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Resilience from an Indigenous Perspective

The challenges of bouncing back from lasting change.

Resilience from an Indigenous Perspective
When people hear the word “resilience”, they often think of bouncing back to an original state of functioning after adversity. This explanation of resilience assumes that the challenges people bounce back from don’t cause any lasting change. Thinking of resilience in such a static way limits our understanding of resilience. In this post, we’ll take a look at a great article by Kirmayer et al that explores resilience directly defined by various Aboriginal Peoples. Here are some key ideas:

  • Resilience is a dynamic process of social/psychological adaptation and transformation that occurs in individuals, families, communities or larger social groups

  • Resilience can be considered as any positive outcome in the face of historical and current stressors

  • Aboriginal Peoples in Canada have diverse narratives of resilience based on their various unique histories and cultures/languages

Featured Narratives of Resilience:

The Mi’Kmaq People of Atlantic Canada (approximately 40 000 people) define their resilience as how they navigated the Watertown Treaty of 1776 with the British. They viewed these treaties as agreements to share their knowledge with the Europeans. The Mi’Kmaq people believed that a true human being is one that lives in peace and friendship, and their signing of the treaties signified them as equal partners in political arrangements with Canada. According to this article, the Mi’Kmaq believe that forgiveness, reconciliation and restorative justice is an important part of moral consciousness and therefore overall resilience.  

Based on interviews with the Kahnawake People (1 of 8 Mohawk communities in Quebec, Ontario and New York), resilience was defined through their resistance to a history of collective trauma and loss. The Kahnawake People lost incredible amounts of sacred land, as well as their language, culture and people. These traumas led them to mobilize their community to increase awareness of historic injustices and reassert control over health services, education, economic development and community services. Responding to unspeakable challenges has resulted in tenacity, dignity, resourcefulness, and hope.

The Métis are made up of over 300 000 People in various communities across Canada, mostly living in urban communities. Métis have faced discrimination because of their indigenous origins as well as their mixed heritage. Although the Métis people are culturally diverse, there are certain commonalities in their views of resilience: they generally value independence, self-reliance and a strong work ethic. They view resilience as their ability to find creative solutions, being able to create a life for themselves and their families, and having “street smarts”.

The resilience of Inuit Peoples is historically based in their persistence, resourcefulness, endurance and adaptability to the unpredictable Arctic environment. Their concept of “niriunniq” (loosely translated as “hope”) has been extremely important in how they navigate uncertain environmental challenges and (more recently) the socio-political challenges of southern administration. The Inuit People exhibit their resilience in their ability to initiate climate change research and advocate against the effects of global warming.

To conclude:

Resilience from an indigenous perspective is varied and diverse, just like the Aboriginal Peoples of Canada. Narratives of resilience are rooted in culturally distinctive concepts of the person, the importance of collective history, the richness of Aboriginal languages and traditions, and the importance of individual and collective agency and activism.

(Photo by Thomas Kelley)