Deviant Constructions: How Governments Preserve Colonial Narratives of Addictions and Poor Mental Health to Intervene into the Lives of Indigenous Children and Families in Canada

  • Sarah de LeeuwEmail author
  • Margo Greenwood
  • Emilie Cameron


Colonial projects in Canada have a long history of violently intervening into the personal lives and social structures of Indigenous peoples. These interventions are associated with elevated rates of addictions and mental health issues among Indigenous peoples. In this paper we employ an indigenized social determinants approach to mental health and addictions that accounts for the multiple, intersecting effects of colonial discourse upon the health of Indigenous peoples, and particularly the health effects of colonial interventions into the lives of First Nations Indigenous children in Canada. We focus on both historic and contemporary discourses about Indigenous peoples as deviant, discourses that include particular ideas and assumptions held by government officials about Indigenous peoples, the series of policies, practices, and institutional structures developed to ‘address’ Indigenous deviance over time (including contemporary child protections systems), and their direct impact upon healthy child development and overall Indigenous health. From a discursive perspective, addictions and mental health issues among Indigenous peoples can be accounted for in relation to the ideas, policies, and practices that identify and aim to address these issues, something that the social determinants literature has yet to incorporate into its model.


Indigenous peoples Discourse Colonialism Child intervention and protection Social determinants of health 



Our thanks to Alice Muirhe for her invaluable assistance.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sarah de Leeuw
    • 1
    Email author
  • Margo Greenwood
    • 2
  • Emilie Cameron
    • 3
  1. 1.Northern Medical ProgramUniversity of Northern British ColumbiaPrince GeorgeCanada
  2. 2.National Collaborating Centre for Aboriginal HealthUniversity of Northern British ColumbiaPrince GeorgeCanada
  3. 3.Department of GeographyQueen’s UniversityKingstonCanada

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