Saturday, January 20, 2007

Anomic Depression and the Ethnosphere

"Protect the ethnosphere" collage by Lani.

I'm starting to prepare for the spring round of workshops and courses so I've been doing some cultural digging. I discovered the Dalhousie School of Social Work has a wonderful research project going on, in which they have been looking at resilience in a variety of cultures. They are using a mixed-methods, culturally sensitive approach to understanding how youth around the world effectively cope with the diverse challenges they face. They have partnerships with researchers and community-based organizations on six continents in over 25 communities. They are bringing to a close the first three-year phase of research, in which data was collected with over 1500 children in 14 communities worldwide.

The research project that interested me the most was carried out in Sheshatshiu, an Innu community in Labrador, because the Innu are considered to be clearly suffering from Anomic Depression. In addition to poverty, high rates of unemployment, and isolation as a community, Innu youth have among the highest rates of suicide in the world; and suicide is the leading cause of death for young people in Sheshatshiu. Media attention has focused on widespread and increasing addiction to solvents among the youth of Sheshatshiu. Parental neglect, family violence, crime, smoking, and health problems are also above national norms for Innu youth. For this research young people answered a variety of questions and told interviewers how they were overcoming these systemic difficulties, isolation, and substance abuse to create healthy, sustainable futures.

I include some of the questions they were asked here but you can download the research for a more complete understanding here:

Do you think non-prescription drugs and/or alcohol will help you when you have to deal with lots of problems?
Do you eat enough most days?
Are you comfortable with how you express yourself sexually?
Do you feel safe when you are with your family?
Are you proud of your ethnic background?
Are religious or spiritual beliefs a source of strength for you?
Does your family have a ritual or routine around mealtimes?
Do you respect your Innu elders?
Do you feel you should be learning more of cultural traditions and history at school?
Do you feel less stressed when you are in nutshmit (traditional Innu relationship with the land, the animals and the spirits)?
Do you try and learn your culture?
Do you have friends who do not use alcohol drugs and sniff gas or solvents?
Do your parents teach you family history?
Are you proud of your community and its members?
Do you consider suicide when you are depressed?
Do you have any knowledge of suicide intervention?
Do you feel like sniffing gas and other solvents?

It's pretty clear that the answers to these questions would give the questioner a sense of how resilient the participating youth might be. sent this fascinating video yesterday, of National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Wade Davis talking about the extraordinary diversity of the world's indigenous cultures -- many of which are disappearing -- as ancestral land is lost and languages die. Against a backdrop of beautiful photography and stories, Davis suggests that we should be just as concerned with protecting the "ethnosphere" as we are with protecting our biosphere He describes "ethnosphere" as "the sum total of all thoughts and dreams, myths, ideas, inspirations, intuitions brought into being by the human imagination since the dawn of consciousness."
If we don't have our dreams, myths, ideas, inspirations, intuitions, and our imaginations what do we have? Anomic depression and slow genocide.

Wade Davis also did an interview with NPR which you can read here but I include some quotes.

At the very least I want people to know what is going on, to face the reality of our times, the deep and most consequential current of history that flows beneath our lives. What can possibly be more significant than the loss in a single generation of half of humanity's intellectual and spiritual legacy?

Just before she died, anthropologist Margaret Meade spoke of her singular concern that, as we drift toward a more homogenous world, we are laying the foundations of a blandly amorphous and singularly generic modern culture that ultimately will have no rivals. The entire imagination of humanity, she feared, might become confined within the limits of a single intellectual and spiritual modality. Her nightmare was the possibility that we might wake up one day and not even remember what had been lost.

...The myriad cultures of the world are not failed attempts at modernity, they are unique manifestations of the human spirit. With their dreams and prayers, their myths and memories, they teach us that there are indeed other ways of being, alternative visions of life, birth, death and creation itself. When asked the meaning of being human they respond with ten thousand different voices. It is within this diversity of knowledge and practice, of intuition and interpretation, or promise and hope, that we will all rediscover the enchantment of being what we are, a conscious species aware of our place on the planet and fully capable of ensuring that all peoples in every garden find a way to flourish.

In the end this is neither a sentimental nor an academic notion. Indeed in the wake of Sept. 11 it has become an issue of survival. For the central challenge of our times, at least in a political sense, is to find a way to live in a truly multicultural world of pluralism. Not to freeze peoples or cultures out of the flow of history but rather to insure that all peoples may benefit from the products of our collective genius without their participation having to imply the eradication of their cultures.

You can download articles and self-study guides for an NYU art therapy course here.

How would you answer these questions:

Are you proud of your ethnic background?
Are religious or spiritual beliefs a source of strength for you?
Does your family have a ritual or routine around mealtimes?
Do you respect older people in your community?
Do you feel you learned about cultural traditions and the history of your people school?
Do you think your culture and the history of your people is important to learn about?
Do your parents teach you family history?
Are you proud of your community and its members?

1 comment:

Michelle Saleeba said...

Wow, i have just listened to David's TEDtalk and i'm blown away with the magnitude of what he is saying. At present I am working with a community based migrant centre developing a visual journalling programme specifically for people who have come to S-W Australia as refugees, so many of the issues you have raised here are faced by the migrants I am working with (not to mention Australia's own Indigenous people, who I sadly note have not been included in the international study on cultural resilience.). I thank you for the generosity of spirit you show in making this information available to a wide audience.
Michelle Saleeba
Albany, Western Australia