A contemporary socio-cultural exploration of health and healing: Perspectives from members of the Oneida Nation of the Thames (Onyota'a:ka)

Paul G. Beaudin
Rehabilitation Sciences, University of Western Ontario (Canada)
December, 2011


Issues of health and wellness and their integration with health policy are important to all communities in Canada, regardless of geography or population. Yet policies that govern health services within communities are often grounded by an underlying philosophy or "worldview". Imposing health policy and affiliated services developed from a "Western European" worldview onto Aboriginal people, who themselves perceive health from a differing worldview, will contribute to the health disparities between these two populations. This treatise seeks to outline similarities and differences in two worldviews of health and healing and how they may be converged to influence health policy and services for Aboriginal Canadians. In a progressive and comprehensive "Western European" worldview of health, the International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF) (World Health Organization, 2001) provides a conceptual framework for a bio-psycho-social model of health. Unique to the ICF is its organization around the concept of disablement and the interaction between its components of health. Alternatively, an "Aboriginal" worldview of health and healing is tied to a fundamental and equal interactions among one's mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual being; health and healing are achieved when harmony and balance exist among the four components. Effective change can occur once proponents of health policy acknowledge and understand the differences in Aboriginal beliefs surrounding health and healing. Thus, development of an integrative health policy that reflects the specific needs and beliefs of Aboriginal people in Canada, as well as the "Western European" view of healthcare is necessary. This type of inclusive health policy is an important step in remediating the disparity of health between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal populations that exist in Canadian society. As an example of understanding the cultural significance of an Aboriginal worldview of health and healing, a focused ethnography in the context of community based research was completed in partnership with the Oneida Nation of the Thames First Nation community in Southwestern Ontario. Results support the need to explore the cultural circumstance of individuals and communities within the personal factors component of the ICF to provide an orientation from which to maximize the multi-directional interactions among each component of the ICF framework.