Anisnabe Kekendazone Network Environment for Aboriginal Health Research

1 Stewart Street, Room 319
Ottawa, Ontario K1N 6N5
Telephone: 1 613 562 5393
Fax: 1 613 562 5392

Building resilience in Aboriginal communities

From a widespread Western perspective, resilience is the inner strength that helps individuals bounce back and carry on in the face of adversity. Although there is no unified indigenous view in this regard, there seems to be a common link between Aboriginal identity, land, history, and resilience, pointing towards collective dimensions of Aboriginal health. Resilience in Aboriginal communities is the focal point of several publications from AK fellows, grantees, investigators, partners, and collaborators. 

AK researchers are carrying out studies that explore various sources of resilience in Aboriginal communities, such as spirituality, family values, teachings from Elders, ceremonial rituals, oral traditions, identity, and support networks. Building on these common resources seems to have a positive impact on both individuals and communities, as well as protective potential against a range of health risks, from substance abuse to sexually transmitted infections and youth suicide.


Kirmayer LJ, Dandeneau S, Marshall E, Phillips MK, Jenssen Williamson K. Rethinking Resilience From Indigenous Perspectives. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry 2011; 56(2), 84-91.
Notions of resilience emerging from developmental psychology and psychiatry in recent years address the distinctive cultures, geographic and social settings, and histories of adversity of indigenous peoples. We report observations from an ongoing project on resilience in Inuit, Métis, Mi’kmaq, and Mohawk communities, which suggest the value of incorporating indigenous views in resilience research. These views are expressed through stories and metaphors grounded in local culture and language; they reflect resilience processes including: regulating emotion and supporting adaptation through relational, ecocentric, and cosmocentric notions of self and personhood; revision of collective history in ways that valorize collective identity; revitalizing language and culture as resources for narrative self-fashioning, social positioning, and healing; and renewing individual and collective agency through political activism, empowerment, and reconciliation. Each of these sources of resilience can be understood in dynamic terms as emerging from interactions between individuals, their communities, and the larger regional, national, and global systems that sustain indigenous agency and identity. This social– ecological view of resilience has important implications for mental health promotion, policy, and clinical practice

Andersson N, Shea B, Amaratunga C, McGuire P, Sioui G. Rebuilding from Resilience: Research Framework for a Randomized Controlled Trial of Community-led Interventions to Prevent Domestic Violence in Aboriginal Communities.  Pimatisiwin. 2010 Fall; 8(2): 61–88.
This project develops and tests tools and procedures for a randomized controlled trial of community-led prevention of family violence in Aboriginal communities. The partner shelters are in Aboriginal communities across Canada, on and off reserve. Testing the stepped wedge design in an Aboriginal context, shelters randomized themselves for two waves of intervention, half the shelters receiving the resources for the first wave. A repeat survey after two years will measure the difference between first wave and second wave, after which the resources will shift to the second wave. At least two Aboriginal researchers will complete their doctoral studies in the project. The steering committee of 12 shelter directors guides the project and ensures ethical standards related to their populations. Each participating community and the University of Ottawa reviewed and passed the proposal

Phillips MK. Understanding Resilience Through Revitalizing Traditional Ways of Healing in a Kanien’keha:ka Community. Masters Thesis, Concordia University 2010.
Contemporary research involving Indigenous mental health largely includes resilience, resurgence, and renewal of Indigenous traditional healing practices and their combination with mainstream psychological approaches.
My thesis focuses on understandings resilience through the revitalization of traditional Kanien'keh?:ka ways of healing within Kahnawake's public health and social services organizations. This qualitative research offers an insider's anthropological view on Indigenous perspectives of healing and wellness practices around existing public health services, and that of traditional healers themselves. As an Indigenous researcher, I offer my own perspectives of healing through the sharing of my healing journey. While it has been suggested that integrating traditional ways of healing with mainstream Western approaches creates better choice, both systems can be most effective if they are recognized as parallel options complementing each other.

Fleming J, Ledogar RJ. Resilience and Indigenous Spirituality: A Literature Review.  Pimatisiwin. 2008 Summer; 6(2): 47–64.
Indigenous spirituality is closely bound up with culture and ways of living in Indigenous communities and requires a more holistic or comprehensive research approach. Two conceptual frameworks could help to orient Indigenous resilience research. One is the enculturation framework. Enculturation refers to the degree of integration within a culture, which can be protective in social behaviour, academic achievement, alcohol abuse and cessation, substance abuse, externalizing behaviours, and depressive symptoms. A second conceptual framework is cultural spiritual orientation. Both enculturation and cultural orientation are protective against alcohol abuse, suicide ideation, and suicide attempts. As the ability of researchers to measure these complex processes advances and Indigenous communities take increasing charge of their own research, it should become easier to design interventions that take advantage of the cultural/spiritual dimension of Indigenous traditions to promote individual, family, and community resilience.

Fleming J, Ledogar RJ. Resilience, an Evolving Concept: A Review of Literature Relevant to Aboriginal Research.  Pimatisiwin. 2008 Summer; 6(2): 7–23.
Over the past 40 years, resilience research has gone from a focus on the individual to a wider view of protective factors at family, community, and cultural levels. Researchers have also found that resilience factors vary in different risk contexts. For instance, understanding perceived discrimination and historical trauma is essential to characterize resilience in Aboriginal communities. To understand how particular protective factors interact with risk factors, researchers have developed three main types of resilience models: "compensatory," "protective," and "challenge" models. Two additional concepts are resilient reintegration, in which a confrontation with adversity leads individuals to a new level of growth, and the notion endorsed by some Aboriginal educators that resilience is an innate quality that needs to be awakened. This review suggests five areas for future research with an emphasis on youth: 1) studies to improve understanding of what makes some Aboriginal youth resilient and others not; 2) case studies providing empirical confirmation of the theory of resilient reintegration among Aboriginal youth; 3) more comparative studies on the role of culture as a resource for resilience; 4) studies on how Aboriginal youth who do not live in communities with strong cultural continuity can be helped to become, or remain, resilient; and 5) greater involvement of Aboriginal researchers who can bring a nonlinear world view to resilience research.

Ledogar RJ, Fleming J. Social Capital and Resilience: A Review of Concepts and Selected Literature Relevant to Aboriginal Youth Resilience Research.  Pimatisiwin. 2008 Summer; 6(2): 25–46.
Social capital, as an asset or a resource for resilience, can be a characteristic of the community or the individual. As an individual asset, social capital consists of a person's relationships to available social resources. As a characteristic of communities, it consists of attributes such as trust, reciprocity, collective action, and participation. Closely related to community social capital is the concept of collective efficacy. Some social networks, however, can be violent, repressive, bigoted, or otherwise destructive. Resilience is also a characteristic of both individuals and communities. This means that the relationship between social capital and resilience is four-dimensional. In discussing each of these dimensions, we highlight the ability of resilience research to link evidence on community social capital with individual data and the recognition that individuals can be resilient even if the communities they live in have low or even negative social capital. Recommendations for future research include greater attention to the social capital potential of Aboriginal spirituality, more comparison of urban-rural differences in social capital, and a better understanding of the factors that underlie Aboriginal youth resilience where social capital is defective.

Andersson N, Shea B, Archibald C, Wong T, Barlow K, Sioui G. Building on the Resilience of Aboriginal People in Risk Reduction Initiatives Targeting Sexually Transmitted Infections and Blood-Borne Viruses: The Aboriginal Community Resilience to AIDS (ACRA).  Pimatisiwin. 2008 Summer; 6(2): 89–110.
There is evidence that Aboriginal people may be at increased risk of HIV infection; they also experience higher rates of other blood-borne viral (BBV) and sexually transmitted infections (STIs). This project tries to identify resilience factors that protect Aboriginal youth against BBV and STI infections. It also seeks to develop, implement and evaluate community-based interventions to increase Aboriginal resilience. The first stage of the project involved developing a research framework with Aboriginal involvement. Community-based researchers used qualitative and quantitative methods to identify protective factors against BBV and STI infections and their transmission within local communities. The research team used the results to design and implement interventions and appropriate frameworks for their evaluation. Capacity building within participating communities is a key component of this project, with the goal of identifying resilience boosting strategies to be incorporated into public health and clinical practice. 

Andersson N, Ledogar RJ. The CIET Aboriginal Youth Resilience Studies: 14 Years of Capacity Building and Methods Development in Canada. Pimatisiwin. 2008 Summer; 6(2): 65–88.
CIET supports Canadian Aboriginal community-based researchers of resilience since 1995. Over the years, researchers have measured personal assets like sense of coherence, spirituality, knowledge, pride in one's heritage, mastery or self-efficacy, self-esteem, low levels of distress, and involvement in traditional ways and activities. Other indicators reflect social dimension of resilience: feeling supported; parental care and support; parental monitoring, attitudes, and example; peer support; and support from the wider community. Pride in one's heritage, self-esteem, low distress, and mastery are measurable personal assets of resilient Aboriginal youth in a variety of cultures and circumstances. Parental care and support, parental monitoring, parental attitudes, and parental example clearly supported the resilient Aboriginal youth in most settings. Peers are an even stronger influence, critical in relation to a range of behaviours, from smoking to drinking to substance abuse to violence, unsafe sex, and suicidal tendencies. More generally, having someone to confide in and to count on in times of crisis, someone to give advice and someone who makes one feel cared for are important factors in youth resilience; this is also something that communities can provide, even.where family support is weak and peers are more of a hindrance than a help. CIET currently supports three resilience research projects involving Aboriginal youth in Canada: suicide prevention, reduction of HIV risk, and reduction of domestic violence. 

Caldwell D. The Suicide Prevention Continuum. Pimatisiwin. 2008 SUMMER; 6(2): 145–153.
The suicide prevention continuum illustrates a practical approach to the complex issue of suicide prevention. The continuum evolved from discussions with two Aboriginal communities in Atlantic Canada about suicide and the different types of interventions available. The continuum offers a framework and reference tool to differentiate between the different stages of suicide risk. It illustrates where the Aboriginal Community Youth Resilience Network (ACYRN) fits into suicide prevention and how it contributes to prevention knowledge, capacity building, and policy development.

Gladue R, Lund C. An Elder's View of Community Resilience.  Pimatisiwin. 2008 Summer; 6(2): 181–186.This paper is an interview between Carrielynn Lund and Cree Elder Ruth Gladue on research and community resilience in her semi-remote, northern Alberta community. Ruth is a Cree Elder born "during the war years." She is married and has two girls, one boy, and "a few grandchildren." Ruth has worked as a Community Health Representative (CHR) and Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) for over forty years. She lives in a semi-remote First Nations community in northern Alberta.

Andersson N. Directions in Indigenous Resilience Research.  Pimatisiwin. 2008 Summer; 6(2): 201–208.The last decade or so of research in Canada, reflected in this special issue, has increased our understanding of the distinction between Indigenous resilience and the research into Indigenous resilience. Measurement offers glimpses of resilience, mostly from the potentially distorted view of how resilient youth face specific adversity - adversity that is set by the funding opportunity: tobacco, substance abuse, suicide, or HIV infection. The driving role of funding has obvious problems; the priorities of funders may not be the priorities of communities and results can tell more about the funding opportunity than about resilience itself. Even so, this problem-focussed research has the very practical advantage of producing results geared to solutions. A major lesson of this body of work is that we should allow ourselves the space (and the modesty) to recognize that Aboriginal resilience is greater than we have been able to measure under specific funding opportunities. Even with this limitation, our results shows a large degree of specificity - what strengthens youth resilience to one type of adversity in one setting might well not work in another. Five proposals emerge from the findings.

Caldwell D, Maloney A It Started Over Coffee: The Aboriginal Community Youth Resilience Network (ACYRN) in Mi'kmaq And Maliseet Communities of Atlantic Canada.  Pimatisiwin. 2008 Summer; 6(2): 129–143.
April Maloney and Dawn Caldwell both live in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Since 2003, they have worked together to develop a project that would examine resilience to suicide among Aboriginal youth. First, with funding from AK-NEAHR (, they worked with two communities to develop a culturally appropriate research questionnaire for youth. Once the questionnaire was finalized, Dawn and April met with other communities in Atlantic Canada, to discuss youth resilience using the questionnaire they had completed and inviting communities to join them in a community based research project. In 2005, the Aboriginal Community Youth Resilience Network (ACYRN) was funded, allowing 10 communities in Atlantic Canada and 8 communities in Alberta to research youth wellness using the questionnaire first developed by Dawn and April. This article covers some of the issues that Dawn and April faced in growing their research idea into a research network.

McGuire P. Exploring Resilience and Indigenous Ways of Knowing. Pimatisiwin. 2008 Summer. 8(2): 117-131.
This paper introduces aspects of indigenous-based resilience as well as a nuanced understanding(s) of knowledge and healing. It is exploratory as it investigates these areas of inquiry. Focus is on the experience and ways of knowing of Aboriginal peoples in Canada, specifically, the Anishinaabe of Lake Nipigon in northern Ontario. This exploration will assist research in Aboriginal communities by offering a vantage point of health that is less examined. The relationships between indigenous identity, land, and resili- ence underpin this beginning dialogue. Indigenous knowledge is part of a broader discourse that challenges mainstream knowledge and how it is generated, presented and maintained.

Goudreau, G. Exploring the connection between Aboriginal Women’s Hand Drumming and Health Promotion (Mino-Bimaadziwin).  Centre for Health Promotion Studies, School of Public Health, University of Alberta.  Unpublished master's thesis. Journal de la santé autochtone, janvier 2008; pp 72-83.
Over the past 10 years, Aboriginal women from a northern Ontario urban community have been gathering to hand drum as a way to revive their culture and support one another. As a member of an Aboriginal women’s hand-drumming circle called the Waabishki Mkwaa (White Bear) Singers, I had
 a vision of exploring the connection between hand-drumming practices and health promotion, and was the primary researcher for the study described in this article. Adhering to Aboriginal protocols as part of an Indigenous research methodology, I offered traditional tobacco to members of the Waabishki Mkwaa Singers, as an invitation for them to be both co-researchers and participants in the study. In accepting the tobacco, the members agreed to help facilitate the research process, as well as to journal their experiences of the process and of their own hand-drumming practices. Using an Aboriginal Women’s Hand Drumming (AWHD) Circle of Life framework—a framework developed by the co-researchers of the study—we explored the physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional benefits of Aboriginal women’s hand-drumming practices, and examined how culture and social support networks are key determinants of Aboriginal women’s health. Results of the qualitative analysis show that the Aboriginal women’s involvement in hand-drumming circles has many health promot- ing benefits and builds on strengths already existent within their community. Through their experi- ences with hand drumming, the women reported gaining a voice and a sense of holistic healing, empowerment, renewal, strength and Mino-Bimaadiziwin (“good life”). These findings are consistent with evolving Aboriginal perspectives on health promotion.

Web Development by Sleek Interactive