Geography & Environment Publications

Explaining the Paradox of Health and Social Support among Aboriginal Canadians

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Canadian Issues

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Societies that foster high quality social environments and integration produce healthier populations. The mechanisms underlying the protective effect of social integration appear to be through various forms of social support. Despite reportedly high rates of social support within the Aboriginal population, however, current patterns of health are overrepresented by social ills such as family violence, alcoholism and suicide. This paper explores this paradox through qualitative interviews with Aboriginal Community Health Representatives (CHR's). CHR's narratives point to two key explanations for the health-support paradox: (i) social support is not a widely accessible resource; and (ii) the negative health effects of social support can sometimes outweigh the positive ones. The formation of health behaviours and cultural norms that underpin social support is inextricably tied to the colonial legacy and poor material circumstances that characterize Canada's Aboriginal communities. The pathways through which the physical, material and social environments interact to influence the health of Aboriginal Canadians are complex; and, more qualitative research is needed to understand what these interactions mean for health and social support in the every day lives of Aboriginal Canadians. Policy efforts to initiate healthy behaviours cannot succeed without coinciding material investments.

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