Narratives of Aboriginal Grandmothers: Stories of Identity and Health
Billan, Jennifer Lynn
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In recent years, researchers have been exploring the significance of identity and its relation to overall health within Aboriginal communities (Bourassa & Peach, 2009; Carriere, 2005; Mikkonen & Raphael, 2010; Wilson, 2004). Aboriginal identity is central to the health and understanding of oneself and has been recognized by researchers as a key determinant of health (Bourassa, McKay-McNabb, & Hampton, 2009; Carriere, 2005; Mikkonen & Raphael, 2010; Wilson, 2004). There is a growing body of knowledge supporting this connection, yet there remains a shortage of work specifically related to Aboriginal grandmothers’ experiences and understandings of identity and health. Consequently, existing concepts related to Aboriginal health and identity may not reflect the unique experiences of Aboriginal grandmothers who are also caring for grandchildren. In Canada, Aboriginal grandmothers are held in high esteem and valued for relaying cultural teachings to future generations (Anderson, 2011; McKenzie, Bourassa, Kubik, Strathy, & McKenna, 2010). Furthermore, Aboriginal women play a critical role in the health of their families and communities as mothers, community Elders, and through other social roles (Health Canada, 2003). Guided by Indigenous methodological perspectives and feminist post-colonial theory, this community-based research project explores understandings of identity and health and its intersection from the perspectives of Aboriginal grandmothers who are caring for grandchildren in Regina, Saskatchewan. During this research process, I 1) engaged in discussion with six Aboriginal grandmothers through semi-structured interviews regarding their experiences and understandings of identity and health, 2) thematically analyzed their narratives to further explore understandings of identity and health and their intersection, and 3) shared preliminary findings with grandmothers through a Sharing Circle, which included a pipe ceremony and feast guided by a female Anishnabe Elder. The findings demonstrate that Aboriginal grandmothers have a holistic understanding of identity and health. Furthermore, there are multiple factors in the intersection of identity and health, including kinship, access to resources and support, healing from grief, as well as engaging in Aboriginal culture and spirituality. The grandmothers’ narratives have implications for social policy, service delivery, and future research. As a community-based research project, the grandmothers will ultimately decide the future use of the results from this thesis.