Academic journal article The Canadian Journal of Native Studies

Indigenous Peoples and Biculturedness

Academic journal article The Canadian Journal of Native Studies

Indigenous Peoples and Biculturedness

Article excerpt


Indigenous peoples in North America have faced: colonization; forced relocation; loss of traditional ways and knowledge; residential and boarding schools; the inability to use cultural and traditional rituals, ceremonies and languages; and institutional and individual racism. Many Indigenous peoples must navigate two cultures (Western and Indigenous). People who navigate between the two cultures have been labelled 'bicultured' by Brown and Smirles (2003, p. 81). The space between these two cultures can be a place of solitude and peace. However, Indigenous peoples, regardless of where they reside, now live in a modern world where the dominant society or world order has been mostly derived from the historical imperial political structures that brought colonization, violence and capitalism upon Indigenous cultures. An ethnocentric and Eurocentric culture in the Americas, particularly in North America, has dominated Indigenous peoples' social orders. Indigenous peoples today are restoring their practices within their cultures, but are still forced to work and live within the Eurocentric culture. This may lead to internal conflict in terms of spirituality, social relations, and economic patterns which, in turn, can lead to negative behaviours that contribute to mental and physical health problems. This paper explores the topic of biculturedness and its effect on Indigenous peoples in North America.


Many scholars highlight the various forms of sociopolitical trauma that have caused mental health issues for many Indigenous peoples in North America. They argue that the relationships between European newcomers and Indigenous peoples were confusing, primarily onesided, and detrimental to Indigenous peoples (Duran, 2006; Gone, 2008; Kirmayer, Simpson & Cargo, 2003; McCabe, 2008). Treaties, laws, and policies between Indigenous peoples and Europeans were created to enhance the lives of European settlers and to rid them of the pestilent 'Indians' that resided on the land they wanted (Perdue & Green, 2007).

According to the Elders and traditional teachings, language comes from interaction with the land. Culture, knowledge and teachings come from the language. Spirituality is a part of these teachings as well. Thus, the land 'speaks' a language, which translates into knowledge of that land. That knowledge creates traditions and ceremonies which are the cultural and spiritual basis of Indigenous life. It is not surprising that language was a barrier for newcomers and Indigenous peoples to communicate, as Indigenous peoples did not speak English at the time of contact, so learning to understand the needs and wants of the Europeans was difficult (Perdue & Green, 2007; Yazzie, 2000). Learning about a new language and culture created barriers to communicating and advocating for Indigenous cultures, languages and traditions.

Illnesses brought by the Europeans created fear and havoc amongst Indigenous nations (Waldram, Herring, & Young, 2006), which was further complicated by not being able to communicate adequately with the newcomers. Many traditional healers and medicine people had not encountered these new illnesses. Therefore, they did not know what plants or traditional medicines could assist in the healing of sick Indigenous people. Further, Indigenous peoples were being forced away from the traditional areas that they settled in for hunting, fishing or gathering of foods and family (Barman, Hébert, & McCaskill, 1986). Change came briskly for some Indigenous communities, which did not allow for knowledge exchange or integration.

With encroaching settlements and the need for more land, British treaties, policies and laws that came into effect greatly disadvantaged Indigenous peoples because of language, cultural differences, and worldview. The nation-state laws created for the countries of Canada and the United States catered to the Europeans, granting them access to the lands that Indigenous peoples called home -where they hunted, grew sustenance, and lived (Jones, 2006; Perdue & Green, 2007; Yazzie, 2000). …

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