An Experimentation in Collaboration: A Dual Approach to Traditional Ecological Knowledge


Inspired by Koster et al.’s (2016) research in Current Anthropology we have chosen to discuss a topic which intersects our disciplinary interests of natural and social science. Traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) is a body of knowledge that is site specific and is developed through generation of cultural transmission (Drew 2006). This knowledge concerns relationships between Indigenous persons, other organisms, and the living environment. Various disciplines have incorporated TEK in their research programs, and here we focus on its presence in anthropology. In this collaborative blog, we explore this issue from archaeological and sociocultural perspectives. These intersections concern the historical and ecological perspectives, management practices, and cautions of TEK.

Historical/Ecological Perspectives

Archaeological evidence give us an idea of the ecological knowledge and technologies past societies possessed, and their relationships with the environment. The earliest Pacific islanders were characterized as being skilled ‘seafarers’ and having an intimate relationship with both their terrestrial and marine environments (Kirch 2000). Their ability to exploit the full breadth of marine ecozones, as well as transporting a number of plant foods to new locales demonstrates a portion of their adaptable strategies. In some sites, material culture and marine animal remains can only provide so much data, often archaeologists use ethnographic data as a second line of evidence to support patterns from archaeological materials. With access to TEK,  archaeologists may gain a better understanding  of prehistoric subsistence practices. Through this interdisciplinary approach, archaeologists have measured small-scale societies’ hunting and fishing abilities over great time periods.

For cultural anthropologists, Indigenous ecological knowledge provides insight into the taxonomic classification of local fauna and flora, and their use. Drew argues that contrary to Linnaean classification, premised on speciation, folk taxonomy provides insights into the priorities of the local culture with their classification practices (2005:1288). The more important the organism is, the more diverse its names and classifications. Aswani and Hamilton (2004) analyzed some of this diversity among Solomon Islanders’ folk taxonomy of Bolbometopon muricatum, bumphead parrotfish. The general species name is known as topa and variations in size are denoted as: topa kakara, big fish; kitakita, small fish; and lendeke, very small fish (Aswani and Hamilton 2004:71). According to the authors, fish size was specifically differentiated to identify which fish should be hunted – there was an aversion to hunting small fish because they were typically female and hindered reproductive capability (Aswani and Hamilton 2004:70, 78). This taxonomy, accentuates size as a key factor determining taxonomic variation. Knowledge of taxonomic classification, and species use, can supplement archaeological insights into past fishing and hunting practices, and species’ use in material culture.

Resource Management

Archaeology’s use of TEK can provide more than knowledge of historic practices or paleoenvironment reconstruction. The pressure on archaeologists, and zooarchaeologists specialists, to apply their historical data to contemporary conservation and management agendas has been increasing lately. Growing global concerns such as climate change and overfishing have led to more projects incorporating archaeologists, as opposed to only natural scientists. Their historical datasets can provide  the cultural significance of marine and terrestrial resources over time and between groups (Lambrides and Weisler 2016). For instance, Virginia Butler (2004) had used her ethnoarchaeological evidence to not only reconstruct past subsistence models of small-scale societies, but also to analyze historic ecological knowledge in relation to archaeological cases of sustainable fisheries. Through this research she was able to suggest potential actions small and large-scale societies could undertake to maintain both local and global salmon numbers. Thus, archaeologists should be encouraged to engage with local communities, in addition to biologists and resource managers, to frame initial research objectives. In this situation, research projects can benefit more people than solely the academics, establishing strong partnerships with local communities becomes essential.

Aswani and Hamilton’s (2004) analysis of bumphead parrotfish in the Solomon Islands addresses the contentious issues of indigenous resource management. In interviews with elders on the island, historical ecological information of population growth and decline of bumphead parrotfish supplements known scientific information with regionally specific information. Prior to the 1970s, bumphead parrotfish were common, but there was a significant decline because of advances in technology which allowed indiscriminate hunting of fish, changing from spear hunting at night with lanterns to mechanically propelled spears with flashlights and scuba-diving equipment, fishing five times the general limit (Aswani and Hamilton 2004:70). In the 2000s, to combat this, stricter guidelines were enforced through mandatory size requirements of throwing back fish less than 650mm, female fish are smaller than this size; and local communication between sea estate owners in the area, sea estate owners who are away from estate are less likely to enforce or advocate for specific management practices (Aswani and Hamilton 2004:78-79). This locally specific management regime offers insight into managing the fish population, and contextualized examples of solutions.


Archaeologists have been encouraged to establish academic and community partnerships which could benefit traditional land use and occupancy studies, community-based interest in regional heritage, and cultural tourism planning (Robinson 1996:126). Robinson defines this sort of practice as participatory action research which, in Canada, has seen more partnerships with other disciplines such as social anthropology, law, political science, and environmental science (Robinson, 1996).  Participatory action research developed in the 1950s and 60s from numerous central American and Indian sub-continent communities which argued against the western science model and its analytic reasoning and habit to discredit any value of such things as mythology, intuitive wisdom, and TEK (Robinson 1996:127). Indigenous communities’ distaste for ‘being studied’ also stems from  the unequal relationship between communities and academics. After reviewing literature from Canada and Russia, Robinson noted how various researchers were met with displeasure because generations of academics (mainly social scientists) prior to them had benefited from such relationships yet “left nothing tangible in return” (1996:126). He argued that with archaeology, as with any other discipline, the obligations and benefits of such partnerships should be reciprocal, not solely for the academic party.

Drew (2006) similarly cautions the use of Indigenous ecological knowledge, despite an apparent benefit in supplementing universal scientific knowledge on specific flora and fauna. The most important issue pertains to problems arising from intellectual property and the right to disseminate this information. Drew highlights that not all communities may want their secret practices of hunting and foraging publicized, fearing scrutiny from the international community for defying the trope of the noble ecological savage, or divulging culturally sensitive private information (2005:1291). Indigenous ecological knowledge must be appropriately communicated and divulged with the community’s permission to enable symmetrical power relations and dialogues with those outside it.


Researchers, for years have recognized the value of  TEK, and have sought to acquire it for various research interests. Acknowledgement and incorporation of TEK has provided more holistic perspectives in understanding the archaeological record of past hunting practices, and communities taxonomic classifications. Additionally, TEK usage is emerging in ecological management projects focused on conservation. However, accessing TEK requires mutually respectful relationships with indigenous communities, and negotiating resources. Given these trajectories of TEK, its benefits and possible harms, we are interested in seeing how TEK will become more relevant in an increasingly globalized world affected by climate change, and devaluation of natural environments through pollution and resource extraction.


Aswani, S., & Hamilton, R. J. (2004). Integrating indigenous ecological knowledge and customary sea tenure with marine and social science for conservation of bumphead parrotfish (Bolbometopon muricatum) in the Roviana Lagoon, Solomon Islands. Environmental conservation, 31(01), 69-83.

Butler, V. L. & Campbell, S. K. (2004). Resource intensification and resource depression in the Pacific Northwest of North America: A zooarchaeological review. Journal of World Prehistory, 18(4): 327-405.

Drew, J. A. (2005). Use of traditional ecological knowledge in marine conservation. Conservation biology, 19(4), 1286-1293.

Kirch, P. V. (2000). On the Road of the Winds: An Archaeological History of the Pacific Islands before European Contact. Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Koster, J., Bruno, O., & Burns, J.L. (2016). Wisdom of elders? Ethnobiological knowledge across the lifespan. Current Anthropology, 57: 113-121.

Lambrides, A. B. J., & Weisler, M. I. (2016). Pacific Islands ichthyoarchaeology: Implications for the development of prehistoric fishing studies and global sustainability. Journal of Archaeological Research, 24(3): 275-324.

Robinson, M. P. (1996). Shampoo archaeology: Towards a participatory action research approach in civil society. The Canadian Journal of Native Studies, 16(1): 125-138.

Presentation Review: We are the Land and the Land Us

This is a review of a colloquium talk at my alma mater given by guest speaker Dian Million, associate professor at the University of Washington, who analyses Native American health, race, and self-determination. Dr. Million’s presentation discussed environmental stewardship and urban ecologies from Indigenous perspectives. As a disclaimer, the presentation was a work-in-progress, and we were the first ones to see it. Dr. Million said that the points bleed into each other, and she may jump back and forth between arguments.

The approximate skeleton of the presentation was as follows:

Prefatory Remarks

  • Introduction of the Speaker
  • Land acknowledgement


  • Movie clip from “Eskimo Family” film was shown
  • Analysis of said movie clip
  • Discussion of anthropology and salvage ethnography
  • Outline of key themes

Failure To Thrive

  • History of settler-colonialism
  • Example: reserves & infrastructure
    • Thriving requires leaving reserves and assimilating with Euro-Canadian society
  • Maclean’s article refutation and analysis

Racial Ecologies

  • Example: reserves and kinship
    • Government attempts to displace Indigenous persons from their land through treaties, and through reserves
  • Example: electricity and people
    • Electricity is a parallel for civilization, and infrastructure development


  • Example: Arctic shipping infrastructure
    • The arctic is a strategically important position for commerce, but the commerce does not benefit Indigenous persons
  • Example: Resource extraction infrastructure
    • Non-Indigenous persons are increasingly outnumbering Indigenous persons in the arctic

Question and Answer Period


I want to draw attention to the speaker’s introduction as a point of interest because of the land acknowledgement. A land acknowledgement is the identification that the land they are currently on once belonged to Indigenous inhabitants, and they ask the audience to pay their respect for the ability to speak on the land. From my experience, Indigenous studies presentations and anthropology presentations with Indigenous peoples as primary interlocutors often do land acknowledgements to show respect to their participants. However, beyond these limited presentations land acknowledgement are fairly uncommon (take our colloquium series as an example).

Dr. Million’s introduction was different from other presentations I have seen because she chose to introduce herself with a video. The video, (provided at the bottom) was a documentary of early Eskimo contact during the 1950s. The film clip simultaneously explored Indigenous culture, stigmatized their way of life, and praised settler interactions as acts of benevolence. Dr. Million used the video to discuss anthropology with Indigenous peoples, and the practice of salvage ethnography: the attempt to capture a dying culture to preserve it. The implicit meaning of the film was that Eskimo culture would be assimilated into Euro-Canadian culture as Eskimo children were now able to attend “modern schools” and had access to “modern tools.” The film served as a stepping stone to introduce herself as someone who grew up in that environment, and contextualized the themes of the presentation in the Canadian context where the state sees themselves as being benevolent towards Indigenous peoples.

Like other presentations, Dr. Million used PowerPoint. PowerPoint was used to show her evidence that took the form of images, and statistics. PowerPoint served as a visual tool for the written essay that she had prepared (which is common among socio-cultural anthropology presentations), rather than a distraction to her presentation. Contrary to other presentations, her use of text was minimalistic. Text was only used for the titles of slides, outline of her key themes, and quotes. This approach proved somewhat problematic to understand explicit structure of her presentation. However, this was mitigated through her relevant images and captions.

The first theme that was discussed was Indigenous peoples’ supposed failure to thrive. The argument was situated on past state-Indigenous interactions, like the film, which erected hierarchies, disempowered Indigenous persons. In analysis of the film, and the suggested role of the state as a benevolent entity, Dr. Million made reference to contemporary representations of Indigenous peoples in the media. Specifically, a Macleans Magazine article that stigmatized Indigenous ways of life, and their living conditions as their own fault. Though the article was not shown to us, summary or otherwise, it was explained in such a way that drew upon the audience’s general conception of media bias, and disempowerment of Indigenous persons. This theme is specifically relevant to my research of law and medicine, because much of the outcry concerning the case was through limited analyses and half-truths perpetuated by the media about Indigenous persons.

The second theme Dr. Million discussed was racial ecologies, and the urban rural dichotomy. She adopts an anthropological analysis of how the Canadian government has contributed to lessening Indigenous kinship through both the imposition of reserves, and the concentration of electricity. Through the establishment of reserves, the Canadian government changed the lifestyles of Indigenous peoples by restricting them to specified plots of land where they could engage in their cultural practices. Furthermore, Dr. Million argues that the reserve infrastructure was designed to be inefficient to contribute to the assimilation of Indigenous peoples; this would motivate Indigenous persons to move to urban centres and away from their family and culture. For those who remained, reserves were to be temporary holding cells for their eventual integration into Euro-Canadian society. This analysis was supplemented through satellite images showing the concentration of electricity, a parallel for human activity, in urban centres as large amalgamations of light, and reserves and rural areas as dim, sparsely lit areas. These images served as contextualization for her argument of geographic concentration of Indigenous and non-Indigenous persons, and a leeway into her argument of infrastructure

The final theme discussed was infrastructure and resource extraction. Dr. Million continued her usage of maps to show trade passages in the arctic. She argued that the infrastructure that exists in the arctic is one of resource extraction, and contribution to commercial utility – ecocides of capitalism. She substantiates her arguments through Census statistics of arctic populations, where Indigenous populations are becoming increasingly outnumbered by non-Indigenous persons who are drawn from southern Canada for job prospects in resource extraction. Dr. Million concludes that infrastructure development and resource requires consultations with Indigenous persons, like Standing Rock, where Indigenous persons have the ability to say no, and their decision is respected. The presentation concludes with a few quotes about the relatedness of Indigenous persons for the land, and respect for it.

The question and answer period lasted approximately 45 minutes, and maintained its audience of 40+ people. To my surprise, the audience included children (something that I have not seen at an academic presentation before) and some of the children even asked questions (though the responses to them may have been a bit too pessimistic for them). During the question and answer period new themes were discussed that included environmental stewardship, human rights, and contemporary land issues.

As a whole, the presentation was informative and engaged in new perspectives and analyses that I had not thought about regarding these issues. This was the first academic presentation that I have seen that used a video introduction that was not created by the presenter. Considering the presentation was only one hour, and we watched the video for approximately seven minutes, I think the viewing time could have been reduced to provide more analysis. Additionally, as a preference for style and organization (especially for this assignment), more text would have been appreciated to provide a clearer outline of her individual points, and reference for audience to her previous arguments.

This presentation was informative for the purposes of my research because Dr. Million spoke extensively about reserves (one of my key themes in my background chapter) and provided a few additional resources that I would want to look into. This supplements analyses that I am currently fleshing out for the final essay of the course concerning settler-colonialism, and how reserves were never meant to be permanent settlements. Furthermore, her presentation engaged significantly with analyses of Indigenous representation in the media (similar to my own research), and how Indigenous persons have been portrayed. Though not significantly addressing issues of medicine, the presentation offer additional contextualization of how Indigenous persons are stigmatized in the media where their current living situation is attributed to being their fault.


Deneen, William

  1. Eskimo Family. 16 mins. Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved from:


Gilmore, S.

  1. The Hard Truth About Remote Communities. Maclean’s. February 9, 2016. Retrieved from:

The Good, the Bad, and the Anthropological

I need to express my difficulty in undertaking this assignment because when I read articles I analyse their content, and I do not necessarily ascribe a judgement value after reading. Structure for me is often irrelevant, so long as the content is thought provoking. Consequently, I evaluate the arguments authors make with reference to what I know other authors have made, and my own person biases, and whether the author makes informed opinions. While reading articles I make annotations, and after reading the article I look back at my annotations and see what I learned, and critically engaged with. For me, good articles would be ones that teach me something new, and engages with my pre-existing knowledge on the topic. Bad articles are ones that introduce no new perspectives, or information. As a result, I found it difficult to identify a bad article before having read it. Both articles I have chosen provide a descriptive result of findings, and cultural commentary, but do so in different ways. One devotes time to allusions to significant cultural influences and theories, interpreting the current state of affairs as the result of a multitude of actions, while the other focuses on a single causative factor, and does not engage with alternative theories or theoretical approaches. The good article is informed and cognizant of other research, whereas the bad article makes few if any attempts to reference external literature. Instead, the article is focused on the direct results of their research with little contextualization of it in the discipline. This may be a disciplinary discrepancy; anthropology may make more of an attempt to engage with existing literature and contrast theories and results, whereas psychiatry may be more result oriented.


The Good

For my “good” article I defaulted to the anthropologist who urged me to think differently about medicine, critically question the visible, and motivated me to pursue medical anthropology: Paul Farmer. Regrettably, my go-to text for Farmer is a book and not an article, Infections and Inequalities, and was beyond the scope for the assignment. However, I chose to analyse one of the article he wrote around the same time as his book, and discussed his infamous concept of structural violence in Haiti.


Famer’s article analyses tuberculosis and AIDS as epidemics in Haiti through the framework of structural violence. Structural violence is mix of historical, political, and social factors of oppression. In the context of Haiti, structural violence has emerged through its history as a former French slave colony, its “liberation”, and its dependency on the United States for government policies and infrastructure improvement. Structural violence is used as an analytic to understand how AIDS and tuberculosis, disease of two different pathologies and transmission methods, emerge concurrently and affect large portions of the Haitian population.


The article outlines its objective of explaining the epidemic status of HIV and tuberculosis in the first two paragraphs through a historical and social analysis that allows pathologization of the diseases to be understood. Sub-headings are used throughout the essay to guide the reader and draw attention to the main point that the author wants to accomplish in those paragraphs.


Farmer uses narrative style throughout his piece. The introduction critiques dominant analyses of focusing on the visible, and omitting analyses of the sub-altern, the historical, and the social. Vignettes with his interlocutors demonstrate this, humanizing his interlocutors, and also offering analyses of what their physiological conditions are indicative of socially and historically. Additionally, Farmer uses extended quotes to convey his arguments. An extremely poignant quote discusses French fashion and cuisine as imports of colonialism, and symbolic of class distinction – the aristocracy would have five course meals, rarely tasting them all, and taking small bites from each.


The primary strength of the article lies in its content and theoretical framework: structural violence. Trained as a doctor, knowledgeable about the biological determinants of health, Farmer analyses and contextualized the historical and social determinants which have led Haitians being disproportionately affected by tuberculosis and AIDS in the northern hemisphere. Farmer engages in a holistic analysis of a medical problem. Farmer draws upon the mundane and the arcane to theoretically ground his argument, and explain the incidence of these diseases in Haiti, and why they are so prevalent.


The Bad

For my “bad” article I chose an article that discussed a controversial theory: historical trauma. The overarching critique of historical trauma theory is that if used uncritically, it is too deterministic: alienating individual stories of struggle for the formation of a collective memory. Perhaps paradoxically, my hope while reading this article is that it is bad because the title and abstract emphasize boarding school experience as a detrimental life event, perhaps to the detriment of ignoring other factors. In essence, I am actively trying to look for the flaws of the article, rather than primarily reading for content. The article that was chosen was selected from a psychiatric journal, rather than an anthropological one.



The article analyses the effectiveness of storytelling as a culturally appropriate coping mechanism for dealing with trauma. The authors pioneer a method called the Dream Catcher-Medicine Wheel, a process in which survivors share their stories, and create linkages on paper of their experience om boarding schools. Data was gathered through a snowballing process of participants in a limited geographic area and analysed with three major themes: an inability to find voice, appreciation for traditional methods of healing, and participant appreciation of the Dream Catcher-Medicine Wheel method as a therapeutic mechanism.


Subheadings are used throughout the article to guide the reader through the logical structure of the argument. Few introductory details are given about Native American history in the United States. A detailed explanation about the creation of boarding schools for Native Americans is provided, however there is little qualitative or descriptive analysis from sources other than the interlocutors. The purpose and the significance of the study is outlined along with a sample diagram of how the process works is outlined. Findings detail the demographic data of the participants, and provide subheadings for each of the three major themes identified. The article ends suggesting the direction for future research, and the limitations of the current study.


The article uses a very formalized and sanitized style of explanation of results. Lack of qualitative descriptive details of experiences are given, and instead, homogenized as a shared experience. The sub-headings provide clear indication of the study’s aims and results, but they are overused in the analysis of data. I struggled to readily ascertain what the key themes identified during the study were because subheadings were also used for sub-themes, with no differentiation between the two. There is extensive explanation of methodology, which would be expected from clinical or scientific articles, and comparatively a lack of thematic analysis or contrast against competing methods or theories. From my experience, medical and socio-cultural journals briefly discuss methodology, and devote their time to analyses of their results, and theoretical underpinnings in the literature.


The article provides single-minded focus on proving the efficacy of its Dream Catcher-Medicine Wheel model for storytelling and therapeutic relief, and does not comparative analyses to other frameworks for healing. Engaging with the other frameworks would provide better analysis of the method’s strengths and weaknesses, when compared to the best standard, or other methodologies to accomplish similar results. The article is limited in providing contextual analysis of the conditions in which the participants were conscripted for boarding schools, there were only nine participants and should have been fairly easy to include, and did not provide analysis of other therapeutic healing undertaken by participants. Furthermore, the author is extremely limited in analysing the memories of what happened during the boarding school, rather than its subsequent effects for participants upon reintegration into the community. The primary deficit of the article in its holistic description of boarding school experience with regards to the life history of affected individuals. Whether or not there may have been mitigating or exacerbating factors for survivors affecting their healing, or reintegration process in their communities.



Farmer, P.

  1. An Anthropology of Structural Violence. Current Anthropology 45(3):305-325.


Charbonneau-Dalhen, B., Lowe J., and Morris S.

2016 Giving Voice to Historical Trauma Through Storytelling: The Impact of Boarding School Experience on American Indians. Journal of Agression, Maltreatment & Trauma 25)6): 598-617.

Anthropological Annotations and Finding the Right Article

Article 1

O’Neil, John

  1. The Politics of Health in the Fourth World: A Northern Canadian Example. Human Organization 45(2):119-128.

Structure In-Brief


  • Critique of anthropologists focusing on micro factors
  • Advocates for mid-level micro/macro anthropological analysis of structures

Background Information

  • Comparisons of medical services of Indigenous on-reserve populations to those of the third world
  • Provides a brief overview of frontier capitalism, the fur trade, with overhunting animals on behalf of the Hudson’s Bay Company


  • Displacement/replacement of Indigenous traditional healers with biomedicine because of the new diseases settlers brought
  • Pathologization of social problems (alcohol and mental illness), diseases of colonialism that require colonial intervention for aid
  • Lack of specialized medical care available on reserves for Indigenous people


  • Acknowledgement of inability of Indigenous communities to meet current epidemiological problems without a political commitment


O’Neil argues that anthropology should analyse the macro-structural interactions between the state and Indigenous communities with regards to health care. O’Neil analyses this with reference to Indigenous peoples’ unique history with settlers, and different quality of treatment when compared to southern urban centres. O’Neil argues that settler desire for resource extraction in the north with fur trade, drastically changed the ecology, and with it the epidemiology of Indigenous peoples (O’Neil 1986:121). Acting within a maternalistic colonial framework, nurses and doctors were sent to these communities to provide medical care for disease like tuberculosis (O’Neil 1986:122). This practice displaced and devalued Indigenous healers which focused on psychosomatic symptom alleviation in favour of biomedical intervention of the state. Moreover, the quality of treatment that Indigenous persons receive in their communities is disparate from that received in southern communities, with the latter having many specialists on-call, whereas the former refers patients to southern hospitals (O’Neil 1986:126). O’Neil traces historical influences of negative health outcomes and analyses its contemporary effects that are manifest with failing infrastructure, and deleterious health outcomes.

This article provides an important perspective on my essay because it articulates specific examples of how colonialism has negatively effected health: the devaluation of Indigenous knowledge, and actions of the colonial state to instill a dependence on external intervention. The devaluation of indigenous knowledge is paramount to my research because my case focuses on the (lack of) incorporation of traditional medicine in contemporary medical practices for pluralistic approaches to healthcare. Moreover, O’Neil provides a vivid narrative portraying how dependence on the state was formulated, through the fur trade and his Marxist deconstruction of land acquisition for the control of the means of production. This provides a historical context against which my analysis would fall under.

Article 2

Asch, Michael

  1. Indigenous Self-Determination and Applied Anthropology in Canada: Finding a Place to Stand. Anthropologica 43(2):201-207.

Structure In-Brief


  • Discussion of contemporary issue of land sovereignty, and the recent court case of R. v. Van de Peet


  • Provides a theoretical background for understanding activism, justice, and struggles of power
  • Contextualization of power struggle within the Canadian context with Indigenous peoples and the Canadian state with treaty rights
  • Provides an additional theoretical lens of reflexivity for discussion with another party
  • Discussion of criteria for self-determination, and dichotomous relationship of the state and the subject


Anthropologists have often been silent in helping reframe history or participating in advocacy


Asch’s article, adapted from a presentation, discusses Indigenous self-determination with the colonial state by situating it in reference to dialogues of conflict, justice, and autonomy of other scholars. Chomsky and Foucault’s debate is referenced to understand the underlying motivations for activism and justice. Chomsky argues that activism is morally worthy if it is capable of begetting additional justice (Asch 2001:203). Instead, Foucault is interested in the conflict, and power relations that activism elucidates (Asch 2001:203). This debate is foregrounded with a discussion of treaty rights formulated under auspices of hierarchical power relations and sharing, and how self-determination can be interpreted. Asch, like many other scholars, argue that these treaties disprivielged Indigenous persons. This injustice was most recently shown with R. v. Van de Peet, and the court’s refusal to acknowledge abstract rights such as self-determination (Asch 2001:202). Drawing on Levinas, Asch argues that treaty negotiations were flawed because they were done through a perspective of I-it, speaking with Indigenous people as subjects, rather than I-Thou, speaking reflexively and acknowledging Indigenous autonomy (Asch 2001:204).

Asch offers a new direction for my research analysing R. v. Van de Pete and Mik’maq fishing rights in British Columbia. Other anthropologists, that I have read, have been remiss in mentioning specific legal disputes, and I can ground my research concerning self-determination of health, and medical care through reference to Indigenous rights discussed in the aforementioned case. Furthermore, Asch offers a unique perspective on understanding treaty negotiations through philosophical terms of I-It versus I-Thou, and recognizing Indigenous autonomy during treaty making. These perspectives are important in understanding how state apparatuses have previously harmed Indigenous peoples’ and could explain anxiety in trusting the state.

Article 3

Wilson, Kathleen and Rosenberg, Mark

  1. Exploring the Determinants of Health for First Nations Peoples in Canada: Can Existing Frameworks accommodate Traditional Activities? Social Science & Medicine 2002(55):2017-2031.

Structure In-Brief


  • Meta-commentary on health research involving quantitative and qualitative analyses, and the flaws of the former
  • Discussion of source material (analysis is premised on 1991 Census data)

Background Information

  • Comparison of health disparities of Indigenous and non-Indigenous populations with distinctions between: no-reserve Indigenous, Inuit, and Metis
  • Discussion of social determinants of health, and selecting indicators from the census data (methodology)


  • Identifying health correlations between Indigenous and non-Indigenous persons


  • Contradictory/in-conclusive results to general conceptions of what affects Indigenous health because of inability to glean additional qualitative information
  • Acknowledgement that the 2001 census would provide more nuanced, qualitative information


Wilson and Rosenberg utilize the 1991 Census data to understand Indigeneity as a social determinant of health. The authors’ discussion summarizes existing problems of Indigenous communities, high rates of chronic and infectious disease when compared to non-Indigenous Canadian populations, and attempt to derive qualitative data of cultural values from analysing the census questions. The study was premised on analysing participation and continuity of Indigenous activities, participation in fishing or hunting, and whether or not individuals lived on the land (Wilson and Rosenberg 2002:2020). The Census data revealed no significant correlation of participation in traditional activities and health (Wilson and Rosenberg 2002:2024). Analysis of subsistence practices returned conflicting results; individuals who reported engaging in fishing and hunting were more likely to be unhealthy than unhealthy (Wilson and Rosenberg 2002:2024). The authors theorize this may result from food security issues, turning to fishing and hunting when other avenues for food acquisition are unavailable, however a conclusive statement cannot be made because of a lack of qualitative data (Wilson and Rosenberg 2002:2024). Additionally, those who lived on reserve were more likely to be unhealthy than those who did not (Wilson and Rosenberg 2002:2024). This echoed results of previous studies of relocation improving access to education and healthcare, but the authors acknowledge that the census does not evaluate emotional or psychological distress.

This article provides empirical data and quantitative analysis of Indigenous health for my research. This data provides a good contrast to much anthropological research because the authors seek to explain the social determinants of health, specifically Indigeneity, through an abstract and delocalized perspective. Medical anthropologists typically engage in fieldwork, rather than statistical or quantitative analysis. This provides a unique generalizing perspective and commentary of Indigenous health in Canada, and reveals some conflicts that Indigenous peoples can face both on/off reserve. Living on reserve, there is an inability to access education and healthcare, and off reserve deprives them of living on their land, being with family, and engaging in traditional activities.

Annual Reviews in Anthropology and Indigeneity

I preface my discussion of the annual review that I had chosen with a brief comment that this is not the first time I have read an annual review, and that I had high hopes for it. Regrettably I could not find an annual review that paralleled all my interests of ethics, health, law, and politics, and decided that choosing a broad review (of a specific area) would provide useful theoretical insight and discussion for my research. I was mistaken.

Strong’s review outlines that she is not concerned with the spatial or temporal continuities of ethnographic research, but the contemporary trends of ethnography of Indigenous peoples in North America. The review discusses research methodologies that have been utilized for ethnographies in North America, themes, and hopes for future research. Smith discusses current research through a distinctly socio-cultural framework, Boasian anthropology, and is reluctant to engage with interdisciplinary literature both within the sub-fields of anthropology, and outside of it.


Smith’s introduction provides a general overview of how research is conducted with Indigenous communities, and problems inherent with any socio-cultural research concerning ethics and co-operation. Ethnographic literature of Indigenous peoples consists of: archival research, interviews, and participant observation. The environments that anthropologists choose to situate themselves in varies with research conducted in: communities, government institutions, museums, and tribal offices.

The main issue that Strong focuses on is the fascination of the Indigenous other that is resilient to assimilation and the contemporary themes of anthropological research. The anthropological literature that Smith chooses to review suggests atemporal portrayals of Indigenous peoples with the preservation and revitalization of culture. Current (early-mid 2000s) anthropological literature of North American Indigenous peoples focused on: confrontations with Christian and Indigenous values, gender dynamics, language revitalization, rituals, self-determination, and tourist economies. Smith’s discussion elucidated to me important concerns of gender dynamics of hierarchical balances of women and two-spirited individuals, and tourist economies with gambling. To my knowledge, these issues are not discussed in contemporary literature. However, Smith’s discussion of these themes is haphazard failing to adequately situate them in juxtaposition to literature of similar themes. She devotes 1-3 paragraphs discussing different themes and acknowledging thematic contributions to the fields, however, few articles are summarized to the extent that you are able to contrast the information provided by two authors who analyse the same theme. This analysis is further hampered by the lack of sub-headings identifying key themes.

Overall, I find Smith’s analysis of themes to be a limited portrayal of the corpus of literature available, with a specific omission of medical anthropological contributions at this time (Kelm 1999; Kaufert and O’Neil 1990). Furthermore, there is no discussion of the North American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, an act stipulating how archaeological materials unearthed on Indigenous land or Indigenous artefacts should be dealt with. This omission of information greatly restricts the review from being adequately comprehensive, and chooses to situate the discussion with only aspects of “living” culture.

Smith concludes the article with the belief that additional research will be done by Indigenous anthropologists, and the academy can be decolonized. She discuses analyses of Red Power and Indigenous activism and rightly anticipates the power of the internet for the dissemination of Indigenous advocacy through contemporary movements such as the decentralized Idle No More movement, and Standing Rock.

Final Thoughts

I was disappointed in Smith’s article primarily by the lack of what it did not include, and that I thought it should include. Smith chose to do a restrictive review of literature that I do not believe is representative of the research that was out there at the time. The research she focused on, and according to the articles that she reviewed, the “otherness” of Indigeneity in North American society. There was limited interdisciplinary engagement aside from politics, and gender studies. Despite these shortcomings, I gleaned several new readings, and a self-congratulation for some of the literature I read being mentioned in the article.

Motivated by my dislike for the article, and an effort to better situate this within my own research, I chose to write a paragraph following this reading to distill some of its main points and briefly argue how my research serves to fill this gap.

Notable anthropological literature concerning Indigenous identity has been pre-concerned with analyzing fragments of Indigeneity including language, rituals, and gender, without contemporary considerations to intersections of Indigenous persons and the law, or Indigenous persons and medicine. This literature can provide a problematic atemporal view of culture which disprivlieges research trying to understand Indigenous persons as dynamic and are often confrontational with state mechanisms. Literature can portray Indigenous persons as docile, and lacking significant ability to resist, or even an ability to adapt. Research concerning anthropological intersections of medicine and law is needed to contextualize these understandings and engage in fruitful analyses of contemporary arguments for Indigenous rights, self-determination, and medical pluralism.


Kelm, M.

1999 Colonizing Bodies: Aboriginal Health and Healing in British Columbia, 1900-50. University of British Columbia Press.

Kaufert, P. and O’Neil

1990 Cooptation and control: The Reconstruction of Inuit Birth. Medical Anthropology Quarterly 4(4):427-442.

Strong, Pauline

2005 Recent Ethnographic Research on North American Indigenous Peoples. The Annual Review of Anthropology. 2005(34):253-268.

Tentative Project Outline

My goal for this course is to tentatively complete my background draft for my MRP. My research is a detailed analysis of the intersections of culture, law, and medicine as it pertains to an Indigenous family that took their child off of chemotherapy treatment. The research will be situated through contextualizing this decision within the cultural/political atmosphere of Canada regarding the legal protections and allocations for Indigenous (health) self-determination. This contextualization would utilize the court records (which I am in the process of acquisition of) of the case, and interpret how the relevant laws were applied to the case. At the moment, my primary focuses are on contextualizing Indigenous interactions with the state, and analysing the legal and medical principles guiding the decision to make the family’s decision a legal matter.

My research attempts to engage with literature that anthropologists choose to rarely engage with: the law. Anthropology has often been concerned with the experiences of the state’s subjects and its implicit coercive powers over them, however it has rarely engaged with discussions of explicit control through specific laws. My research seeks to apply and interpret the specific laws that were cited in the reasons for decision to better understand the clash of state (government) values (laws), institutional (hospital) regulations, and concerns of the family.

My background chapter would discuss the former focus mentioned: the historical relationship of Canada’s Indigenous peoples with the state. I tentatively choose to situate this analysis through past case studies of dispossession, and Indigenous health. Dispossession would be analysed through initial claims to land and terra nullius, as well as more recent attempts at dispossession with residential schools and children being taken away from their families. Indigenous health would be analysed through endemics of tuberculosis in northern Indigenous communities, conflicts of traditional medicine with the state and medical pluralism, and current health disparities.

I am anticipating to draw examples from the local (Canadian) context, and contrast them with examples in other British Commonwealth countries, as a means of demonstrating similar hardships of health in similar conditions, but how they are addressed differently. With this approach I will have to be cautious not to generalize the situation of Canada’s Indigenous peoples, but understand it within a global context of representation. This approach would offer a comparative view of how the Canadian legal and medical system could be improved learning from countries that have similar colonial roots.

Depending on my initial outline, I may choose to include preliminary discussions of current attempts to mitigate health disparities, recognition, and self-determination for Indigenous peoples through the Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Agreement, or include it as a separate section altogether of legal-medical futurities.


Research and Writing Outline by Week

January 19: Meet with supervisor about specific scope of chapter

January 27: Compile previous research that I have done on the topic and sort with reference to my current chapter, condense annotations and notes (start drafting an initial outline)

February 2: Continue compilation of data and conduct additional research pertaining to the chapter

February 9: Complete a more detailed draft of the outline (meet with supervisor for feedback?)

February 16: Conduct additional research (meet with supervisor for feedback?)

February 23: Start the first draft

March 2: Continue writing the first draft

March 9: Edit the first draft, and conduct additional research to fill in conceptual gaps

March 16: Continue editing the draft

March 23: Find a friend/peer to edit

March 30: Find a(nother) friend/peer to edit

April 6: Hand in paper


Hopefully, this schedule will not change drastically over the course of the term. Hopefully, publicizing this schedule will enable greater accountability on my part. Regrettably, I believe the schedule for the next two weeks may be a bit optimistic because I have had troubles in the past trying to succinctly code and condense my annotations. Compartmentalizing my research like this will be a new exercise for me. As noted in my previous blog, I am an individual who experiences tunnel vision and will continue working on a singular project until it is completed. I will be curious to see the structure of the final paper I complete for this course, and its integration and comparison to the overall structure of my MRP.

I am interested to see how the in-class peer-editing process will turn out. Contrary to my previous university, I regrettably have no peers in a field similar to mine. This does not necessarily imply an unbeneficial scenario, but would encourage me to better explain concepts, to ensure coherency for others and myself. This is an issue that was addressed in class with using (and possibly misusing) disciplinary jargon and not entirely grasping the usage of it ourselves.

Research, Writing, and Everything In-Between

Writing is not always easy, but it is something we all have to do as university students. I do not intend to romanticize the writing process, it is an arduous process which can span hours, weeks, or months crafting the perfect paper. I exaggerate the last qualifier, and possibly the second, because I am a person who usually does things last minute juggling various deadlines at the same time. Many of my friends have seen me locked away in a library study room, or in my house typing up an essay that is a due in a few days or a few hours.

My association with writing has usually been dominated by an impending feeling of “I have to get this done” and “I want this hell to be over.” I acknowledge that this is not necessarily a healthy relationship with writing, being a graduate student, but I am often disinterested in the stuff I write. The essays that I have written throughout my undergraduate career have usually encompassed topics that have been predetermined, or constrained enough that I did not have the freedom to write about what I want. This usually led to temporary cognitive paralysis, and indecisiveness about what to write. Pressures of marks, and deadlines, inspire my writing over other determinants such as curiosity, or enjoyment. I have found deadlines to be especially motivating in overcoming this indecisiveness and inspiring a motivation, or fear, of writing.

My writing process, though rather comedic, illustrates the general outline of how I accomplish writing my essays. I adopt a relatively dissociative formulaic process to help me what I need to write,

My research/writing process takes the following steps:

  • Choose a few possible topics.
  • Discuss topics with friends to see if I already know anything substantial in the subject matter, or if it garners interest among my friends.
  • Choose a topic.
  • Conduct “research”: searching keywords usually in some association with “anthropology” in Google Scholar and other databases.
  • Read abstracts and decide which papers are worth keeping, and reading fully.
  • Annotate the articles extensively in a Microsoft Word document.
  • Try to synthesize the information into a coherent argument or thesis (this step does not always work so well the first time).
  • Construct a rough essay outline of main points that I want to address (usually consisting of bullet pointed single sentence or words, and extensive documentation of my brilliant one-liners that usually do not make it into the final paper).
  • Procrastinate (anywhere between a few minutes to a day to congratulate myself on a well articulated one-page outline).
  • Sleep?
  • Start writing furiously as the deadline is a few days or hours away.
  • Re-read the essay (to make sure that my essay actually addresses what I set out to discuss in my thesis, if not, revise the thesis).
  • Ensure everything is cited.
  • Edit the paper for spelling and grammar.
  • Hand in the paper and never look at it again because I know there will always be something I could have included, but did not think of at the time.

A problem that arises in my initial stages is deciding upon a topic that I am sufficiently interested in. I attempt to mitigate this by discussing with friends about topics that are still in their incubation stages, and see if my friends can bring any of them into infancy through discussion. My theorization behind this is: if I cannot talk about it with friends for a few minutes, I would not be able to write about it for several pages.

My interests do not always align with the guidelines of an essay, and when they do, they may fall out of scope. My essay topics are often constrained by how long the essay has to be. I have often experienced motivation to research and write about a topic, only to be disillusioned by the difficulty of having to write a possibly 5-25-page paper on the topic. A topic may interest me, but it may not interest me enough to write 25-pages. For me, arbitrary page lengths are an enemy of writing. They simultaneously encourage and discourage quality of analysis: short page limits prohibit qualitative analysis because of a need to adhere to page limits or face penalization, and longer page limits invite myself to be less motivated to avoid repetition. A quality essay by me will be as long as it will be, arbitrary guidelines add unneeded stress and stifle creativity, and critical examination.

During the construction of my thesis and outline I experience similar anxieties to those of deciding upon a topic. My outlines are short and concise, leaving room for my mind to wander while writing the essay. I avoid writing at length because I feel the need to include everything I have in my outline in my final essay, and this constraint sometimes leads to unique (read: haphazard) structure of my essay. I dedicate at most two hours to thinking about the structure of my essay, and writing down points that I want to include.

My general state when writing is fatigue or hunger. When writing essays at home I am constantly interrupted by family members listening to music or videos obnoxiously loud, so loud that I can hear it from a floor below or with my door closed, or conversations by family members done in an outdoor voice inside. More precisely, I have too high of an expectation for silence to maintain concentration. To accommodate this, I usually engage in the bulk of my writing (like this blog) when some of my family members are asleep: writing at night. Many of my papers are influenced by a mild state of delirium and fatigue from the day, and a desire to write as much as I can so that I can sleep myself. My preferred stimulant and ally for late night essay writing is chocolate; I typically have at least a bag of sweets next to me to keep me awake.

Alternatively, I write essays at the library for both its resources and its silence. However, this option suffers from a lack of creature comforts: food, and comfort itself. When I study at the library I try to grab some friends so that we can work together and hold each other accountable to our deadlines and use each other as possible peer editors. When writing, regardless of setting, I have tunnel-vision, all the world is a blur when I am trying to accomplish something, and I will keep thinking about writing, even when I take my “short” procrastination breaks. This does not preclude me from maintaining concentrations for long periods of time: I have often foregone food and sleep in favour of writing, and lost track of time sometimes sitting in the same place for hours without moving.

While writing an essay I find that I am constantly retyping a sentence, sometimes word-for-word, to acquire a different perspective on the issue, or giving myself more time to parse through information and my thoughts. This also represents a fair bit of indecisiveness and anxiety that is present during the day because of a need to have the perfect sentence before I proceed. When tired, I am less critical, and more willing to write whatever comes to mind. Some of my sentences represent this as being very train of thought sounding. This writing style lends itself to critical grammatical review to ensure punctuation, and overall structural coherency. My general edit for structure is ensuring that I do not have any page long paragraphs, ensuring that I evidence all the information I cite, and my order of analysis is correct. My state of mind being fatigue and willingness are very good motivators to ensure that I do not see flaws in my work so that I can sleep better. Moreover, because of my tunnel vision for the topic, I am relatively unsure of how critically I can evaluate it. I experience problems of taking too many things for granted, and having different interests in mind than those of my readers/evaluators. I have simultaneous problems of over-explaining and under-explaining what I write. I feel the need to define concepts that I do not necessarily have to, and other I do not. Under optimal conditions, I have a friend to review my work to ensure that it is coherent and is not coherent to only me in my delirious sleep-deprived state.

At the conclusion of my writing, I hand in what I have written with two to three series of edits. These edits are usually minor spelling and grammar issues, and there is not a significant structural overall from its primary iteration. I suppose this is because structural edits are more time intensive and comprehensive than spelling and grammar, and engaging in too detailed edits could undermine my writing to the point that I would have to rewrite it entirely, with time that I do not have while juggling other assignments.