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Cultural Continuity as a Hedge Against Suicide in Canada’s First Nations

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Cultural Continuity as a Hedge Against Suicide in Canada’s First Nations

Michael J. Chandler
The University of British Columbia

Christopher E. Lalonde
The University of British Columbia


This research report examines self-continuity and its role as a protective factor against suicide. First, we review the notions of personal and cultural continuity and their relevance to understanding suicide among First Nations youth. The central theoretical idea developed here is that, because it is constitutive of what it means to have or be a self to somehow count oneself as continuous in time, anyone whose identity is undermined by radical personal and cultural change is put at special risk to suicide for the reason that they lose those future commitments that are necessary to guarantee appropriate care and concern for their own well-being. It is for just such reasons that adolescents and young adults—who are living through moments of especially dra- matic change—constitute such a high risk group. This generalized period of increased risk during adolescence can be made even more acute within communities that lack a concomitant sense of cultural continuity that might otherwise support the efforts of young persons to develop more adequate self-continuity warranting practices. Next, we present data to demonstrate that, while certain indigenous or First Nations groups do in fact suffer dramatically elevated suicide rates, such rates vary widely across British Columbia’s nearly 200 aboriginal groups: some communi- ties show rates 800 times the national average, while in others suicide is essentially unknown. Finally, we demonstrate that these variable incidence rates are strongly associated with the degree to which BC’s 196 bands are engaged in community practices that are employed as markers of a collective effort to rehabilitate and vouchsafe the cultural continuity of these groups. Communi- ties that have taken active steps to preserve and rehabilitate their own cultures are shown to be those in which youth suicide rates are dramatically lower.

FULL pdf  Chandler & Lalonde -1998 – Cultural continuity as a hedge against suicide

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