Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Thesis Format



Master of Arts




Brown, Jason


Since the arrival of European settlers, Indigenous peoples have experienced immeasurable adversities. The intergenerational trauma caused by colonization and legislation aimed at cultural desecration has contributed to mental health concerns. Assimilation policies that made cultural practises illegal pushed knowledge and ceremonies underground and led to cultural and spiritual disconnection. The effects of colonization are as pervasive today as they were in the past. Western models of psychological intervention are antithetical to Indigenous worldviews and ways of knowing. As a result, mainstream mental health services have had limited effectiveness. Existing mental health literature on Indigenous peoples is largely rooted in a deficit framework, identifying individual psychopathology and social problems. There is a need for culturally responsive care that integrates the inherent strengths and resources within Indigenous nations. Namely, Haudenosaunee healing models are holistic and attend to the emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual domains of wellness. The Good Mind model embodies harmonious living with all life and grounds the Haudenosaunee way of being. This qualitative project explores the experiences of Haudenosaunee peoples in the context of cultural revitalization and collective meaning-making of cultural identities, in relation to mental wellness.

Summary for Lay Audience

The long history of systematic desecration of Indigenous culture has led to cultural discontinuity within Indigenous communities. The intergenerational effects of oppression and ongoing colonial discrimination impinge on cultural identity formation, contributing to rising mental health concerns among Indigenous peoples. Western interventions assume mental health difficulties are inherent to the individual, negating the immeasurable effects colonization has on mental wellbeing. Most mental health interventions used in Canada are grounded in an individualistic and medicalized perspective that is discrepant with Indigenous values and knowledge. Indigenous healing, however, underscores relationality and implements a holistic lens that focuses on the mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual elements of wellbeing. Services steeped in Indigenous cultural practices engender community engagement and facilitate strong cultural identity formation and mental wellness. The current study explored how culture and identity impact the mental wellness of Haudenosaunee people by interviewing participants from the Firekeepers cultural program. Several participants reported experiencing a felt sense of belongingness and cultural pride from learning about their heritage and historical legacies. The cultural program fostered a sense of community, equipping youth with positive mentors and healthy coping mechanisms.