Canadian Anthropology Society (CASCA)
Oral Presentation Session
Suicide among Indigenous peoples in Canada is disproportionately high. Although suicide rates are not uniform, they differ through time and space and community to community. A study examining suicide rates among Indigenous communities starting in the 1970s across Canada demonstrates that communities with strong local governance and cultural identities have a lower if not zero incidence of suicide. I argue against the medicalized understanding of Indigenous suicide, which works to pathologize individuals. This interpretation distorts what is a social and political phenomenon. Operating on a western definition of health, the medicalized model is destructive of and denies Indigenous knowledge and Indigenous approaches to health and leads to the racialization of suicide. This crisis needs to be redefined. Instead of one based on western notions of mental health, collective redefinition would recognize Canada’s colonial past and present and the systematic attempts of cultural eradication. I argue that the lack of real interest, commitment and action by Government toward decolonization is an expression of medicalised racism. Band self-government and self-determination restores community agency and allows for comprehensive locally specific and culturally appropriate change, re-establishing social health outside the realm of the state.