Margaret de Jager, Jason Gobeil, Frank Tacan, Candice Waddell, Rachel Herron, Jonathan Allan, and Kerstin Roger
What you need to know
Understanding Indigenous men’s healing journeys is critical to moving beyond deficit-focused research on substance use and suicide among Indigenous men. Little attention has been given to Indigenous men’s experiences of healing and barriers to healing. Men involved in this collaborative research project described their healing journeys as non-linear processes of resilience, hope, and cultural reclamation constrained by experiences of systemic racism and internalized oppression.
Why this research is important
Colonialism has, in large part, contributed to trauma among Indigenous people. Mental health is not an Indigenous term; it was developed by Western medical professionals. What may seem like symptoms of mental health in Indigenous communities may also be legitimate responses to trauma, poor living conditions, and other inequities. Understanding the complex nature of Indigenous peoples’ healing journeys is vital to address the mental health disparities between Indigenous peoples and their non-Indigenous counterparts. This research focuses on understanding well-being and the healing process from the perspective of Indigenous men, rather than focusing on mental health problems from a Western perspective.
How this research was conducted
The project used the community-based participatory research method to strengthen community partnerships with Indigenous co-researchers. Indigenous researchers led four two-hour sharing circles with Indigenous men. Seven men, including the co-researchers, shared their stories within the sharing circles. To conduct the research in a good way, ceremonies and traditional teachings were offered as part of the sharing circles. Following the sharing circles, five individual interviews were conducted with Indigenous men.
What the researchers found
The main themes that emerged throughout this project in regards to the men’s healing journey are included below. Planning for the future, raising children, and “walking the good path” gave Indigenous men a sense of hope on their healing journeys. Men identified constraints to living a good life; specifically, they struggled with losing relationships and a sense of belonging in an attempt to live a life free from drugs and alcohol. Ceremony provided a safe space for men and strengthened cultural connections with other men and their communities. The men in this collaboration identified a scarcity of cultural role models as a barrier in their healing journeys. The men also internalized oppression and racism, which acted as a barrier to seeking external support in an urban setting.
How this research can be used
The stories shared in this project will be used to educate Western service providers about the barriers faced by Indigenous men when seeking help. Inequalities in service provision and systemic racism continue to undermine the efforts made by Indigenous communities on their path to wellness. Providing people with a safe space to ask for help and the provision of culturally sensitive help could facilitate stronger relationships between Indigenous people and Western mental health services. Indigenous men found healing through ceremonies and, if available, Indigenous role models. These resources need to be recognized and supported as an essential parallel system of care.
In the spirit of humility, we acknowledge that by naming Jason Gobeil and Frank Tacan as authors, we also recognize that the information shared within this Research Connection is not theirs alone. Indigenous teaching and knowledge sharing is a collective practice involving knowledge keepers, ancestors, families, and communities. We are grateful for the trust and sharing that has informed this research process. We thank the research participants for sharing their time and stories.
About the Researchers
- community-based participatory research
- healing journey
- Indigenous men
- mental wellness
Editor: Christiane Ramsey
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