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Revenge of the Windigo

Revenge of the Windigo: The Construction of the Mind and Mental Health of North American Aboriginal Peoples

  • Book Info
    Revenge of the Windigo
    Book Description:

    What is known about Aboriginal mental health and mental illness, and on what basis is this 'knowing' assumed? This question, while appearing simple, leads to a tangled web of theory, method, and data rife with conceptual problems, shaky assumptions, and inappropriate generalizations. It is also the central question of James Waldram'sRevenge of the Windigo.

    This erudite and highly articulate work is about the knowledge of Aboriginal mental health: who generates it; how it is generated and communicated; and what has been - and continues to be - its implications for Aboriginal peoples. To better understand how this knowledge emerged, James Waldram undertakes an exhaustive examination of three disciplines - anthropology, psychology, and psychiatry - and reveals how together they have constructed a gravely distorted portrait of 'the Aboriginal.'

    Waldram continues this acute examination under two general themes. The first focuses on how culture as a concept has been theorized and operationalized in the study of Aboriginal mental health. The second seeks to elucidate the contribution that Aboriginal peoples have inadvertently made to theoretical and methodological developments in the three fields under discussion, primarily as subjects for research and sources of data. It is Waldram's assertion that, despite the enormous amount of research undertaken on Aboriginal peoples, researchers have mostly failed to comprehend the meaning of contemporary Aboriginality for mental health and illness, preferring instead the reflection of their own scientific lens as the only means to properly observe, measure, assess, and treat.

    Using interdisciplinary methods, the author critically assesses the enormous amount of information that has been generated on Aboriginal mental health, deconstructs it, and through this exercise, provides guidance for a new vein of research.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-8381-5
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-2)
  4. CHAPTER ONE Introduction: Monsters and Mental Health
    (pp. 3-18)

    What do we think we know about North American Aboriginal mental abilities, mental health, and mental illness, and on what basis do we think we know it? That is the central question I wish to address in this book. While this appears to be a simple, straightforward question, it leads to a tangled web of theory, method, and data, rife with conceptual problems, shaky assumptions, and inappropriate generalizations.

    This book isnot, strictly speaking, about the mental health of Aboriginal peoples. It is not my intent to present tables of epidemiological data on the rates of selected mental health problems....


    • CHAPTER TWO Constructing Aboriginal Personality: The Early Years
      (pp. 21-43)

      Over the years, researchers have demonstrated a profound interest in understandingtheAboriginal, his/her personality and intellectual abilities. This interest was due in part simply to intellectual curiosity, and a great deal of the research sought to advance theoretical developments in the field of culture and personality, to understand how personality was shaped by culture in specific ecological contexts. But much research also had more pragmatic goals. At the beginning of the twentieth century there was a deep concern that Aboriginal peoples were on the road to extinction, if not in a biological sense then certainly in a cultural sense,...

    • CHAPTER THREE The Psychoanalystʹs Aboriginal
      (pp. 44-68)

      Psychoanalytical approaches to the study of personality dominated the field for decades, and the belief that the key to understanding individual and group personality was hidden in the unconscious led to the emergence of many different projective techniques. As we saw in the last chapter, the Rorschach Psychodiagnostic (Ink-blot) Test was one such technique, and was something of a revolutionary development for psychological research. Not surprisingly, it was quickly employed in the analysis of Aboriginal North American personality and psychopathology. Indeed, the question of its cross-cultural applicability dominated a great deal of this work, as researchers sought to demonstrate that...

    • CHAPTER FOUR Measuring the Aboriginal
      (pp. 69-102)

      As we have seen, the use of instruments designed to measure various aspects of Aboriginal personality, ability, and psychopathology has a long history. With the relative demise of projective tests in the study of the Aboriginal came the development and deployment of new, more sophisticated techniques based on very different principles. Anthropologists, and their ethnographies, became increasingly distant to this process as psychometricians continued their search for universal ways to measure and assess. Myriad tests exist, too many to examine here with any thoroughness. However, the key points I wish to make can be advanced through the exploration of attempts...


    • CHAPTER FIVE The Construction of Aboriginal Psychopathology
      (pp. 105-133)

      Anthropologist A.L. Kroeberʹs crude evolutionary ideas, cited above, might seem preposterous today, but these and similar views shaped much of the Aboriginal mental health discourse for over a century. The Barbaric Aboriginal presents as an inherently pathological, childlike individual, made so by a characteristically pathological and simplistic culture. This desperate situation was compounded by the arrival of Europeans, as Aboriginal peoples proved unable to cope with the concomitant cultural changes. Counter-balancing this perspective was the other prevailing view, that the psychopathology of the inherently healthy Arcadian Aboriginal developed only as a result of the disruptions caused by European colonization. In...

    • CHAPTER SIX The Alcoholic Aboriginal
      (pp. 134-166)

      These passages, written seventy years apart by two scholars, explain, in a nutshell, why I have included a chapter on alcohol in this book. No single Aboriginal mental health topic has dominated the research and discourse as much as alcohol, and none has generated such a combination of perverse curiosity, genuine concern, and outright absurdity, not to mention racism. How Aboriginal peoples drink, where they drink, why they drink, with whom they drink, how much they drink, what happens to them when they drink – the study of Aboriginal peoples and alcohol is an industry unto itself. And both the...

    • CHAPTER SEVEN The Depressed Aboriginal
      (pp. 167-189)

      As broad-based epidemiological investigations have dwindled, there has been an increase in interest in more focused studies of specific disorders or special populations. Forms of depression as a symptom or co-morbid disorder have, like alcohol, frequently been identified in both generalized epidemiological investigations and disorder-specific studies. Suicide, a problem frequently linked to depression, has been a topic of particular interest, given its standing as one of the most significant mental health issues for Aboriginal peoples and, no doubt, because it often serves as a barometer for other social, cultural, and economic conditions.¹ Although the literature on Aboriginal depression is less...

    • CHAPTER EIGHT The Culture-Bound Aboriginal
      (pp. 190-211)

      Are some mental disorders restricted to specific cultures? Do cultures produce unique forms of disorder? These are the key questions behind the concept of culture-bound syndromes. As we have seen in previous chapters, Aboriginal North Americans have served as important sources of data that have helped frame both theory and method in anthropology, psychology, and psychiatry, and this trend continues with the culture-bound syndromes. Three Aboriginal syndromes in particular have demonstrated a tenacious resilience: windigo psychosis,pibloktok, and ghost sickness. On the surface, these three seem to be examples of culture-bound syndromes par excellence. Upon closer inspection, however, it appears...

    • CHAPTER NINE The Traumatized Aboriginal
      (pp. 212-236)

      This chapter examines one of the most significant disorders du jour, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In recent years the notions of trauma and PTSD have entered the Aboriginal mental health discourse, and as these concepts have been applied, appeals to culture, and to history in particular, have given them a somewhat unique Aboriginal flavour. The existence of two differing understandings of trauma is evident. One focuses on the individual and is diagnosable as a disorder within the criteria set out in the DSM; the other exists metaphorically within the popular realm and conceives of whole communities and even cultures as...


    • CHAPTER TEN The Clinicianʹs Aboriginal
      (pp. 239-270)

      As we have seen throughout this book, anthropologists, psychologists, and psychiatrists alike have been fascinated by the personality oftheAboriginal for a century or more. Much of the emphasis has been placed on the generation of group profiles and generalized statements of personality and psychopathology, as well as the development and application of instruments designed to capture these effectively. An extension of this interest can be found in the generation of blueprints for understanding Aboriginal peoples as individuals, particularly those who are troubled and in need of treatment. This chapter turns, then, towards the more grounded concerns of mental...

    • CHAPTER ELEVEN Healing the Traditional Aboriginal
      (pp. 271-299)

      Two quotations some sixty years apart. One suggests the existence of individuals capable of astounding therapeutic insight, both ʹsensitive and instinctive,ʹ reflective of well-developed, complex psychomedical thought tinged with a primal intuitivism. The other posits the opposite, suggesting an intellectual simplicity that frequently characterizes notions of the ʹprimitive.ʹ How do we make sense of this?

      In this chapter, my aim is to examine critically how scientific conceptions of Aboriginal conceptions of mental health, illness, and ʹhealingʹ have been constructed. I will do this in several ways. First, I will explore Aboriginal theories of mental health and illness as they have...

    • CHAPTER TWELVE Conclusion: The Windigoʹs Revenge
      (pp. 300-320)

      The study of Aboriginal mental health in the fields of anthropology, psychology and psychiatry has been at heart the study of both cultural difference and cultural marginality, yet the way in which Aboriginal culture has been shaped, constructed, and individually personified has varied through time. At the turn of the twentieth century, the view that Aboriginal peoples were primitive and childlike, with a simplistic form of ʹnaturalʹ culture, prevailed and intruded into scientific thought. This view guided a great deal of research throughout the century. While remnants of this sentiment remain today, contrasting interpretations of this cultural condition can be...

  8. Notes
    (pp. 321-334)
  9. References
    (pp. 335-392)
  10. Index
    (pp. 393-414)
  11. Back Matter
    (pp. 415-416)