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Awakening: ‘Spontaneous Recovery’ from Substance Abuse among Aboriginal Peoples in Canada



There is a paucity of research on spontaneous recovery (SR) from substance abuse in general, and specific to Aboriginal peoples. There is also limited understanding of the healing process associated with SR. In this study, SR was examined among a group of Aboriginal peoples in Canada. Employing a decolonizing methodology, thematic analysis of traditional talking circle narratives identified an association between a traumatic life event and an ‘awakening.’ This ‘awakening’ was embedded in primary (i.e., consider impact on personal well-being) and secondary (i.e., implement alternative coping mechanism) cognitive appraisal processes and intrinsic and extrinsic motivation rooted in increased traditional Aboriginal cultural awareness and understanding. This contributed to both abstinence (i.e., recovery) and sustained well-being (i.e.,continued abstinence). Three key interrelated ‘themes’ specific to the role of culture in SR and recovery maintenance were identified: Aboriginal identity, cultural practices, and traditional values. These findings,combined with the limited literature, were developed into a prospective model of SR from substance abuse inAboriginal peoples. This model highlights the potential need for substance abuse treatment and intervention policy to consider culture as a determinant of health and well-being.
e International Indigenous Policy Journal
Volume 2
Issue 1 Health and Well-Being Article 7
Awakening: 'Spontaneous recovery’ from
substance abuse among Aboriginal peoples in
Adrien Tempier
Colleen A. Dell
University of Saskatchewan,
Elder Campbell Papequash
Randy Duncan
Raymond Tempier
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Recommended Citation
Tempier, A. , Dell, C. A. , Papequash, E. , Duncan, R. , Tempier, R. (2011). Awakening: 'Spontaneous recovery’ from substance abuse
among Aboriginal peoples in Canada. e International Indigenous Policy Journal, 2(1) . Retrieved from: hp://
Awakening: 'Spontaneous recovery’ from substance abuse among
Aboriginal peoples in Canada
ere is a paucity of research on spontaneous recovery (SR) from substance abuse in general, and specic to
Aboriginal peoples. ere is also limited understanding of the healing process associated with SR. In this
study, SR was examined among a group of Aboriginal peoples in Canada. Employing a decolonizing
methodology, thematic analysis of traditional talking circle narratives identied an association between a
traumatic life event and an ‘awakening.’ is ‘awakening’ was embedded in primary (i.e., consider impact on
personal well-being) and secondary (i.e., implement alternative coping mechanism) cognitive appraisal
processes and intrinsic and extrinsic motivation rooted in increased traditional Aboriginal cultural awareness
and understanding. is contributed to both abstinence (i.e., recovery) and sustained well-being (i.e.,
continued abstinence). ree key interrelated ‘themes’ specic to the role of culture in SR and recovery
maintenance were identied: Aboriginal identity, cultural practices, and traditional values. ese ndings,
combined with the limited literature, were developed into a prospective model of SR from substance abuse in
Aboriginal peoples. is model highlights the potential need for substance abuse treatment and intervention
policy to consider culture as a determinant of health and well-being.
Spontaneous Recovery, Awakening, Substance Abuse, Aboriginal, Culture, Well-being
e authors wish to thank all of the individuals who shared their experiences for others to learn from in this
study, the Ancient Spirals Retreat Centre for making available a suitable meeting space, and the Saskatchewan
Health Research Foundation for nancially supporting this research. Appreciation is also oered to Charloe
Fillmore-Handlon for her editorial assistance. Particular appreciation and gratitude is expressed to our study’s
Elder who guided the gathering; without his cultural guidance this study would not have been undertaken.
We would also like to thank the external reviewers from the International Indigenous Policy Journal for their
helpful comments, and members of the Saskatchewan Team for Research and Evaluation of Addictions
Treatment and Mental Health Services (STREAM) and their associates, who likewise provided insightful
guidance and comments—Elder Billy Ermine, Sharon Acoose, Russell Bone, Peter Bu, Joe Custer, Michelle
Kushniruk, Larry Laliberte, Glen McCallum, Lewis Mehl-Madrona, David Mykota, Ron Rae, and Cynthia
Creative Commons License
is work is licensed under a Creative Commons Aribution-Noncommercial 3.0 License
is research is available in e International Indigenous Policy Journal: hp://
Spontaneous recovery (SR) is generally understood as the ability to overcome problematic
substance use through the experience of a major life event and in absence of formal treatment (Barker
& Hunt, 2007; Mohatt et al., 2008). Although many people recover from problematic substance use on
their own, there is limited research on non-intervention models of recovery. The majority of empirical
attention is placed on the effectiveness of structured in- or out-patient treatment programs as well as
support groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous. The limited research that exists on SR, however,
identifies higher rates of continued well-being in comparison to remittance when professional help is
sought (Armor & Meshkoff, 1983; Blomqvist, 1999; Cunningham et al., 1996).
SR is also referred to in the extant literature as spontaneous remission, natural recovery, and
natural resolution (Barker & Hunt, 2007; Mohatt et al., 2008; Smart, 2007). The etymology of the term
spontaneous, in the context of recovering from problematic substance use, is to “aris[e] from inherent
qualities without external cause; self-generated” (Funk & Wagnalls, 1986, p. 1295). In everyday life the
term is commonly understood as a singular episode in time with no causal explanation. The influence of
past and future experiences is not well recognized. SR from substance abuse then is very much a process
of discovery, growth, and transformation within an individual.
Mainstream models of recovery have been criticized for not addressing cultural diversity, in
particular, with and among Aboriginal peoples (Blue & Darou, 2005; McCabe, 2007; Mohatt et al., 2008;
Spicer, 2001). This is true in Canada, where the development of the National Native Alcohol and Drug
Abuse Program treatment system was developed in the 1970s. In 2011, the program released its
renewed culture-based framework (First Nations Addictions Advisory Panel, 2010). There has been some
attention to SR among Aboriginal peoples internationally, with studies reporting a high frequency of SR
(Brady, 1993; Quintero, 2000; Spicer, 2001). For example, Kunitz and Levy (1994) found in their
prospective study that 87% of Navajo Natives living in traditional rural areas of the United States
experienced higher rates of recovery in comparison to 33% of Natives using formal treatment in an
urban community. Leung et al. (1993) found a high rate of recovery in the American Northwest Coast
Tribe Natives in their research, with 83% self-reporting to have spontaneously stopped their problematic
alcohol use.
The aim of this study is to examine a prospective model of Aboriginal peoples’ spontaneous
recovery from substance abusethat is, an ‘awakening’ triggered by a traumatic life event leads to
abstinence (i.e., recovery). In the model, the embracing of Aboriginal traditional culture contributes to
SR and sustained well-being (i.e., continued abstinence). The model was examined with a group of
Aboriginal peoples in Canada who self-identified as having experienced SR. It is important to note that
while the term substance abuse is used, it is not intended to imply a negative judgment on the user
(Jenkins, 1999). The participants in this study were all diagnosed at some point in their lives as
dependent on alcohol, drugs, and/or other substances.
Overview of Relevant Literature
Experiencing a major life event in itself does not provide a sufficient account of individuals’
impending life changes (DiClemente, 2003; Klingemann, 1991; Sobell et al., 1993; Tucker et al., 1994).
Mainstream scholars have suggested that SR involves a life-triggering event that leads to cognitive
appraisal (Klingemann, 1991; Sobell et al., 2000). Cognitive appraisal is understood as how a person
interprets a situation or event; in primary appraisal attention is given to how an event affects personal
well-being, while in secondary appraisal a coping response is considered (Folkman et al., 1986). In the
context of SR, a major life event prompts an individual to consider the effects of their substance abuse
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and commit to change as their coping response. Some initial research (Hazel & Mohatt, 2001; Sobell et
al., 1996) and the recent People Awakening Study with Alaskan Natives (Mohatt et al., 2008) suggest
that cognitive appraisal is critical to the self-change process in SR. Further, meta-analyses on survey
studies suggest that cognitive appraisal is central to the change process for many people who recovered
‘on their own’ from problematic substance use (Klingemann & Sobell, 2007; Sobell et al., 2000).
In addition to cognitive appraisal ensuing from a major life event in SR, scholars have also
suggested that an individual’s initiation toward motivation to change is central (Klingemann, 1991;
Sobell, et al., 2000). Self-change theories likewise propose that individual motivation to change can be
prompted by a series of negative or positive life experiences (Connors et al., 2001; Klingemann, 1991),
often resulting in an awareness of the personal and social impacts of substance abuse and their
anticipated consequences (e.g., ill health, relationship problems). In the past decade, motivation has
emerged as an important consideration in the provision of substance abuse services, with studies
showing better long term outcomes when an individual is motivated, including sustained abstinence and
better social adjustment (Miller, 1999).
Until recently, factors associating major life events to SR in Aboriginal peoples were not studied.
Based on the narratives of Alaskan Natives in 2007, the People Awakening Study (Mohatt et al., 2008)
developed an Aboriginal-specific model of recovery; a developmental process of five interrelated
sequences in which the sequence termed turning pointis the final decision to stop using and is often
accompanied with a traumatic life event. Participants in the study linked their near death experiences,
loss of a loved one, and profound suffering with their SR. Such traumatic events were in conjunction
with an ‘awakening’ that participants perceived to be empowering and life changing. This involved
culture specific elements. There was also a propensity for participants to undertake a cognitive appraisal
process in which the consequences of substance abuse on their own well-being, and that of their
families and communities, were considered and responded to (Mohatt et al., 2008).
Studies have also demonstrated that Aboriginal traditional cultural connection is important for
maintaining sobriety for Aboriginal peoples. For instance, Bezdek and Spicer’s (2006) study underscored
the importance of adopting new social support systems within one’s community, culture-based coping
strategies, and renewed spiritual practices to support recovery. Mohatt et al.’s (2008) life histories study
identified the valuable role of social support, most often through spouses as well as adult children, AA
sponsors, and/or the Creator/higher spirit. Related, scholars have reported that Indigenous people’s
cultural identity is important to their well-being (Berry 1999; Kirmayer et al., 2003; Mohatt et al., 2008;
Smillie-Adjarkwa, 2009). This was highlighted most recently in a Canadian study of the healing journeys
of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis women recovering from illicit drug abuse (Niccols et al., 2010). These
findings support the literature that has identified culture as a key determinant of health and well-being
for Aboriginal peoples (Newbold, 1998; Reading, n.d.).
With so few studies having focused on SR in general, and with Aboriginal peoples in particular,
more empirical investigation is needed. The aim of this study was to examine the SR process among a
group of Aboriginal peoples in Canada who self-identified as having experienced SR. Although there is
vast diversity among Aboriginal peoples, there is commonality in historical and geographic experiences,
cultural traditions, and spiritual beliefs (Morrison & Wilson, 2004). This study examines SR through an
The International Indigenous Policy Journal, Vol. 2, Iss. 1 [2011], Art. 7
in-depth review of major life event(s) precipitating SR from substance abuse and the role of culture in SR
and recovery maintenance.
This study was designed as a phenomenological, qualitative exploration of multiple participants’
perspectives. Qualitative methods were chosen because they are appropriate for research questions
concerned with subjective experiences, meanings, and processes (Berg, 1998; Kirby & McKenna, 1989).
Data was collected through an open-ended interview in a culturally significant talking-circle format
(Kovach, 2010). This method allowed for prioritizing the participants’ creation of meaning based on the
stories of their lived experiences (Denzin & Lincoln, 2008; Patton, 2002). This is important given the
limited research in the field.
This study was a collaborative effort of the participants, university researchers, community
members, and an Aboriginal Elder. The intent of the study design was to facilitate a decolonizing method
in which the research was undertaken “by, for and in balance with” the research population and not
“on” it; the study did not adhere to a Western paradigm in which the Indigenous ‘subject’ is situated as
the ‘other’ (Kirby & McKenna, 1989, p. 28; Kovach, 2009; Smith, 1999). The participants’ knowledge took
precedence over perceived academic status in the study. The team’s ethical practices were in adherence
to CIHR Guidelines for Health Research Involving Aboriginal People (2008) and OCAP Principles
(ownership, control, access, possession) (Schnarch, 2004). Ethics approval was granted by the University
of Saskatchewan Behavioural Research Ethics Board.
A convenience sample was used to recruit five Aboriginal peoples in the Prairie provinces of
Canada. One of the principle investigators was aware of their SR experiences based on previous clinical
work and prior research studies. The participants ranged in age from 43 to 68, four were male, and all
were in continued recovery for over 5 years. Two individuals were from Manitoba and of Cree descent,
and three were from Saskatchewan and of Ojibway and Dene descent. Two lived on reserve, and three
lived in an urban centre. All identified alcohol, drugs, or solvents as their primary drug of choice, with an
average of 18 years of abuse.
The participants shared vastly similar life histories. During their childhoods, they reported
hostility, abuse, discrimination, and neglect. Three were sent to residential school, one to foster care,
and one ran away from home. In early adolescence, all experienced alienation from their Aboriginal
traditional culture, contributing to a diminished sense of self-identity. In response to these experiences,
alcohol, drug, or solvent use was initiated at a young age and soon after became a means to cope. This
resulted in a false sense of high self-esteem and importance that offered a sense of belonging with other
users. Simultaneously, dependence progressed with the participants’ deterioration through self-
identified selfishness, stubbornness, avoidance, anger, impulsivity, and aggression towards themselves
and their surroundings. Parallel to their childhood experiences of institutionalization, as young adults all
participants were incarcerated or hospitalized for mental health issues or criminal behaviours.
All five participants attended a gathering from August 23rd to 25th, 2009 at the Ancient Spirals
Retreat Centre in rural Saskatchewan, Canada. The gathering was organized according to Aboriginal
traditional cultural protocols (e.g., offering of tobacco), and an Elder, who himself had experienced SR,
guided the participants’, community members’, and researchers’ time together. The gathering opened
with traditional ceremonial practices and a talking circle format was adhered to. The gathering also
Tempier et al.: Spontaneous Recovery in Aboriginal in Canada
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included shared meals, a feast, creation of a craft (i.e., dream catcher) led by two of the participants,
and traditional teachings (e.g., Buffalo Sage collecting and tying). The gathering was centred on the
grandfather teaching of respect among all in attendance (Benton Banai, 1979).
Prior to attending the gathering, the participants were provided with a letter of invitation, a
draft of the interview questions, and a consent form. The principal investigator reviewed the consent
form orally with all participants at the gathering and all provided written consent. In recognition of their
participation, each participant received an honorarium and a blanket. Travel and full accommodations
were provided to all who attended. This included the five participants with SR experience, three
researchers, two research assistants, and two community members.
The talking circle format allowed for each participant to tell their story, uninterrupted. The
average story sharing length was 25 minutes, ranging from 17 to 54 minutes. This did not include
discussion that took place following each story, which averaged 1 hour and 22 minutes. Questions were
asked in the same order for each participant and probing was applied in three main areas: life story, the
significant life event(s) that initiated stopping problematic substance use, and reasons, including
Aboriginal traditional culture, for continuing to not abuse substances. The talking circle is a traditional
form of storytelling among First Nations in Canada (Vannini & Gladue, 2008, p. 142). Vannini and Gladue
(2008) identify the common similarities between a “reflexive dyadic” form of interviewing, which our
team applied, and talking circles: “the sharing of experiences, reciprocity, heartfelt speaking, respect,
support, honouring, listening, mutual empowerment, compassion, and interconnectedness generated
by open sharing” (p. 142).
The data corpus from the sharing circle was recorded using a digital video-microcassette
recording system and was transcribed verbatim. Transcripts were not provided to participants for
verification, given their opportunities for reflection, addition or deletion over the two and a half-day
gathering. The transcripts were coded and analyzed by one author, who led the analysis process. To
ensure trustworthiness and to improve transferability of the data corpus, investigator triangulation was
applied (Decrop, 1999; Denzin, 1970) with additional independent coding and interpretation undertaken
by two members of the research team. This process helped to illuminate discrepancies and allowed for
efficiency in achieving consensus for coding. In adherence with a decolonizing methodological approach,
the first draft of the findings was provided to the participants at a meeting in April 2010. Opportunities
for reflection, discussion, and validation were provided for the first and subsequent drafts of this paper,
including the final version.
Thematic analysis was used to identify meaningful patterns within the categories of the data
corpus on each participant’s narration or data item regarding SR and recovery maintenance. The
flexibility of thematic coding (Braun & Clarke, 2006) facilitated a combined inductive-deductive
approach (Elo & Kyngas, 2008). Drawing on phenomenology, an inductive approach was used to
formulate a framework of the life experiences reported by participants. This focus on individuals’
interpretations of events or situations allowed for “silenced voices or perspectives inherent in the
information [to] be brought forward and recognized” (Boyatzis, 1998, p. 3). Deductively, the SR
literature, augmented with the self-change literature, and knowledge of Aboriginal traditional culture all
informed the pre-constructed interview questions.
The data coding method was guided by the research questions. First, to enhance familiarity with
the data corpus, each transcript was carefully read, in turn, allowing for identification of meaningful
segments of each data item relevant to the research questions. Identification of meaningful segments
for potential themes occurred on a semantic level in order for interpretation of the data to be based
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solely on patterns of direct data extracts. Following this, a matrix of frequent and similar explicit
segments within and across data items was developed. Each data item was coded individually in the
matrix using psychosocial categories and provisional definitions. These were likewise informed from the
data, literature and knowledge of Aboriginal traditional culture. As the interview questions were
specifically discussed by each participant, the data items received equal, comprehensive attention. This
permitted the recording of ideas and the identification and coding of relevant categories until the data
extracts relevant to the research questions were exhausted. Next, codes were grouped into potential
themes within and across each data item. Exhaustion was achieved by independent parallel coding in
which the initial coder developed the relevant segments of data extracts and labels for preliminary
themes and sub-themes as well as theme titles (Babbie, 2010). Thereafter, members of the research
team reviewed and refined the codes, definitions, and themes to ensure they were intelligible and
concise. Some segments of the extracted data were included in more than one category. The final stage
of the coding process resulted in 96 categories for potential themes, with six principle themes
established in two fields.
Qualitative analysis generated two main categories under which six common themes captured
the process of SR among the participants in this study. The categories and themes are understood within
the context of the research questions guiding the study, that is, major life event(s) precipitating SR from
substance abuse and the role of Aboriginal traditional culture in SR and recovery maintenance. The first
category of themes is broadly identified as self-change process and is comprised of (1) cognitive
appraisal, (2) coping, and (3) motivation. These are consequential to the major traumatic events
experienced in the participants’ lives. The second category of themes is identified as cultural
understanding and consists of the interrelated concepts of (1) Aboriginal identity, (2) cultural practices,
and (3) traditional values. These are specific to the life event as well as recovery maintenance and
together comprise ‘one existence.’ Each is reviewed in turn.
Self-change process
1. Cognitive appraisal
A key theme to emerge is cognitive appraisal, specifically, primary appraisal, which is recognized
in the literature as an individual’s consideration of the direct impact of experiencing a traumatic life
event on their personal well-being. The participants each reported an abrupt realization of their
problematic substance use as a consequence of a traumatic life event. These events were very serious in
nature; most were life-threatening. Three participants described the event as an imminent threat to loss
of life, their own or their children’s. The other two participants’ descriptions were less explicitly
traumatic, but still implied that their well-being was seriously threatened. The latter two events were
also associated with a spiritual experience. Further, there was a common theme among the participants
of not wanting to cause further harm to others. This was evident in two of the participants’ narratives.
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The following excerpt from the first participant illustrates how a life event led her to stop
abusing solventsher son’s physical illness as a consequence of the distress she caused him, and a
related desire to stop harming her family:
The reason he (younger son) was in the hospital was because I put him through so much
depression. Like just, like I was saying I was selfish... he got an ulcer in the bust of the stomach,
terrible… The first time I went to go and see him (younger son)… he pull off his blanket to show
me where it was, like I started crying I… like it was really coming fast to me, like I started
thinking, I went three times a day. And then again I left the hospital, and then I tried to use the
solvent [but] I couldn’t.
I just about lost a loved one… it was my own flesh… it was my younger son, I just about lost… like
I saw him laying in the hospital bed. That day I just said that’s it. Really I can’t put him through…
my family through anymore hurt, that they never asked for... to tell you the truth, I was really
getting sick and tired of being a selfish person, because that’s what I was doing. And I wasn’t
thinking. And I should’ve thought… more before seeing my son. He was in the hospital bed, but
that’s the reason I made up my mind right there… and that’s when I made the decision to come
back to my dad’s reserve and to be with my partner.
The second participant described his major life-threatening event as a home fire in which half of
his body was burned, causing his legs to be amputated:
This really changed my life. One day went to the lake, and I went for a swim and I got drunk over
there… and for some reason I don’t know how I got in (home), but I guess I started drinking and
sniffing again, I never took my brother’s advice. And, that stuff is flammable… I guess I was
trying to light a cigarette… and I caught on fire… I burnt my legs… So now I have no, no legs
That sort of sparked the change in my life… I believe in this he (God)… gave me another chance in
life and I lost big… like it scared the hell out of me, like I almost lost my life… I got to quit you
know or my life won’t go on anymore… You learn from your mistakes badly, so I don’t know but
I’d never go back to it. I lost my legs, just about lost my life.
Relapse from alcohol abuse developed into a major life experience for the third participant.
After returning to alcohol, despite being hospitalized for over a month, he was struck with a sudden
sense of gratification, what he described as a spiritual experience:
In vowing when I get out of the mental institution I was never going to drink again… I’m dry for
forty-five days… I walk to this restaurant… All of a sudden I see this big beautiful liquor cabinet!
Boy I was back on the merry-go-round right again… [And then] all of a sudden I feel you know
this overwhelming joy, this overwhelming peace, this overwhelming happiness, you know and I
could feel it. And I knew it wasn’t the drugs, and I knew it wasn’t the alcohol that was going to
And then all of a sudden, you know my whole life flashes before me. You know for the first time
in my whole life I could see my sickness, you know that I was addicted to alcohol and I was
addicted to you know alcohol chronically… Then you know I had this spiritual awakening… God
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was entering me in my alcoholism… You know I saw the goodness deep within me. And I could
also see you know the life that I’ve been living for the last… thirty years. And it was very
destructive. And so that’s when you know… there then I was never going to drink again... And I
knew that I was going to reach out for help.
The fourth participant experienced a profound internal sense of sadness due to the dire
circumstances of his life (e.g., criminal involvement, illness, poverty) as his major life event:
One day I was walking… I don’t know what came over me, just I cried… and I just couldn’t hold
it... And I walked out on the steaming road, and went to that park and I sat there for a while and
I cried and I just felt empty inside… my feeling told me… It was time for me to leave that life…
You know I was saying, you know God it’s ugly here, no I was thinking that and I was thinking
about back home how clear the water is, how beautiful the trees are, how clean the air is, you
know that’s what I was thinking about… You know I always think about that day when I started
crying. It was just to tell me that it’s time for me to head home.
The fifth participant described a particular event in which he was drinking with friends and
celebrating his birthday. This resulted in a near death experience for him and his children:
We went on the lake the night before… I woke up that morning, hung-over… there’s some bottles
they’re home brew… and I took half and I drank it. As I finished one, I started throwing up… And I
lay down, half in the water, I fell asleep… I woke up, and I sat in the water and I look towards the
tent. For the first time in my life I looked at myself. First of all it was that selfish way where “I
could have drowned here!”... I looked over at the tent, and there’s my little girl with my boy… in
the tent because I didn’t zip up the tent, and her little hands sticking out with her feet…
And as I was thinking about my kids… I said you know what from here today I will not drink
anymore. For me that awakening was the day that I recognized my own faults and put myself in
my children’s shoes, to feel what I felt as a young child…
2. Coping
A second key theme to emerge from the participants’ narratives in relation to SR is coping. This
mirrors secondary cognitive appraisal, which is defined in the literature as consideration of a coping
response. The participants reflected on how they applied two key and alternative coping responses:
seeking social support, with attention paid to Aboriginal-specific support, and Aboriginal traditional
cultural understanding. The participants in this study actively sought alternative environments, broke off
unhealthy social ties, and developed new supportive relationships. Seeking cultural understanding was a
newfound coping mechanism for all of the participants and is explained fully in the next section, as it is
endemic to both the process of SR and recovery maintenance.
The third participant coped by introducing social support in his life with other Aboriginal peoples
through Alcoholics Anonymous:
I did not know then… there was Native people that were sober I didn’t know that were, that was
going to Alcoholics Anonymous. And so when I found out, you know I, I went to these Native
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people Alcoholics Anonymous… and there you know I felt a sense of belonging. And then I began
to really work hard on myself.
After being released from prison, the fourth participant developed a close relationship with
another Aboriginal person and learned about his Aboriginal culture through this relationship:
And me and my mentor started talking and you know we got into the medicine wheel. And that’s
where I feel comfortable ‘cause of that medicine wheel because of what I learnt and the way my
friend taught me… I need people around me, I need support. And other times I hang on to my
buddy (Aboriginal friend and mentor).
The fifth participant shared how he received support from an Aboriginal community
I’ve never been to a treatment center. My wife and I did it at the same time… And [an Aboriginal
community organization] has helped me a lot in understanding where I come from or to my
perspective to my life, and understand what my role and responsibility is to my wife, and my
family… Sometimes we gather, we can pray, and we walk.
The second participant coped by sharing his stories at survivor meetings and benefitted from
hearing others’ stories. Although these meetings were not Aboriginal-specific, he closely identified with
the other participants as burn victims:
I listen to other peoples’ stories… go out and meet people, I think I'm strong enough to talk to
other people… especially when it comes from the heart… the more I talk about my story, the
more better I feel about it during the day eh... for sure instead of holding it in...
3. Motivation
The third key theme providing insight into SR that emerged from the participants’ narratives is
motivation, both intrinsic and extrinsic. Intrinsic motivation was linked to the participants’
acknowledgement of potential death or serious harm as a result of their traumatic life events. This
resulted in a wish to live, be free from restraints (e.g., institutionalization), improve health and wellness,
and attain spiritual well-being.
For example, the second participant expressed motivation to “live his life” and accept the
opportunity, or second chance, he had been given:
I have to be strong, I said I’m going to walk in I’m going to beat this thing I said “you (partner)
can get walking good, want to get married?”… those were my plans walk good, marry my lady
and I understood getting a new life was, that sniffing was no…
Extrinsic motivation focused on the participants’ renewed responsibility to their families and
friends, respect for individuals they had harmed, and desire to stop cycles of abuse within their families
and communities. This too directly resulted from their traumatic life event. There was also clear overlap
between the two forms of motivation. To illustrate, the first participant was motivated by the near
death experience of losing her son to illness and by not harming further her social network:
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I wouldn’t to go back to it ‘cause now I have too much to lose, and when I was doing solvent, I
just about lost my son and… I think if I ever went back to using solvent I don’t think I’ll be around
much longer if I ever went back. And you know I don’t want to start turning around and hurting,
you know hurting my good friends… and my relations… because really in life it’s not worth it.
Cultural Understanding
1. Aboriginal identity
A key theme to emerge from the participants’ narratives related to Aboriginal cultural understanding is
Aboriginal identity. Seeking one’s cultural identity was initiated as a direct result of experiencing a
traumatic life event and was sustained within the context of maintaining individuals’ sobriety. All
participants expressed that they sought increased cultural understanding following the event about who
they were as Aboriginal people, and that this aided in their sense of identity. As Aboriginal peoples, the
participants learned about sacred relations with their spirit, family, community, nation, and the land.
They also drew upon Aboriginal cultural practices to strengthen their understanding about themselves,
which helped to maintain their sobriety. The same was true of learning their cultural values. Both are
described below.
The third participant reflected on how understanding the origins and cultural heritage of
Aboriginal peoples helped him to strengthen his identity:
For me to really learn about my identity you know I had to go back, I had to go back into the
history of the Aboriginal people… when I hear our Elders say you know: I am the fire, I am the
rock, I am the water, I am the wind, I am the sun, I am the earth, I am the moon, I am the stars, I
am the flower, I am the grass, I am the fruit, and I am the trees, I am, I am the crawling being, I
am the flying creature, I am the swimming being, I am the four legged being, because we are all
of those things. You know that is where the support for life comes from. Without those things
that I just named, you and I wouldn’t be here today… And we have a ceremony, that is called the
naming ceremony and we are always naming after one of those spiritual elements or spiritual
substances… So my identity, goes with that, with that name, it goes with that clan, and it goes
with that place of birth… I cannot forget where I come from… because I could be back there
(alcoholism) tomorrow… Given me back my identity as an Aboriginal person.
The second participant suggested that finding his identity was, and continued to be, an
empowering experience in his life:
You know the most important thing and I get out of this is that I find my own in-dwelling power.
And what is your in-dwelling power? What is it? You know what it is?... It is your subconscious
mind! That is your in-dwelling power. That’s the spiritual powers. That is the spiritual powers
that is connected directly with our Creator or with God… Since the Aboriginal people’s teachings
promote racial harmony and non-violence it empowers and it offers the people a harmonious
way of life.
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2. Cultural practices
A second key theme to emerge from the participants’ narratives is Aboriginal traditional cultural
practices. This too transpired as a consequence of a traumatic life event as well as within the context of
maintaining individuals’ sobriety. Participants emphasized the importance of how learning to practice
their culture was fundamental to their well-being, including language, songs, legends, prayers,
ceremonies, and art. They also shared that cultural practices assisted them with (re)building their
identity and (re)claiming a sacred relationship to, for example, their kin, tribe, homeland, and the
To illustrate, the first participant explored her Aboriginal traditional culture by learning about
traditional medicines, attending Sundances, and doing arts and crafts:
Getting back into, like back into our culture, when I’m back on the reserve I go pick Indian
Medicine. I go to a lot of Sundances. I do a lot of arts and crafts. Like I do a lot of stuff. So I just
left it that and then I started you know like going out picking medicine and picking medicine and
doing art work like I need like medicine wheels.
After his initiation to ceremony, the third participant shared his memories of his desire to
become a medicine man and continue his pathway to recovery by leading Aboriginal ceremonies:
You know I made that commitment right there in that mountain. I says, “I’m going back to learn
about our heritage”… Healing means to heal your culture first... We have to heal our culture
because that is where you’re going to find all the foundation for your well-being… And they say
there's no better way of gaining that understanding, by participating in Aboriginal ceremonies,
dances, prayers, and songs… our language… medicine wheel is a great tool… not only recovery
for your own well-being.
The fourth participant developed a renewed interest in Aboriginal traditional cultural practices
after his ‘awakening,’ when he returned to his reserve. He promised himself that he was leaving the life
that had replaced his cultural traditions. This transformative experience involved his decision to
embrace his traditions to help his recovery:
Using the medicine wheel, I go to sweats, and listen to the Elders, and pray ‘cause only man, only
person that could ever change anything in you or within yourself is that man up there… You
know I see the place where my, our people used to, there was a cave into a rock there, where
they used to go and fast for days in that cave. I see that some places where they hung ribbon.
But I didn’t know nothing about the culture until I moved… I look at the medicine wheel, and I
look at the animals. I danced the traditional grass dance. And I shut that down for fourteen
years, I never touched my dancing outfit I never touched it for fourteen years I left ‘alone ‘cause I
said I can’t live this life… And these are things that the medicine wheel has helped me out so
much… I'm very proud of who I am… Once a year I do a sweat, every season I do a sweat, that's
it, that's good enough for me.
The fifth participant shared feelings about his Aboriginal language and emphasized the
importance of practicing language to understand Aboriginal traditional culture:
It’s a good thing that someone… refreshed my thoughts in my memory in regards to where I
come from, what I used to see my grandfather do when he used to pray on his own, when my
The International Indigenous Policy Journal, Vol. 2, Iss. 1 [2011], Art. 7
mother’s dad used to go to stretch on the lake, (location) and refresh my memory, because I
remember my grandfather sitting in that tipi singing the songs that our Elder sang this
morning. But I didn’t get it, I didn’t get it. He used to be playing on speakers (SINGING in Cree)…
When my grandfather used to do ceremonies in sweat lodges… SPEAKING CREE… I learned how
to speak my language.
3. Traditional values
The third key theme to emerge from the participants’ narratives in relation to gaining increased
Aboriginal traditional cultural understanding is learning traditional cultural values. As with the themes of
Aboriginal identity and cultural practices, this was part of the participants’ SR following a traumatic life
event as well as maintaining their recovery. Learning traditional values, such as cultural practices,
involved exploring the meaning and experience of spirit and spirituality.
The third participant shared how he was reacquainted with the traditional cultural values he had
become dissociated from in his life:
You know you’re going to find all your moral and all your spiritual values in the culture…
harmony and the peaceful coexistence of all living beings and nature… I had forgotten the basics
of health, giving and holiness. Those three elements are the foundation of developing our sacred
relationship with our Creator and all of creation… We are talking about the physical world the
stranger, the star, the plant beings, the flowers, the grasses, the fruits in the trees, the animal
beings... Because that is where we get our values from.
The fifth participant advised that learning about values was crucial to his recovery:
I think there has to be value based and I take that person that realizes that something happen
has to… have values and re-trigger those values… always have it…
The third participant underscored the spiritual foundation of his peoples’ beliefs and values:
Aboriginal spirituality is necessary for the Aboriginal people to develop a positive identity and
enables Aboriginal people to plan ahead and improve their quality of life. Your relationship with
God is your spiritual foundation, and you can only achieve contentment through your spiritual
In this study, we examined self-reports of SR among Aboriginal peoples in Canada. Adhering to a
decolonizing methodology, we employed participant engaged thematic analysis from a non-Western
paradigm (Kovach, 2009) to develop a prospective model of SR to help inform the extant literature and
treatment and intervention policy. Prior to the study, there had been limited empirical documentation
of SR among Aboriginal peoples. The results of this study, acknowledging its limitations, support that SR
from substance abuse is initiated through an ‘awakening’ that is triggered by a traumatic life event. This,
in turn, leads to an individual’s abstinence. At the same time, the embracing of Aboriginal traditional
culture contributes to SR and sustained well-being. This model highlights the need for substance abuse
treatment and intervention policy to consider culture as a determinant of health. Just as it is important
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to understand how recovery is maintained in Aboriginal peoples, it is equally important to understand
how various individuals come to recovery in the first place (Bezdek & Spicer, 2006).
The finding that major life events leading to SR were ‘traumatic’ in nature for the participants in
this study, as well as participants in Mohatt et al.’s (2008) study, should be considered alongside the
historical impact of colonization upon Indigenous peoples globally. This includes the interplay between
colonization (i.e., intergenerational trauma) and its etiology in individuals’ SR from substance abuse.
Additionally, for some participants in Mohatt et al.’s (2008) study, their experiences centred on life,
through birth (e.g., grandchild), and this should be explored as well. Further insight into SR should also
be gained from the distinct spiritual experiences expressed by two of the participants in this study and
others in Mohatt et al.’s (2008) study. They recognize that spirituality cannot be separated from other
aspects of the self and cultural being, as it is in Western understanding. Further inquiry should examine
the experience and construction of spirituality and/or a ‘spiritual awakening’ in relation to SR and
recovery maintenance in Indigenous and other spiritual and religion traditions.
The findings build upon earlier research that suggests cognitive appraisal is integral to the SR
process (Hazel & Mohatt, 2001; Sobell et al., 1996). Primary cognitive appraisal, that is, consideration of
the impact on personal well-being, was a direct outcome for the participants by living through a
traumatic life event. A unique contribution of this study is that cognitive appraisal extended beyond the
self to others and not wanting to cause further harm. This supports an Aboriginal understanding of self,
which is understood in relation to others (McCormick, 2000). This connection to others was also evident
in secondary cognitive appraisal, in which seeking social support and participants’ motivation were key;
both are discussed below. This understanding, alongside the two participantsspiritual experiences,
supports a holistic view of recovery that transcends the individual, which is non-characteristic of
Western bio-medical models of health and wellness (Dell et al, 2011).
Like Mohatt et al. (2008), the findings of this study revealed that coping strategies, or secondary
cognitive appraisal, were central to the participants’ SR process. Secondary cognitive appraisal is
understood in the mainstream literature as considering an alternative coping response to substance
abuse in reaction to a major life event. All participants in this study chose to seek social support, to
varying degrees, as an alternative coping mechanism. The literature identifies the seeking of social
support, such as with close family and friends, in a healthy environment as an effective coping strategy
from substance abuse (Carey et al., 1989; Klingemann, 1991; Sobell et al., 2000; Tuchfeld, 1981; Waldorf
et al., 1991). Interestingly, the participants’ support networks included family and community members,
which for some were unresolved sources of pain in their lives. It was also crucial to the participants that
their support networks involved Aboriginal peoples. Likewise, this is identified as important in healing
among Aboriginal peoples in the work of McCormick (2000) and Dell et al. (2010). The participants’
coping strategies provide additional insight into the role of Aboriginal traditional culture as a
determinant of well-being.
The substance abuse literature also highlights the role of motivation in recovery (Klingemann,
1991; Miller, 1999; Sobell et al., 2000). Motivation was linked in this study to participants’ consideration
of their own well-being and that of others after experiencing a traumatic life event. In support, the work
of Osher and Kofoed (1989) with high complex need patients maintains “a model that combine[s]
pragmatically internal and external methods of engagement, persuasion and relapse prevention” (cited
in Sellman, 2009, p. 9). Such an interpretation of motivation in recovery is consistent with the Western
(Connors et al., 2001; Klingemann, 1991;) and Aboriginal (Leung et al., 1993) literature.
A new or renewed interest in Aboriginal traditional culture was evident in the participants’
experiences of SR and recovery maintenance. As relayed, it is critical to understand these three ‘themes’
from a lateral rather than linear Western perspective; within the whole of traditional culture, together
they represent ‘one existence.’ This is particularly important in consideration of the extent of available
supports and services to Aboriginal peoples healing from substance abuse in Canada. This finding is also
The International Indigenous Policy Journal, Vol. 2, Iss. 1 [2011], Art. 7
congruent with the existing literature, where it is well sourced that cultural understanding is
foundational to the well-being of Aboriginal peoples and communities (First Nations and Inuit Health
Branch, 2010; McCormick, 2000). This was evident in historical examples of communal healing, such as
in Alkali Lake, British Columbia, Hollow Water, Manitoba, and Lac La Ronge Indian Band Health Services,
Saskatchewan, where Aboriginal traditional culture was the mainstay of their accomplishments.
Although treatment-specific, as mentioned, the renewal of the National Native Alcohol and Drug Abuse
treatment system has identified the centrality of culture to service provision.
In concert with existing research on recovery from substance abuse, the findings of this study
suggest that understanding and recognizing one’s own Aboriginal identity is fundamental to SR (Gone,
2006; Spicer, 2001; Westermeyer & Neider, 1985). Among the participants, redefining their identity was
essential to reconciliation with their Aboriginal heritage. All claimed to have sought increased Aboriginal
traditional cultural understanding following their traumatic life event and that it increased their sense of
identity. Introduction to their Aboriginal traditional culture helped participants to regain what was lost
through colonization (e.g., residential schooling, child welfare practices, criminalization) and what had
directly or indirectly (e.g., intergenerational impacts of trauma) initiated their abuse of substance.
Smillie-Adjarkwa (2009) recognizes the loss of identity as a direct consequence of being unable to
practice culture and learn traditional values, among other atrocities imposed upon Aboriginal peoples in
Canada. Practicing culture in this study included language, songs, legends, ceremonies, traditions, and
art. Learning traditional values included exploring the meaning and experience of spirit and spirituality,
and incorporating them into one’s life. Acknowledging the central place of Aboriginal traditional cultural
practices and traditional values, together rendering an Aboriginal identity, in the experience of SR
among a group of Aboriginal peoples in Canada is an important contribution to the SR literature.
Limitations of the Study
This study was limited in four ways, and one additional issue requires specific consideration.
Firstly, the participants represented their personal experiences and views. The Aboriginal community is
diverse in Canada and among Aboriginals in the Prairie provinces; different subcultures may report
different pathways to SR than those in the current study (Baruth & Manning, 1991; Blue & Darou, 2005).
Implications for future qualitative research include using a stratified sampling selection in which various
Aboriginal cultures provide a more representative sample. The second related limitation of this study is
its limited sample size and convenience sampling method. These constraints curtail the applicability of
the findings and their translation into policy. It does, however, provide insight and direction for future
research and policy considerations. Third, based on the sample, this study was not able to consider SR
and maintenance for the different genders; this is a necessary consideration in any future study with a
larger sample size. The process of healing, and in particular the role of trauma, is well identified in the
literature to be distinct for females and males (Covington, 2008). Fourth, the retrospective self-reports
in this study may be confounded by age and latency of recall, resulting in recall bias. To help reduce this
limitation, this study employed well-trained interviewers and experts in the field of addiction and
mental health, including Aboriginal clinicians involved in the participants’ recovery. Central was that the
gathering was led by an Aboriginal Elder.
Of interest in this study is the finding that all participants experienced SR at a later stage in their
lives. This suggests that developmental trends may be a unique moderating condition between critical
life events and an ‘awakening.’ In Quintero’s (2000) study on the Navajo population in the US, he
identified an “aging out” phenomenon in which participants were more likely to experience remission
with the advancing of age, typically in their late thirties. Interestingly, all participants in this study
reported experiencing SR during their late thirties and early forties. In addition, it must also be
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considered that as age advances, individuals may develop new social and family networks (Moos &
Moos, 2007) that can play a role in their recovery. These points require further attention in future
Through the findings of this study, a prospective model of SR was developed that suggests an
‘awakening’ through a traumatic life event leads to abstinence, and that the embracing of Aboriginal
traditional culture contributes to SR and sustained well-being. This model is a contribution to the limited
SR literature and the substance abuse literature generally, which emphasizes that cultural
understanding is foundational to the well-being of Aboriginal peoples. It can also potentially assist with
informing treatment and intervention policy on the interaction between culture, SR, and maintenance.
Such an understanding contributes to the growing literature that recognizes culture as a key
determinant of health and well-being (Newbold, 1998; Reading, n.d.). In turn, the findings can be used
to re-visit policy in mainstream substance abuse treatment models, which have been historically
supported as the main form of recovery for Aboriginal peoples who problematically use substances.
Larger-scale studies, drawing upon the prospective model of SR identified in this study, could lead to
better informed policy. The findings of this study also challenge practitioners in the field to consider its
common understanding of SR and recognize that past and future experiences are, at least for the
participants in this study, an integral part of an individual’s inherent experience with abruptly stopping
their problematic use of substances and maintaining their recovery. Further analysis of the role of
Aboriginal traditional culture in recovery may help to inform more effective treatment for those from
other cultures, or those seeking to redefine their life beyond their substance dependence.
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... Although Aboriginal people experience social exclusion, racism, and discrimination, there are social advocates who have produced favourable accounts of Aboriginal healing strategies that are culturally appropriate, such as Aboriginal cultural practices, healing circles, sharing circles, and traditional teachings. Aboriginal healing strategies must emphasize culturally appropriate programming in the addictions recovery process (Tempier et al. 2011; Hansen, Booker, and Charlton 2014). As the majority of participants in our study indicate, cultural teachings are a major factor in the development of addictions recovery. ...
... In fact, a common theme amongst the participants who utilized the Saskatoon Aboriginal Friendship Centre was that their conscious decisions to battle their addictions and sober up came from the fact that they had children. In their analysis of addictions recovery, Tempier et al. (2011) make a connection between painful life experience and a recovery from addictions. Those participants whose driving force to recovery came from a return to traditional teachings " emphasize that cultural understanding is foundational to the well-being of Aboriginal peoples " (2011, 14). ...
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Addictions recovery is a significant policy issue concerning governance in Aboriginal communities, Saskatchewan, and Canada at large. Aboriginal Friendship Centres are priority areas for improving access to addictions recovery programs and assistance. This article addresses the following priority areas identified by the Saskatoon Aboriginal Friendship Centre and the urban Aboriginal community of Saskatoon in regards to addictions recovery: impoverishment, food shortages, homelessness, and the problem of growing Aboriginal incarceration rates. This study is qualitative in nature and highlights the factors critical to a developing addictions recovery interpretation through the stories of Aboriginal clients who use the services of the Friendship Centre. The article concludes with recommendations that will assist in the development of policy concerning urban Aboriginal issues.
... The experiences around the tipi were reminders that life can still have bright moments and inspire a sense of hope. Identity, spirituality, and a return to traditional values are all implicated in recovery from addiction (Prussing, 2007;Tempier, A., Dell, Papequash, Duncan, & Tempier, R., 2011). This program can be a catalyst to seeking alternative ways of living by guiding people back to this path, particularly with the support of community members working together to address the negative effects from residential school. ...
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Addiction and homelessness are closely related outcomes for many Indigenous Canadians who live with extensive intergenerational trauma caused by residential school and the 60s Scoop. In recent years, the rise of opioid addiction along with related overdoses and mortalities in many parts of Canada has led to what is being called an opioid crisis. (Re)connection to Indigenous ways of knowing and practices are frequently seen as a path to healing; therefore, an innovative grassroots program was developed recently in a southern Alberta city to address addictions and homelessness within a largely Blackfoot population. The program increased access to traditional cultural resources and activities in a visible, downtown location to a population who are among the most marginalized in society. A Two-Eyed Seeing framework was used perform a program evaluation and analyze participant and key informant interviews. The results indicated that attendance connected people with their spirits, inspiring strength and hope for the future, and ameliorated spiritual homelessness. The program formed a safe space where relationships were strengthened, people felt respected, and meaningful activity away from substances was available.
... The experiences around the tipi were reminders that life can still have bright moments and inspire a sense of hope. Identity, spirituality, and a return to traditional values are all implicated in recovery from addiction (Prussing, 2007;Tempier, A., Dell, Papequash, Duncan, & Tempier, R., 2011). This program can be a catalyst to seeking alternative ways of living by guiding people back to this path, particularly with the support of community members working together to address the negative effects from residential school. ...
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All Indigenous peoples across the globe have experienced multiple historical colonial aggression and assaults. In Canada and the USA for example, education was used as a tool of oppression for Indigenous peoples through residential school. Child welfare, health and health care, and forced land relocation are also sites of intensive and invasive harms.
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There is a profoundly troubling history of research being done on Indigenous peoples without regard for their priorities and accompanying calls to decolonize health research. Storytelling methods can privilege Indigenous voices in research. Indigenous people’s knowledge systems have existed for millennium, where knowledge is produced and shared through stories. Our collaborative team of Indigenous and non-Indigenous researchers, and Indigenous Elders, patients, healthcare providers, and administrators, conducted a participatory, scoping review to examine how storytelling has been used as a method in Indigenous health research on Turtle Island (North America), Australia, and Aotearoa (New Zealand). We searched key databases and online sources for qualitative and mixed-methods studies that involved Indigenous participants and used storytelling as a method in health research. Reviewers screened abstracts/full texts to confirm eligibility. Narrative data were extracted and synthesized. An intensive collaboration was woven throughout and included gatherings incorporating Indigenous protocol, Elders’ teachings on storytelling, and sharing circles. We included 178 articles and found a diverse array of storytelling approaches and adaptations, along with exemplary practices and problematic omissions. Researchers honoured Indigenous ways of knowing, being, and doing through careful preparation and community engagement to do storywork, inclusion of Indigenous languages and protocols, and Indigenous initiation and governance. Storytelling centered Indigenous voices, was a culturally relevant and respectful method, involved a healing process, and reclaimed Indigenous stories. But it could result in several challenges when researchers did not meaningfully engage with Indigenous peoples. These findings can guide respectful storytelling research that bridges divergent Indigenous and Western knowledge systems, to decolonize health research.
Many scholars assert that Indigenous peoples across the globe suffer a disproportionate burden of mental illness. Research indicates that colonialism and its associated processes are important determinants of Indigenous peoples’ health internationally. In Canada, despite an abundance of health research documenting inequalities in morbidity and mortality rates for Indigenous peoples, relatively little research has focused on mental health. This paper provides a critical scoping review of the literature related to Indigenous mental health in Canada. We searched eleven databases and two Indigenous health-focused journals for research related to mental health, Indigenous peoples, and Canada, for the years 2006–2016. Over two hundred papers are included in the review and coded according to research theme, population group, and geography. Results demonstrate that the literature is overwhelmingly concerned with issues related to colonialism in mental health services and the prevalence and causes of mental illness among Indigenous peoples in Canada, but with several significant gaps. Mental health research related to Indigenous peoples in Canada overemphasizes suicide and problematic substance use; a more critical use of the concepts of colonialism and historical trauma is advised; and several population groups are underrepresented in research, including Métis peoples and urban or off-reserve Indigenous peoples. The findings are useful in an international context by providing a starting point for discussions, dialogue, and further study regarding mental health research for Indigenous peoples around the world.
This article reports on a study of student experiences of a Walls to Bridges (W2B) class taught by Faculty of Social Work instructors in a Canadian women’s prison. The Walls to Bridges (W2B) program is based on the U. S. Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program and brings students from the university together with students from the prison to study for a semester long course in correctional settings. The article reports on how the program pedagogy of experiential learning and Talking Circle processes impacted student’s awareness of privilege, marginalization and stereotypes, commitment to social change and action.
The concept of therapeutic landscape is concerned with a holistic, socio-ecological model of health, but most studies have attempted to explore land-health links from a Western perspective. On an Indigenous reserve in Northern Ontario, part of the Canadian subarctic, we explore the importance of spaces and places in creating postcolonial therapeutic landscapes to treat the wounds inflicted by colonialism. The aim of this research is to gain insight from views and experiences of First Nations residents living on reservations that are undergoing a process of regaining traditional spiritual beliefs and teachings to construct therapeutic spaces to face mental health problems caused by legal opioid analgesic abuse. This qualitative study used semi-structured interviews with Cree and Ojibwe participants to understand how they are reconnecting with earth, spirituality and traditional animist beliefs on their way to recovery. We find that practices such as taking part in ceremonies and ritual spaces, and seeking knowledge and advice from Elders assist with personal healing and enable Indigenous people to be physically and mentally healthy. Our research findings provide important insights into the relationship between space, healing and culture as determinants of health and well-being and document some key factors that contribute to substance abuse recovery.
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This article explores the cognitive process and awakening experience associated with natural recovery from alcohol or drug addiction in English-speaking Hong Kong residents. It is an exploratory study using qualitative research methods. Advertising and snowball sampling recruitment methods yielded two English-speaking Hong Kong residents, one White male expatriate from the United States and one female native Hong Kong resident who is half Chinese and half White American. Reported natural recovery process was evolutionary, occurring over a long period of time with intervals of cognitive appraisal and quit attempts. Awakening interpretations included having a greater insight about their cognitive process, addiction behavior, or emotional experience. The awakening experience played a role in natural recovery and may be used to enhance already existing interventions.
Much of what is known about natural recovery or self-change without treatment from alcohol and drug problems comes from general population studies or special sampling from sources other than treatment centers. In this chapter studies from large-scale population surveys and community studies as well as those from smaller samples obtained by advertising or other means will be reviewed. Such studies provide a good estimate of how many people in the larger society have alcohol and drug problems that they resolve without formal treatment. These studies also help us understand the characteristics of those who recover without treatment. The advantages and disadvantages of using various interview methods and what questions are still unanswered about natural recovery in large populations will also be examined. Practical suggestions based on this research will be further discussed in the concluding chapter of this book.