Table of Contents
Four Worlds


This study explores the relationship between community healing and the reform of the social security system in Aboriginal communities.

The report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal People explains that

What this understanding implies (to us) for Aboriginal social security reform can be summarized in the following list of assumptions that form the starting place for our study. 1. Reconceptualizing "social security" - It is fundamental and necessary to think beyond the Canadian social security system as it presently exists and to re-conceptualize the concept of "social security" itself, such that what is "secured" is human well-being, or what the Royal Commission on Aboriginal People's report calls "Whole Health" (Ibid.), broadly defined as being synonymous with personal, family and community well-being, as well as the well-being and integrity of whole nations.

2. Sovereignty; a critical ingredient- "Social security" for Aboriginal people is directly related to sovereignty or, as described in the Ottawa Charter on Health Promotion, "moving toward human well-being requires not only the absence of disease, but control of all those things that lead to health."1 The concept of sovereignty thus contains critical implications for the process of achieving well-being, implications related to the healing and transformation of power relationships both within Aboriginal communities, and between Aboriginal communities and society at large.

3. The relatively recent emergence of the "determinants of health" model within the related fields of health promotion, population health and community health provides a useful framework for understanding the full range of needs and dimensions that must be attended to in promoting and securing human well-being. This integrative systems model also provides a bridge of congruency between Aboriginal thinking about "whole health" and emerging models within main-stream health professions. On one level, the medicine wheel is fundamentally an ancient formulation of the determinants of well-being model. It eloquently shows the multi-dimensional nature of who we are as human beings, and what we need in order to be able to live well. The medicine wheel focuses on balancing the relationships between various aspects of human life within us, between us, and around us. It demonstrates how physical health is inseparable from spiritual, emotional and mental health. It also pulls us out of the framework of seeing the health of individuals as being somehow disconnected from the health of their families, communities and nations. It forces us to see human well-being in relationship with the natural world, with the political and economic forces acting upon us, and with the social realities we dwell within. These models are enormously useful in helping us to articulate what has to be "secured" in a reformed Aboriginal social security system.

4. The Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal People (RCAP), and particularly Volume III: "Gathering Strength," provides a comprehensive and accurate review of current conditions in Canadian Aboriginal communities relative to health, healing and human well-being, as well as a culturally appropriate conceptual framework for understanding what health and well-being actually means within an Aboriginal framework. Our study will build on what the commissioners have already provided, with a specific and practical focus on the challenges of implementing processes of healing and health development and on strategies for safeguarding both the processes and the outcomes.

What is "Community Healing"

In "Gathering Strength," the commissioners say that "Healing, in Aboriginal terms, refers to personal and societal recovery from the lasting effects of oppression and systematic racism experienced over generations" (RCAP, Vol. 3:109) While this description tells us something about the origins of dislocation and disease in Aboriginal communities, it does not tell us a great deal about how to promote the recovery process.

As we understand it, a healthy person, family, community or nations are those who are able to successfully address the fundamental determinants of well-being.2Healing therefore may be strategically described as a process of removing barriers and building the capacity of people and communities to address the determinants of health. This work certainly involves overcoming the legacy of past oppression and abuse, but what that actually means in practice usually involves the transformation of our inner lives, our relationships, and the social and environmental conditions within which we live.3 Healing as we will use the term means moving beyond hurt, pain, disease and dysfunctionality and establishing new patterns of living that produce sustainable well-being.

Purpose of the Study

The purpose of this study is to chart a course of action that will promote and support the process of Aboriginal community healing and whole health development. Our discussion will be organized as follows.

1. Part I will describe a framework for thinking about community healing and Aboriginal social security reform that provides both a clear vision of what has to be achieved, and strategic principles to guide transformative action. It also describes some of the major global trends which are affecting Aboriginal communities, especially their efforts to achieve sustainable well-being and prosperity.

2. Part IIwill provide a brief overview of the social and historical processes which have contributed to the healing issues which face Aboriginal communities today. It will also offer a short description of the current condition in those communities which must be addressed in order for Aboriginal people to move toward well-being in all aspects of their personal and community as well as an assessment of the current social security system. Finally, some of the strengths and resources which Aboriginal people have developed to promote health and balance will be put forward.

3. Part III will describe a broad range of healing and health development options, models and strategies, and will critique some of the most prominent of these in light of

actual case examples which illustrate principles and lessons.

4. Part IV will present several case studies of integrated healing initiatives in Canadian Aboriginal communities which illustrate the application of the principles, models and strategies presented in this study.

5. Part V will propose a comprehensive strategy for ensuring that the results of Aboriginal social security reform actually promote, protect and sustain community healing and health development processes and outcomes.

Grounding Experience and Methodology

All research studies related to the transformation of human conditions reflect the experience and perspectives of the people who carry out the study. Our study is grounded in more that thirty years of continuous healing and health development work carried on by the authors and by the Four Worlds Institute for Human and Community Development in Canadian and American Aboriginal communities, as well as in related experiences with indigenous community in Latin America, Africa, Asia and the South Pacific. We know from direct experience that Aboriginal community healing is possible even in the most difficult of circumstances.

We also know that the journey of health development cannot proceed unless and until certain fundamental principles are respected. These principles have been articulated in various ways by Aboriginal elders since time immemorial. Their function has always been to aid us to harmonize our action and strategies with the nature of nature, with who we are as human beings, and with how human beings heal, learn, grow and develop. Examples of these principles include ideas such as the inter-relatedness and connectivity of all aspects of life, which, among other things, tells us that an integrative wholistic approach is required, and that we should be seeking to understand and solve difficult human problems by looking at a web of relational patterns, rather than by focusing on isolated issues resulting from a linear chain of causes. Another example of these ancient principles is that human beings are both spiritual and material in nature, and solving human problems and transforming human conditions will always have both a material and spiritual dimension to the work.

Our study is grounded in principles such as these that we have had the opportunity to test in a wide variety of community healing and development processes over many years. We will list and discuss many of these principles in a section to follow. While we are guided by principles, we are not attached or even particularly influenced by any particular models or approaches. Rather, we have learned that healing and development strategies have to emerge out of living processes. As a result, we believe that there will never be one best model that suits all circumstances. We begin our study with the assumption that because (as our elders told us) "healing and development comes from within," what is always needed is a process of engagement and learning that assists people who are on a healing and development journey to make their own path by walking it. (Horton and Freire, 1990) 4

The most successful examples of Aboriginal community healing we have seen have always been animated by a spirit of openness to learning and new ideas, from whatever sources they might originate. Our approach to this study is undertaken in that same spirit. We have therefore been as thorough and diligent as we could be in consulting the following sources in the preparation of this study

1. Aboriginal Elders and Advisors - A sixteen-year process of systemmatic consultation with Elders followed by community action, reflection and documentation constitutes the foundation from which the study was undertaken. This process has entailed at least nineteen formal gatherings at which elders were consulted on fundamental problems and principles related to Aboriginal community healing and development between 1982 and 1998, as well as numerous consultations with individuals and small groups of elders related to particular challenges arising out of community practice.

2. Literature- A broad-based literature search was undertaken using standard bibliographic search engines, exploring some sixty-five international data bases and two major university library collections (the University of Calgary and the University of Alberta). Our search encompassed topics related to Aboriginal community healing and development, community health, addictions and recovery, determinants of health, mental health, physical and sexual abuse, the cultural foundations of healing and community development, leadership and governance for health, people's participation, and sovereignty, as well as specific searches related to particular case examples (such as Alkali Lake and Hollow Water) and particular program intervention models (such as post-traumatic stress disorder treatment processes). Slightly over 5,200 references were located and from these some 120 references were selected for more in-depth consideration and review.

3. Key Informants- Interviews were conducted with twelve seasoned practitioners or community leaders who are intimately familiar with the actual processes of fostering personal as well as community healing and development.

4. Case Examples - A selection of case examples illustrating successful community intervention models (i.e. best practices) were consulted and analyzed with an aim to learning what worked, what didn't, and what principles and models might be synthesized from these specific experiences for more general application.

Finally, a note about our communication style. We have concluded that there are two primary audiences for our study; namely, a) Aboriginal community leaders and practitioners who are struggling to facilitate community healing and health development processes in the midst of rapid social and political change; and b) outside helpers such as funders and technical support agencies who are helping to shape and support community processes through the injection of resources and other kinds of support. Neither of these audiences are particularly academic in orientation, but both need to be able to justify the strategies they choose in ways that make sense to the powers that be. We have therefore decided to orient our discussions to practice, with an emphasis on analysis and strategy that will help those in front line policy or program work both to understand what is really required, and to be able to guide the design and implementation of practical on-the-ground solutions.