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The Role Of Developing a Cultural Identity On The Subjective Well-Being Of First Nation People in Canada

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First Nation children and adolescents are overrepresented in the child-welfare system in Canada. Additionally, placements in foster homes are rarely stable, with children and adolescents constantly moving from one foster home to another. Moreover, parents of First Nation descent are rarely selected for foster-care work. These factors bring to attention how the child-welfare system inhibits First Nation children and youth from developing a strong cultural identity. Indeed, numerous studies have shown that among ethnic minority groups, the development and preservation of a cultural identity is associated with higher levels of subjective well-being. Subjective well-being is one’s level of satisfaction with one’s life, and self-esteem, which is one’s evaluation of one’s self-worth, is an important indicator of subjective well-being. Given that the child-welfare system distances First Nation children and adolescents from developing a clear cultural identity, one must assess the importance of cultural identity development on the subjective well-being of First Nation people. In other words, what is the importance of developing a cultural identity on the subjective well-being of First Nation people, especially amongst the youth and child population?

This issue is connected to the following Calls to Action: Child Welfare. This call of action is relevant as it addresses problems within the child-welfare system. More specifically, this call for action emphasizes the need to reduce the number of children in the child-welfare system by providing First Nation families with adequate resources. However, in addition to these prevention motives, this call for action highlights the need for the child-welfare system to keep children in culturally-appropriate environments. As thus, not only does this call for action bring to attention the importance of preventing First Nation children from entering the child-welfare system, it also emphasizes the need for the child-welfare system to work on ensuring children are provided with culturally competent environments, regardless of where they remain. The development of a strong cultural identity is important for the subjective well-being of First Nation people. While research has continuously demonstrated the importance of a clear self-concept on one’s subjective well-being, what is often ignored is how one’s personal identity is highly intertwined with one’s cultural identity. Indeed, a study demonstrated that through means of self-concept clarity, cultural identity clarity was positively related to subjective well-being among individuals of the Yellowknives Dene First Nation from the Northwest Territories in Canada. In other words, having a clear cultural identity leads one to develop a clear personal identity, which, in turn, is associated with higher self-esteem and subjective well-being.

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Additionally, a subsequent study demonstrated that culture connectedness, that of which included cultural identity, tradition, and spirituality, was strongly associated with mental health indicators, including life satisfaction amongst First Nation, Inuit, and Metis youth. Taken together, these findings demonstrate the importance of acquiring a strong cultural identity for the subjective well-being of First Nation people, and, given the lack of cultural learning opportunities available in the child-welfare system, this could have serious consequences on the subjective well-being of First Nation youth and children. While the development of a clear cultural identity is crucial for the subjective well-being of First Nation people, the importance of a cultural identity to one’s self-concept emerges as early as middle-school. As children begin middle-school they enter a stage of concrete operational thinking where interest in one’s racial identity arises. Indeed, it is often marginalized groups that are more likely to show interest with their cultural group. A study demonstrated that if a positive racial identification among First Nation children is attained during middle-school, increases in self-esteem become apparent. More specifically, First Nation children who are cognitively mature place great importance in their cultural identity as part of their self-concept, and if one develops a positive attitude towards their cultural group, this, in turn, is associated with higher self-esteem. Such conclusions bring to attention the importance of First Nation children developing a positive cultural identity as early as middle school. If First Nation children are not given opportunities that allow them to develop positive in-group attitudes of their cultural group, self-esteem increases become inhibited. As thus, these findings further bring to attention the need for foster homes to ensure culturally-rich environments be apparent in the lives of First Nation children as early as possible. While the above-mentioned studies followed good Indigenous research protocols, further improvements are necessary.

The following studies used Participatory Action Research principles. For instance, a key component of the studies was the development of appropriate research methods. Usborne and Taylor (2010) made their measures brief and straightforward to allow for better comprehension among their First Nation sample, and this methodology was approved by the community. Moreover, Snowshoe et al. (2017) adapted the original 29-items Culture Connectedness Scale (CCS), to reflect the information acquired from elder community members. Furthermore, while also using knowledge obtained from elder community members, Corenblum (2014) trained First Nation research assistants for their study. However, despite the precautions taken by the above-mentioned studies, the studies still used measures that reflected western-based practices, such as answering questions via a Likert scale. Perhaps, the use of oral methods, that of which is often preferred by First Nation communities, would allow for a better understanding of the association between the variables measured. As a result, while the studies took some steps to allow for good indigenous research protocols, more culturally sensitive methodologies were needed. By bringing attention to how the child-welfare system in Canada inhibits First Nation children and adolescents from developing a clear cultural identity, the following essay assessed the importance of cultural identity development on the subjective well-being of First Nation youth and children. Indeed, the following studies demonstrated that acquiring a positive cultural identity is associated with increases in subjective well-being through means of self-concept clarity, and this relationship becomes important as early as middle-school.

Additionally, cultural identity, appears to be associated with life satisfaction as well as other mental health indicators. While the following studies used some appropriate indigenous research protocols such as having assessment methodology reviewed by Indigenous community members, and, in one case, using First Nation research assistants, the studies still used western-based assessment tools. Further studies should use more culturally appropriate measures, such as oral methodologies. Moreover, further studies should assess the relationship between cultural identity and subjective well-being on a wide range of Indigenous communities, as the Indigenous population, is, indeed, heterogeneous. As a result, while the following studies highlighted the importance of cultural identity on the subjective well-being of First Nation people, further studies need to assess this relationship with more culturally appropriate assessment tools, and among other Indigenous communities.


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