Narratives of Social Support and Health in Aboriginal Communities
Canadian Journal of Public Health / Revue Canadienne de Santé Publique
Societies that foster high-quality social relationships and social support seemingly produce healthier populations. Existing research identifies social support as a significant dimension and determinant of Canadian Aboriginal health, yet patterns of morbidity and mortality overwhelmingly reflect social causes (e.g., violence, suicide), thereby suggesting that social support may not be widely accessible within this population. This paper seeks to understand how broader societal factors (e.g., colonialism) work to influence access to social support in the everyday social environments of Aboriginal communities. Narrative analysis of interviews with 26 Aboriginal Community Health Representatives (CHRs) from across Canada. Sources of social support are institutional (e.g., those employed to provide support) and intimate (e.g., family). In terms of access to social support, CHRs' stories reflected a narrative detailing the post-colonial context. Key elements of this narrative include the child-parent relationship, group-belonging, trust, socio-economic dependence, and the changing nature of help. Findings suggest that features of the broader societal context (e.g., poverty) have manifested as local social conditions (e.g., providing help has come to be seen as a possible source of income), thereby reducing access to social support. Access to this resource is also affected as institutional and intimate supports tend to overlap in Aboriginal communities, many of which are small in terms of size and population. Research and policy options must recognize the post-colonial influences that affect the everyday realities of Aboriginal communities and study the complex interactions between these influences, and how health determinants - like social support - play out in local places as a result of this legacy.