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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Returning to our medicines : decolonizing and indigenizing mental health services to better serve Indigenous communities in urban spaces Fellner, Karlee Dawn


While mental health services continue to make efforts toward greater cultural sensitivity, research, education, and practice in these fields remain grounded primarily in Western Eurosettler principles that have been applied in colonization. Addressing the dearth of culturally relevant and appropriate research in Indigenous mental health, the current project applied isîhcikêwin – the author’s Indigenist nehiyaw-otipemisiwak (Cree/Métis) research paradigm to address the question: How can mental health services (be shaped so as to) better serve Indigenous peoples living in urban spaces? isîhcikêwin is based in the author’s lived experiences as a mobile nehiyaw-otipemisiwak woman who is an oskâpêwis (helper) and participant in traditional ceremonies. This framework draws on Wilson’s (2008) conceptualization of research as ceremony alongside the work of other Indigenous scholars (e.g., Archibald, 2008; Castellano, 2000; Graveline, 2000; Holmes, 2000; Kovach, 2009; Marsden, 2005; Smith, 1999). Following isîhcikêwin ethics and protocols, the author had conversations with sixteen Indigenous mental health professionals and hosted a talking circle. The author used Indigenous holistic meaning making in coming to understand iyinisiwak (knowledge holders’) perspectives, weaving together the stories of iyinisiwak, her interpretive synthesis of their knowledges, and her own personal narratives. The findings comprise a decolonizing framework that is presented as a braid of sweetgrass consisting of three strands: (a) what isn’t working in mental health service provision, (b) restor(y)ing approaches to wellness as ways forward in Indigenous health service provision, and (c) how services can make these transformations. Findings address how approaches to Indigenous wellness in urban spaces may be transformed through the adaptation and application of a medicine bundle framework that incorporates community-based perspectives on love, good relationships, Indigenous knowledges, living a good life, responsibility, identity and belonging, and land. These findings include critical implications for researchers, educators, theorists, practitioners, policy-makers, and other stakeholders whose work involves an aim to contribute to healing and wellness with Indigenous communities. Consistent with isîhcikêwin, the current dissertation alternates between a scripted dialogue and a conversational style with the reader. This form of representation honours the voices of the author and iyinisiwak, and contributes to research that is congruent with isîhcikêwin from conception to completion.

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