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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Bringing together Indigenous and Western approaches to brain wellness and mental health : not only the what but the way Harding, Louise


This thesis explores meanings, priorities, and ethics surrounding brain wellness in an Indigenous health context in three stages: 1) an analysis of gaps in approaches to literature reviews, 2) a scoping review, and 3) a collaborative working group initiative. The design balanced knowledge generation and action (the what) with a focus on process and methods (the way) to bring together Indigenous and Western knowledges. In the process of preparing the search strategy for the scoping review, my gaps study yielded recommendations for mitigating challenges in locating literature about global Indigenous populations. The subsequent scoping review investigated the defining themes of academic research about global Indigenous peoples’ perspectives on the mind and brain. Within the 66 studies analysed, the most prevalent focus was on mental health and illness and the concepts of wellness, spirituality, holism and relationality were defining features. For the collaborative working group initiative, I established a 20-member working group that convened for three meetings with Elder-led sharing circles around the organizing questions: What is the meaning of brain wellness in an Indigenous health context? And, Does it include or is it included in mental health? To support cultural safety and appropriateness, the approach to the working group incorporated aspects of an Indigenous research paradigm alongside Western community engagement practices from neuroethics and patient-oriented research. I prepared a reflective summary of the meeting content that highlighted the need to reaffirm holistic conceptualizations of brain wellness and mental health, integrate Indigenous and Western healing approaches, pursue systems- and community-level changes to overcome the continuing health impacts of racism and colonization, and regain connections with culture and spirit. Outcomes from the group are new partnerships in research and a national research strategy for the brain sciences, a public community conversation, and a publication on methods. This work responds to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 22nd Call to Action “to recognize the value of Aboriginal healing practices” in the context of brain wellness and mental health (Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, 2015). It also contributes to the movement towards a more global, societally relevant, and decolonized future for neuroscience and neuroethics.

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