheitliche Ideologie die darauf aufgebaut ist das jedeR Einzelne, auf der Grundlage von bewussten Entscheidungen, verantwortlich ist für ihre/seine Gesundheit und Wohlergehen. Gesundheitsvorsorge ist mitunter ein wichtiger Teil dieser Ideologie. Healthismus ist eine Kulmination von individualistischen und konsumorientierten Gedankenwelten, die den eigenen Körper ins Zentrum stellt für alle Wertüberlegungen und Entscheidungen. Gesundheit – in der Form eines eng definierten medizinischen Standards – und Schönheit – ausgedrückt in der äusserlichen körperlichen Erscheinung – werden somit die wichtigsten Indikatoren für das persönliche Wohlbefinden. Dazu kommt noch, dass in dieser Denkweise die natürliche Umwelt als konstante Bedrohung für die menschliche Gesundheit und das Wohlergehen angesehen werden. Gesellschaft und Kultur werden beinahe bedeutungslos in dieser Vorstellung von Gesundheit.

Pfarrkirche in Vrin, GR, Switzerland: Gedenkstätte für die Pestopfer - Memorial for the victims of the Black Death.
Pfarrkirche in Vrin, GR, Switzerland: Gedenkstätte für die Pestopfer – Memorial for the victims of the Black Death.

Healthismus ist eine Ausdruck von extremen Privilegien. Die Ideologie macht uns vor dass wir die Schöpfer unseres Schicksals und unserer Bestimmung sein können. Continue reading “Gesundheitswahn”

Fourth Sunday of Advent

As the days get shorter and shorter, let us light a candle.Let us add one more candle.

As the days get shorter and shorter, let us light a candle.As the days get shorter and shorter, let us light a candle.As the days get shorter and shorter, let us light a candle.
I am holding my mother in the Light and wish her the strength for healing and recovery from the various setbacks in recent days.

Ich bete für meine Mutter, dass sie die Kraft findet zu genesen und sich zu erholen von den verschiedenen Rückschlägen die sie in den letzten Tagen erlebt hat.

Walking Home – a short film

“Walking Home – A contemplative journey along the Yukon River” is a short film conceptualized, directed, and produced by Othmar F. Arnold, with feedback and support from Celia McBride; filmed in Whitehorse, Yukon (Canada).

Continue reading “Walking Home – a short film”

A Better Yukon for All – the governmental strategy for social inclusion and poverty reduction

A critical review by Othmar F. Arnold

(All mentioned documents are linked directly to the original source.)

The preamble to the new strategy document outlines very nicely what a better Yukon for all means: “A socially inclusive society is one where all people feel valued, their differences are respected, and their basic needs are met so they can live with dignity. It is a society where everyone has the opportunity to participate and to have their voice heard.’ (p. 8) And it continues with deep insight about social exclusion: it “is the result of barriers in the social, economic, political and cultural systems” (p. 8).

In the introduction, the scope of the strategy is presented as a guideline to social policy development; or in other words, how government will facilitate a way of meaningfully living together. From the research the government conducted, it concluded that service delivery and access to services appear the main reasons for the fact that some people in the Yukon do not feel included. Furthermore, “poverty is one of the most obvious factors contributing to social exclusion, but social exclusion also stems from and is exacerbated by inadequate education, housing, health, social participation, employment and access to services (p. 8)”.

Continue reading “A Better Yukon for All – the governmental strategy for social inclusion and poverty reduction”

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)”

Last Stop for Miles (The Feature Film) – Teaser released

Celia McBride released the teaser for her feature film production Last Stop for Miles. It is available on YouTube.

“When running away brings you back…”

The feature is expected to be released in spring 2013. For more information on the movie and its production on location in the Yukon, visit: Last Stop for Miles

For a list of cast and crew, please go to the credits page.

First Sunday of Advent

Today, I would like to light a candle. May this light shine for all of you.

As the days get shorter and shorter, let us light a candle.
As the days get shorter and shorter, let us light a candle.

I am also lighting this candle for my mother. I ask you to help me hold her in the Light during this time of uncertainty and healing.

Ich entfache diese Kerze auch für meine Mutter. Ich bitte euch alle für sie zu beten in dieser Zeit der Ungewissheit und Genesung.

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”