The Interdisciplines of Ecosystem Health: As Revealed in First Nations Collaborations

By Christianne V. Stephens and Regna Darnell.

Published by The Social Sciences Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

This article reports on the work of an interdisciplinary research team involving faculty and students from Anthropology, First Nations Studies and Ecosystem Health (Medicine) working in collaboration with a Native community in Southwestern Ontario, Canada. Community-driven projects brought to the team focus on the correlation of human health with environmental degradation from the nearby petrochemical centre, the loss of clean water and uncontaminated fish as subsistence resources and increasing endangerment of plant and animal species (affecting the continuity of traditional medicine). Collaboration of Aboriginal community experts with academics is providing an increasingly explicit theory of how these variables are interrelated, and how balance or well-being can be sustained in a world where it is highly endangered. Because Native peoples already acknowledge the inseparability of ecosystem and human health and the health of all living beings, there is a mutually reinforcing convergence of interdisciplinarities from First Nations and academic directions.

Keywords: Ecosystem Health, Environmental Contaminants, Perceptions of Environmental Risks, Indigenous Health, Participatory Action Research, Medical Anthropology, Interdisciplinary Health Studies

International Journal of Interdisciplinary Social Sciences, Volume 3, Issue 1, pp.147-160. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 605.788KB).

Christianne V. Stephens

Doctoral Candidate, Department of Anthropology, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada

Ms. Christianne V. Stephens is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Anthropology of Health Program at McMaster University and Research Associate in Ecosystem Health (Department of Pathology) in the Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry at The University of Western Ontario, Canada. Her areas of expertise include medical and environmental anthropology, historical epidemiology, and Aboriginal health issues in Canada. Ms. Stephens' doctoral research deploys ethnographic data to investigate water quality issues at the Walpole Island First Nation, a Southwestern Ontario Native community located downstream from one of Canada's largest petrochemical centres. Her study illuminates how contaminants discourses derived from interviews with different sub-groups in the Walpole Island community reveal cultural constructions and understandings of nature, ecological stewardship, environmental risks and health and well-being. Ms. Stephens has been conducting historical and health-related research at the Walpole Island First Nation for over six years.

Dr. Regna Darnell

Distinguished University Professor, Department of Anthropology and First Nations Studies, The University of Western Ontario, London, Ontario, Canada

Dr. Darnell’s research with the First Nations (Algonquian and Iroquoian-speaking) peoples of Southwestern Ontario, Canada, focuses on building bridges between Indigenous knowledges concerning human health, the natural world and the spiritual relations of human persons within it to the usually discrete academic disciplines consolidating Western knowledge of similar phenomena. Qualitative methods of life history, narrative and discourse analysis are used to establish a common theoretical discourse within which participatory action research in collaboration with First Nations communities can proceed effectively and provide generalizable models for cross-cultural communication. Dr. Darnell was the founding director of the First Nations Studies program at the University of Western Ontario and has worked with Algonquian and Iroquoian languages and cultures for nearly four decades.


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