Friday, October 24, 2008

Stress, Cree First Nation Indigenous People, and Mental Health: Article Sheds New Understanding

A recent article published in Ethos by Naomi Adelson brings up several important points concerning indigenous peoples and mental health. Specifically, she highlights some of the disjunctions between Euroamerican mental health categories such as stress, and Cree First Nation Women's understanding of this category and its place in their lives.

The Abstract

Allan Young's classic thesis on stress discourse underscores the way in which the biomedical discourse of "stress" reflects and legitimizes existing social inequalities even as it removes the language of stress to the decontextualized domain of the clinic. In this article, I address the way in which the "stress discourse" of a group of young adult Cree women who live in a remote northern Canadian village reflects and reinscribes the social, cultural, and historical conditions of inequality as part and parcel of community life. This study, as a reflection of Young's thesis, reveals that sometimes one is bound to replicate inequities because it is necessary to do so. The women with whom I spoke are entangled in an historical and social reality that they are wholly aware of such that the paths of inequity that are expressed in a rationale of "stress" cannot readily be challenged or changed.

Key Findings

For the women of Whapmagoostui the term stress is at one and the same time a foreign yet wholly recognizable concept, understood as an emotional and psychological response to the heavy demands of their lives. Although there is are shared challenges in terms of the various historical, economic, political, and social determinants of stress in their daily lives, there is a concomitant perpetuation of the idea that "stress" needs to be managed on one's own. For these women, socially and culturally drive practices of inequity, heightened by the circumstances peculiar to the institutionalization of colonial and missionary practices, emerge as problematic predominantly through the individualized and embodied popular discourse of "stress." Although that decontextualized language serves initially to give women a means to express their discontent, there are significant implications in terms of how they can substantively address their personal and collective concerns.

The result is that social and community engagement with problems expressed through the language of stress are curbed.

If outside professionals narrow the discussion of "mental health" issues amongst Aboriginal populations into "measurable attributes" we may simply not be able to see those socially and culturally sanctioned practices that impinge on some members of a given community and not others.

The women with whom I spoke in Whapmagoostui clearly recognized their distress as fundamentally linked to the present-day remains of colonization and pervasive effects of the resulting asymmetrical social relations, often expressed through the norms of cultural practices. They do not want, however, a prescriptive, unexamined return to "culture."

Within Aboriginal communities in the last few years, First Nations women in particular have begun to speak out about the difficulties that they face in their personal, social, and economic lives. For example, see the work of Kim Anderson (2000), Cecelia Benoit and Dena Carroll (2000), Mary E. Brayboy and Mary Y. Morgan (1998), Madeline Dion Stout (1995), Marilyn Fontaine-Bright Star (1992), Camille Fouillard (1995), Sherry L. Hambly (2000), Winona LaDuke (1995), and Joanne Reid (1993). The issues they raise include everything from the extremes of suicide, drug or alcohol dependence, physical abuse, and disease to the struggles of poverty, unemployment or limited employment, workplace harassment, difficult home life experiences, lone parenthood, or the balancing of work and family responsibilities.

The range of life traumas that First Nations women experience must be understood - and addressed - as part of a larger sociopolitical process that reaches back to the history of colonization and its enduring effects. This collective burden, or social suffering, compounds whatever personal traumas women may be experiencing in their everyday lives. We must attend, in other words, to the social, economic, and political realms of distress and how they articulate in women's lives.

The full citation of this article is: Adelson, Naomi. (2008). Discourses of Stress, Social Inequities, and the Everyday Worlds of First Nations Women in a Remote Northern Canadian Community. Ethos, 36(3):316-333.

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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

October 15-21, 2008: Five Key Indigenous Peoples Issues

Five Important Indigenous People's Issues for the Week of October 15 - 21, 2008

China: Mining Companies Expand Their Operations Abroad

To tarnish the already notorious Chinese mining industry frequented with disastrous accidents, Bloomberg Markets further highlights the problem of child labour involving Chinese-based companies in South Africa in their recent special report.

Whilst mining companies are pouring in a huge sum of investment which gives them the permit to extract raw materials in mineral-rich regions abroad, there is a growing outcry for improvement in work conditions and wages in the local community.

Apparently, the Bloomberg’s special report only reflects a tip of the iceberg; and scrutiny and criticisms should not be only spearheaded to Chinese mining companies. Increasing international mining companies spiraling into scandals of human rights abuse conveys a clear message that there is a price to pay for their misconduct both at home and overseas.

The Chinese government has been spending enormous effort on coming up with effective strategies to safeguard miners. Yet supervision and implementation of regulations are far behind the quality of laws on paper. The scattered scale of mines in China poses one of the biggest challenges to supervision. The great number of small- and “very small”-scale mines are often nonexistent to government and thus leak through the radar of supervision. These are the places where most accidents take place and suffer the most fatalities. The weak enforcement on regulations leave the miners with no choice but to go on with unacceptably low wages – or sometimes even unpaid wages – and deficient safety measures. With the unsolved problems back home, the lack of effective solutions continues the inability to protect miners’ rights in their overseas mining operations.

China’s soaring economic boom and the shortage of resources have led to the necessary expansion of its mining industry abroad. Being the world’s biggest coal producer contributing to 46% of the global hard coal production, China still needs to import coal from places such as India due to its heavy reliance on coal for electricity generation. In other cases, mining companies broaden and secure their resource supply through merger and acquisition (M&A) with foreign mining companies. Chinese state-owned corporation, China National Petroleum Corporation, that bought Canadian petroleum company PetroKazakhstan in 2005 is reportedly China’s largest acquisition of a foreign company in history, among many others. Alongside this trend is a government-initiated agreement which facilitates Chinese companies’ investment in developing countries, specifically South Africa, Sudan and Zimbabwe. However, governmental involvement does not always guarantee a positive outcome, as noted in the recent riot in Zambia triggered off by local miners against their Chinese manager. The Chinese investment in Zambia’s mining industry was made possible when Chinese President Hu Jintao initiated the copper mining partnership programme last February. Intended to be a mutually beneficial programme, the recent outbreak of violence revealed the contrary impact regarding low wages among local miners as well as managers’ reluctance to negotiate with their workers. The previous significant anti-Chinese opposition was in 2005 when one of the local Chinese factories suffered from an explosion which claimed the lives of 45 people. Read more about China and indigenous struggles here....

Argentina: Chaco Guarani People Win Titles To Their Own Lands

Sometimes the good guys win. Sometimes it takes a long time and a little human and high tech help.

In the Gran Chaco region of Argentina, traditional Guarani people are winning back the lands they've lived on for centuries--by learning to assert their rights and by mastering high tech ways to substantiate those rights.

"After eight years of organizing, public education, awareness raising and legal advocacy, the Guarani community of Vinalito received title for their land from the Argentinean government on September 13," says Martin Coria, Church World Service Regional Coordinator for Latin America and the Caribbean.

The September ruling, after generations of discrimination and exclusion, gave the Guarani people of Vinalito, in the northern Chaco area, collective title to 10,131 acres (about 16 square miles) of their traditional land.

Other parts of the Chaco region have been struggling for the past 20 years.

But the Guarani people in Vinalito pressed their case, using modern Global Positioning System (GPS) technology and other online mapping tools to measure and substantiate their claims, and assistance and training from global humanitarian agency Church World Service and its member denominations.

After three years of congressional debate, Argentina last month passed legislation that suspends all forced removal of indigenous peoples from disputed lands and gives government agencies four years to grant collective land tittles to these communities.

"This landmark legislation was the result of constant education, advocacy and efforts to raise public awareness by our Chaco region partners in Argentina and the indigenous groups themselves," says CWS' Coria.

The Gran Chaco, a 400 square miles-wide region spanning parts of Argentina, Paraguay, Bolivia and Brazil, is the second largest forested area in South America, after the Amazon. The region contains Bolivia's natural gas reserves and Paraguay's forest reserve. In Argentina, the rich land is being swallowed up by soy producers.

As with dozens of other indigenous groups in the region, the Guarani people have lived in the Chaco for centuries, but, since the Spanish conquest, have been discriminated against and denied their rights and have endured predatory extractive "development models." Read more about the Chaco Guarani peoples and land here....

COLOMBIA: Indigenous People Protest in Face of Threats

At the top of the list of demands of some 7,000 people mobilising in the Cauca municipality of Piendamó is the clarification of the deaths of 13 indigenous people killed over the past two weeks in different parts of Colombia.

Thousands of indigenous, black, mestizo (mixed-race) and white representatives of social organisations gathered over the weekend in the southern region of Cauca to participate in the "minga" (a traditional indigenous meeting convened to achieve a collective purpose) on occasion of the Día de la Raza (Day of the Race), which marks the anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s arrival in the Americas.

In a public statement, the protesters denounced Tuesday that the army had injured 23 indigenous people and that three others were missing, as a result of "the repression exercised by the state against our peaceful demonstration."

They also reported that army helicopters were overflying the indigenous reserve where the gathering is taking place.

Protesters were called to commemorate "516 years of resistance against a regime of terror at the service of multinational capitalist greed."

Representatives of the union of judicial sector workers, the Asonal Judicial, and sugarcane cutters -- both of which have been on strike for more than a month -- joined the demonstration on Monday Oct. 13. These two additions are expected to double the current number of protesters, according to estimates by Manuel Rozental, a spokesperson for indigenous groups who spoke to IPS by telephone. Read more about Columbian indigenous struggles here....

Guatemala: Americas Social Forum Rejects Neoliberalism, Celebrates Resistance

The Third Americas Social Forum closed on Sunday with a massive rally from the Obelisk in Guatemala City's elite "Zona Viva," past the U.S. Embassy, to the National Palace on the main square in the center of town. With the participation of more than 7,000 delegates from throughout the Americas and Europe, the 6-day event condemned neoliberal economic policies, and pledged to build a better world.

This was the third meeting of the Americas Social Forum, and the first one in Central America. It first met in Quito, Ecuador in 2004, and in Caracas, Venezuela in 2006 as part of that year's Polycentric World Social Forum. Although somewhat smaller than the previous two gatherings, the participation of 350 organizations in pulling together a wide range of events meant that it was a very rich meeting. Organizer Jorge Coronado noted that the forum needs to move with current realities, and that despite problems with a lack of funds and translations (the forum was a primarily monolingual Spanish event), the social forum process is "more alive than ever."

The forum ran from October 7-12, bridging two symbolically important dates. On October 8, 1967, Che Guevara was captured in combat in Bolivia. Sympathizers have subsequently celebrated that anniversary as the Day of the Heroic Guerrilla. True to form, the first full day's activities closed with a special celebration of Che's life. On the main stage in the Plaza of Martyrs at the University of San Carlos where the forum's events were held, Cuban musicians played Nueva Trova music. During the day, Cuban veterans talked about Che's life on the school's Plaza of the Heroic Guerrilla, with a mural of Che and the Americas overlooking their activities. As with all of the forums in the Americas, red Che t-shirts were ubiquitous throughout the event.

Organizers intentionally organized the forum to culminate on October 12. Elites have historically celebrated the anniversary of Christopher Columbus' arrival in the Americas as the Día de la Hispanidad, or Day of the Race. Leading up to the quincentennial of that voyage in 1992, however, Indigenous peoples began to commemorate it as a day of resistance. Read more about the forum here....

Norway: Vepsians of Karelia and Saami of Norway Discussed Perspective Spheres For Cooperation

Under invitation of the Arran center of Lullesaami (Norway) Vepsians of the Republic of Karelia have visited the province of Norland, Budø commune, have got acquainted with activity of the Saami center and discussed perspective spheres for their joint activity.

In April representatives of the Arran center of Lullesaami participated in the International Research-to-Practice Conference Vepsians, Indigenous Minority of the Russian Federation: Preservation and Development Prospects held in Petrozavodsk, and in June they met with heads of the Ministry of the Republic of Karelia on National Politics and Relations with Religious Associations and many other government institutions of the republic responsible for preservation and development of language and traditional culture of indigenous minority of Vepsians. During the meetings the Norwegian party has proposed to sign an engagement agreement on cooperation and has suggested to discuss specific spheres of joint activity for the intermediate term prospect.

During their trip representatives of Karelia and Leningrad region visited the Lullesaami center simultaneously engaged in educational and research activity. The guests were especialli interested in acquaintance with work of the education department where the Saami remote teaching center for children and a kindergarten now attended by 24 children. Read more about the Vepsians and Saami here....

Last weeks Five Key Indigenous People's Issues can be found here.

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