Protective effects of language learning, use and culture on the health and wellbeing of Indigenous people in Canada




McIvor, Onowa

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Foundation for Endangered Languages


Traditional language and culture have an important role to play in Indigenous communities. Many communities assert that their language and culture is at the heart of what makes them unique and what has kept them alive in the face of more than 150 years of colonial rule. Studies have shown that although the health of Indigenous communities has improved over time, Indigenous people are still not faring as well as the general population (Health Canada, 2001; Young, 2003). But what role does the use of traditional language and culture play in maintaining health and reducing risk factors for health crises in Indigenous communities? This paper explores the literature discussing the protective effects of traditional language and culture on health outcomes for Indigenous people. Indigenous people continue to assert that language is the foundation for culture and without our languages, our cultures cannot survive (Battiste, 1998; Kirkness, 1998; Kirkness, 2002). This paper argues the time for action is now – to revive and hold high the indigenous cultures of this land, if for no other reason than for the tremendous potential they hold for the renewed and continued wholistic health of Indigenous people.




McIvor, O. (2013). Protective effects of language learning, use and culture on the health and well-being of Indigenous people in Canada. Proceedings of the 17th FEL Conference. FEL XVII: Endangered Languages Beyond Boundaries: Community Connections, Collaborative Approaches and Cross-Disciplinary Research, Ottawa, ON (pp. 123-131). Foundation for Endangered Languages in association with Carleton University.