"We just took care of each other": Exploring cultural understandings of neurological conditions

In 2009, the Government of Canada announced a four year national population health study on neurological conditions. The aim of the study was divided into four focus areas: incidence and prevalence of neurological conditions (scope of problem); risk factors for developing neurological conditions; health services, including gaps in services; and the impacts of neurological conditions. The Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC), with Dr. Carrie Bourassa, First Nations University of Canada, as the principal investigator, submitted a proposal to look at three out of the four focus areas, risk factors, health services / health gaps, and impacts, among Indigenous women. Out of the 13 research projects that were funded, this was the only project that focused specifically on Indigenous people, gathering much needed baseline information on how Indigenous people think about neurological conditions, how it impacts their lives, their families, and communities, and what they see as needed to support neurological health and wellbeing.

Individual interviews and research circles were conducted with people who live with a neurological condition and caregivers of people with a neurological condition. Key informant interviews were also conducted with traditional knowledge keepers, health care professionals and practitioners. The open ended questions encouraged participants to share as much or as little information as they wanted to. The stories shared contained a wealth of information, far exceeding the study’s focus areas. Unfortunately, due to external deadlines and budgetary constraints, the research team only had time to focus the research report on the three key areas outlined in the proposal – risk factors, health gaps, and impacts. A lot of the information shared was not fully explored. In this dissertation, a secondary analysis of the data is conducted to explore role of culture, as well as cultural understandings of neurological conditions, and interactions with the health care system. The theoretical framework will utilize Indigenous ways of knowing and Critical Medical Anthropology as part of a “two-eyed seeing” approach. Mi’kmaw Elder Albert Marshall suggested the phrase “two eyed seeing” as a guiding principle for health research, where one eye looks at the issue through the strengths of Indigenous knowledges and ways of knowing, while the other eye looks at the issue from the strengths of Western knowledges and ways of knowing. By using both eyes together to fully analyse the material, the strengths of both Indigenous and Western knowledges are brought together. Through using these different frameworks to explore the narratives, the research fills a gap in the literature regarding how Indigenous cultural understandings of neurological conditions can influence how Indigenous people access care.


Melissa Blind


Mary Jo Tippeconnic Fox




College of Social and Behavioral Sciences