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Aboriginal identity development, language knowledge, and school attrition : an examination of cultural continuity Hallett, Darcy

Abstract

This dissertation elaborates on the concept of "cultural continuity" by exploring efforts on the part of First Nations conimunities to revitalize their cultures in ways that impact on the well-being of their young people. Previous work has demonstrated that although provincial Aboriginal youth suicide rates are alarmingly high, these rates vary significantly from one Aboriginal band to another. These earlier findings demonstrate that those bands that strive to connect to their cultural past and gain control of their cultural future were found to have fewer youth suicides. In fact, those communities that possessed all six previously identified markers of "cultural continuity" had virtually no suicides, while those bands that had none of these factors had an incredibly high suicide rate. Taking a lead from these earlier findings, this dissertation reports the results of three interlocking studies each of which is meant to extend and further evaluate the notion of cultural continuity. The first study demonstrates: (a) the same variability that characterizes band-level suicide rates is also present in similarly variable school drop-out rates; and, (b) that cultural continuity also accounts for an important part of this variation. The second study explores the role that community level knowledge of an Aboriginal language plays in the construct of cultural continuity. Evidence in hand demonstrates that knowledge of an Aboriginal language is associated with reductions in youth suicide rates, but not with school drop-out rates. The last study explores the changing ways in which Aboriginal youth express their own ethnic identity. Results from this 10-year longitudinal study indicate that the way in which Aboriginal youth change these ethnic declarations over time is related to their likelihood of dropping out of school. Taken as a whole, these studies demonstrate qualified support for the notion of cultural continuity and its association with social problems in Aboriginal youth, including both youth suicide and school attrition. Furthermore, these efforts lay the foundation for future programs of research exploring possible associations between cultural continuity and other social problems.

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