Colonizing Bodies: Aboriginal Health and Healing in British Columbia, 1900-50

Colonizing Bodies: Aboriginal Health and Healing in British Columbia, 1900-50

Colonizing Bodies: Aboriginal Health and Healing in British Columbia, 1900-50

Colonizing Bodies: Aboriginal Health and Healing in British Columbia, 1900-50

Synopsis

Using postmodern and postcolonial conceptions of the body and the power relations of colonization, Kelm shows how a pluralistic medical system evolved among Canada's most populous Aboriginal population. She explores the effect which Canada's Indian policy has had on Aboriginal bodies and considers how humanitarianism and colonial medicine were used to pathologize Aboriginal bodies and institute a regime of doctors, hospitals, and field matrons, all working to encourage assimilation. In this detailed but highly readable ethnohistory, Kelm reveals how Aboriginal people were able to resist and alter these forces in order to preserve their own cultural understanding of their bodies, disease, and medicine.

Excerpt

The first half of the twentieth century was a time of sorrow and hope for British Columbia's First Nations. The Aboriginal population reached its lowest point at this time but then started to rise again. Many elders remember this period as one when the people were strong, and when the problems of diabetes, cancer, and widespread substance abuse were just ominous clouds on the horizon. At the same time, however, rates of disease and death remained depressingly high -- higher than in the non- Aboriginal population. Infectious diseases of all kinds, particularly tuberculosis, stalked the First Nations whose living conditions and subsistence bases were gradually eroded during this era. However, the larger changes that would bring on the diseases of 'modernization' were yet to come. In a sense, as we examine the first fifty years of this century, we stand on the cusp of a major epidemiological transition through which the First Nations had not yet passed.

The first half of the twentieth century was also the period during which the 'crisis' in Aboriginal health was defined with surveys and statistics. Officials were troubled by the rates of infectious diseases, especially tuberculosis. These officials worried particularly about tuberculosis both because so many Native people died of it and because these same people seemed to pose a health threat to the rest of the population. The statistics officials produced supported this view and eventually led them to take measures designed to control the disease among the First Nations. Yet 'knowledge' and data on Aboriginal health did not always coincide. For instance, though a number of health workers 'knew' that venereal disease was endemic within the First Nations, their own statistics did not support this belief. Similarly, while the analysis of Aboriginal health emphasized indicators of disease and death, there was much to report that was positive: lower rates for long-term lifestyle-related illnesses, such as cancer and heart disease, for instance. The statistics generated at this time focused on physical illness and passed over strengths. As we shall . . .

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