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Language vitality, health, and wellbeing in Cree and Ojibwa communities of Manitoba

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Title:Language vitality, health, and wellbeing in Cree and Ojibwa communities of Manitoba
Authors:Kesselman, Stephen
Contributors:Kesselman, Stephen (speaker)
Date Issued:04 Mar 2017
Description:“…if the major determinants of health are social, so must be the remedies…” (Marmot 2005:1103) Introduction In the linguistically threatened indigenous areas of Canada’s west coast, health of local languages is intimately linked to health of communities. While early insights into this relationship show indigenous language knowledge correlate with rates of youth suicide (Hallet et al 2007), both geographical and methodological expansion is needed for more explanatory discussion. Our study extends this line of inquiry to Cree and Ojibwa communities of Manitoba, Canada, considering these foreseeably viable Algonquian linguistic areas alongside those critically threatened languages of British Columbia surveyed in Hallet et al (2007). Our analysis further employs diverse measures of health and detailed metrics of language vitality for a nuanced understanding of the ties between physical, psychosocial, and linguistic wellbeing in two indigenous communities of Manitoba. Background While the association between cultural loss and public health decline is a generally acknowledged phenomenon, Hallet et al (2007) note that language use has greater indicative power for community health than other cultural factors (392-8, Chandler and Lalonde 1998, 2008, Postl et al 2010). Furthermore, they suggest that linguistic health can act not only as a metric for public health, but as a protective factor against negative health outcomes. Considering the pervasive disparity in public health between urban and northern indigenous communities in Manitoba and across Canada, an investigation into contributing factors is a necessary pursuit (Postl et al 2010). Contribution In contrast to the dichotomized language vitality index of earlier surveys, this work incorporates UNESCO’s (2003) LVE factors, Fishman’s (1991) GIDS, and Norris’ (1998) indices of ability and continuity. Surveys of wellbeing involve a number of physical (rates of diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease, life expectancy) and psychosocial (rates of suicide, self-harm, substance misuse, community autonomy) measures of health. Set against earlier reports, these comprehensive measures identify which factors of linguistic health relate to public health in participating communities – the Ojibwa of Poplar River First Nation and Norway House Cree Nation – and illustrate how this relationship operates in a distinctive and comparatively more stable linguistic environment those studied previously. Discussion Our survey not only provides a needed description of this Manitoban linguistic ecology, but details the predominant threats to its continued viability and their potential consequences. If we recognize the impact of socio-cultural factors and the role of language in community wellbeing, we can build support for cultural and linguistic preservation initiatives and work to narrow the disparity in public health between indigenous and non-indigenous communities. References Chandler, Michael J. and Chrispher E. Lalonde. 1998. “Cultural continuity as a hedge against suicide in Canada’s First Nations.” Transcultural Psychiatry 35:191–219. ---. 2008. “Cultural continuity as a moderator of suicide risk among Canada’s First Nations.” In L. Kirmayer & G. Valaskakis (Eds.) The mental health of Canadian Aboriginal peoples: Transformations, identity, and community. Toronto: UBC Press. First People’s Heritage Language and Culture Council (FPCC). 2010. Report on the Status of B.C. First Nations Languages. Brentwood Bay, BC: First People’s Heritage Language and Culture Council. Fishman, J. A. 1991. Reversing language shift: Theoretical and empirical foundations of assistance to threatened languages. Clevedon, UK: Multilingual Matters. Hallett, Darcy, Michael J. Chandler and Christopher E. Lalonde. 2007. “Aboriginal language knowledge and youth suicide.” Cognitive Development 22:392-399. Marmot, M. 2005. “Social Determinants of Health Inequalities.” Lancet 365(9464):1099-104. Norris, Mary Jane. 1998. “Canada’s Aboriginal Languages.” Canadian Social Trends 51: Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 11-008: 8-16. Postl, Brian, Catherine Cook, and Michael Moffat. 2010. “Aboriginal Child Health and the Social Determinants.” Healthcare Quarterly 14:43-51. UNESCO ad hoc Expert Group on Endangered Languages. 2003. “Language Vitality and Endangerment.” International Expert Meeting on UNESCO Programme Safeguarding of Endangered Languages. Paris.
Appears in Collections: 5th International Conference on Language Documentation and Conservation (ICLDC)

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