Intersections, borders and barriers

Intersections, borders and barriers: A new conceptualisation of urban-dwelling Aboriginal seniors’ experiences of health and healthcare related events.
Speaker: Sarah Graja # University of Edinburgh
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Introduced by
Date and Time
28th Mar 2013 17:00 - 28th Mar 2013 18:30
Seminar Room 1, Chrystal Macmillan Building

Canada possesses the second largest Aboriginal population in the world. Its growth rate is more than ten times higher than the general population and it is increasingly urbanised, with more than half of all Aboriginal people now living in urban areas. Moreover the population is ageing at twice the rate of the general population, with the number of Aboriginal seniors doubling in the last decade. Despite a healthy growth rate and an increasing urban presence, there remains a significant lack of research on Aboriginal seniors, particularly pertaining to life in urban areas. On the whole the few pieces of existing research list problems faced by this group of people and take little notice of the holistic nature of Aboriginal epistemology. 

The promulgation of research focusing on areas of weakness is not solely a result of the rejection of Aboriginal epistemology however. Statistical research shows real evidence of increased morbidity and mortality in Aboriginal communities. Thus in an attempt to understand the reasons for this, researchers have focused on specific areas of perceived weakness. I contend however, that in order to improve the health and life expectancy of Aboriginal people, majority culture healthcare professionals need research that enables them to better understand their Aboriginal patients. Armed with this understanding they would be better prepared to adopt culturally appropriate caring practices. 

This research endeavours to see inside urban-dwelling Aboriginal seniors’ worlds, in order to understand their experiences related to health. Health is seen as multifaceted comprising physical, social, psychological and spiritual aspects. It is positioned at the interface between Aboriginal and Western epistemologies, allowing for the decolonization of research at the same time as facilitating cross-cultural understanding amongst majority culture healthcare professionals. Aboriginal epistemology is blended with Hermeneutic Phenomenology in an approach that places emphasis on reciprocal learning rather than learning about an exotic other. Informed by this methodology, stories of urban-dwelling Aboriginal seniors’ life experiences have been gathered. The Aboriginal seniors’ stories ultimately lie at the heart of a process of gaining new understanding. Through interpreting the stories I gained new understanding, which is demonstrated through my own story. Thus the Aboriginal participants are not the object of enquiry; rather their experiences and the impact of these experiences on my understanding are the object of enquiry. 

Initial analysis demonstrates a variety of experiences that may impact upon the participants’ health. The importance of certain experiences is particularly evident when participants move between spheres of influence at what I have termed crossing points. Participants navigate intersections, borders and barriers in many aspects of their daily lives. Intersections tend to lead more often to better experiences of health and healthcare, whereas border and barriers are more likely to produce negative outcomes. The reason for a person encountering one crossing point as opposed to another appears to be the level of cultural safety they experiences in the situation. 

The results have a two-fold impact. Firstly, through my own story of gaining new understanding, a method for this activity is demonstrated. Secondly, this new conceptualisation of urban-dwelling Aboriginal seniors’ experiences lays the ground for creating new relationships between them and healthcare service providers.