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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Engaging with mining impacts on Indigenous community health : allegiance challenges in public health research and practice Eng Stime, Bjorn Burton


This dissertation critically examines the ways in which public health professionals in Canada carry out their role in a settler colonial setting. I specifically focus on investigating how such practitioners are engaging with disparate narratives about health impacts of mining on Indigenous communities in Canada. I apply two methodological approaches (a scoping review and in-depth interviews) to produce insights that inform a pedagogical tool-creating approach (social cartography). Through a scoping review of 89 government related documents that guide regulatory and approval processes of mining developments and policy, I identify key framings, definitions and narratives used discursively through these state processes. These documents convey strong messages naturalizing the state’s authority over Indigenous people and normalizing the dominance of Settler Canadian standards. Settler Canada is depicted as exceptional and exemplary, in contrast to Indigenous people who the documents repeatedly characterize as essentially infantile. Analysis also reveals calculated sidestepping of consent, and problematic use of ‘balance’ as a metaphor in ways that discount Indigenous resistance to Canadian authority over land, cast market-driven resource extraction as inevitable, and dismiss Indigenous refusals of consent to access land. Exploring the degree to which public health professionals align with or contest state narratives, I carried out 41 in-depth key informant interviews. The qualitative analysis, using thematic review assisted by NVivo, shows a repeated national narrative of caring for Indigenous Peoples - characterized as ‘in need’ yet as healthy if adapting to Settler Canadian paradigms. This suggests that educational-behavioural interventions addressing problematic practices may be of limited effectiveness without first grappling with structural dimensions of complicities, personal and professional investments, cherished narratives, and entitlements. Consideration of structural influences on roles of public health professionals illustrates that available orientations to professional practice may be circumscribed by imperatives of a settler colonial national narrative. In assessing study findings from an anti-colonial lens, I reflect on the study’s contributions to the literature, and implications for practice, training, research and action. I conclude that, through grappling with difficult knowledges to inform accountable and anti-colonial engagement, public health professionals could broaden imaginations toward a professional orientation centred on responsible relationship.

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