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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Building and burning bridges: a study of social capital and disaster vulnerability in Upper St'át'imc Territory including Lillooet, British Columbia Bhopalsingh, Lisa Ann


Through the analysis of relationships between aboriginal and non-aboriginal communities in Upper St'at'imc Territory in British Columbia, this thesis illustrates how bridging and bonding forms of social capital affect vulnerability and cooperation to prepare for disasters in communities characterised by cultural conflict. Social capital is based upon networks of trust and reciprocity, which enable individuals to cooperate to achieve shared goals. In Upper St'at'imc Territory, people are most likely to have close relationships or bonds with those from the same cultural background. The absence of inter-cultural bonds means that bridges linking those less well known to each other (from each culture) are necessary to facilitate cooperation. However, there are few arenas that enable the formation of bridges between aboriginals and non-aboriginals. Pre-existing patterns of social capital between aboriginals and non-aboriginals were played out in BC Hydro's Exercise "Bridge River", a simulation exercise to prepare for a potential dam incident affecting downstream communities. Lack of bridges between the cultures was highlighted by low levels of cultural interaction during the exercise and the establishment of separate emergency operations centers. Nevertheless, the exercise resulted in some aboriginals and non-aboriginals coming into contact with each other and building new bridges. Unfortunately opportunities for strengthening these bridges through regular cultural interaction are limited. This is due to cultural divisions in membership of emergency preparedness organisations as well as wider social and employment networks. The exercise reinforced the strong bonds that enable non-aboriginal emergency responders to work well together. The benefits of these strong bonds are restricted if they result in excluding aboriginal participation in emergency response organisations. Exercise "Bridge River" organisers were unaware of the strong bonds among non-aboriginal emergency responders. This affected their ability to anticipate how these bonds were used during the exercise and resulted in delaying the process. Social capital is essentially a neutral phenomenon, how it is used determines whether or not it is a destructive weapon or a constructive tool for building disaster resilient communities. Nevertheless, social capital can be easily destroyed and bridges burnt by conflict and lack of trust between cultural groups. Understanding a community's social capital will enhance disaster preparedness and mitigation efforts. Inter-cultural social capital produced in one arena can be used to increase cooperation in disaster preparedness. At the same time, disaster preparedness activities can be used as a foundation to strengthen and build bridges between cultures.

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