Module 3: Resilience and Aboriginal Communities in crises

The paper explores resilience created through reclaiming cultural identity and spirituality lost through colonialism as a means of addressing and overcoming issues facing Indigenous communities today.  The trauma of colonialism, characterized by attempts at ethnocide, have left deep scars in these communities, weakened families and left in its wake a culture of codependency manifested in behaviors such as alcoholism among Indigenous groups. Traumatic events include loss of hunting grounds and traditional lands, and rituals and religion, and this has resulted in a loss of traditional (and proven) survival practices and a breakdown of social cohesion within these communities. The authors do a good job in analyzing the psychological reasons behind negative, self-destructive behaviors among Indigenous peoples.

Indigenous peoples were forced to live on reservations, or attend Residential Schools, and at the same time denied the privilege of practicing their religion and rituals that would help them overcome the trauma of their situation.  In short “Aboriginal peoples not only had to endure trauma, but they were at the same time deprived of the tools of resiliency (beliefs, rituals and institutions) which usually help traumatized societies to reconstruct their identity.”  The trauma which Indigenous peoples in Canada and the US endured is presented here .  The idea behind the Residential Schools, at least, was to “kill the Indian but save the child.”

The authors define resilience as “the capacity of a distinct community or cultural system to absorb disturbances, reorganize while undergoing change, retain key elements of structure and identity that preserve its distinctness.”

The authors maintain that cultural identity, the revival of cultural practices and rituals are important for resilience, and can stem the tide of alcoholism and suicide tendencies.

An example of reviving cultural identity, building resilience, and ultimately bringing about healing took place in the Innu-Montagnais villiage of Nutashkuan on the shores of the St. Laurence River.  Over 200 participants converged on a 10-day nature camp on ancestral hunting grounds.  The camp was led by a team of traditional healers from the tribe as well as clinical psychologists.  This is a great example of using traditional knowledge to bring about healing to a tribe.  One of the central issues that were addressed was the painful memories that participants had of Residential Schools.


Tousignant, M., and Sioui, N. (2009).  Resilience and Aboriginal communities in crisis:  Theory and Interventions.  Journal of Aboriginal Health, November:  43-61.  Retrieved from



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