Community Mental Health Journal

, Volume 27, Issue 5, pp 359–373 | Cite as

Conjugal violence: Changing attitudes in two northern native communities

  • Douglas Durst
International Article


In recent years, North American society has begun to recognize the tragic extent of conjugal violence in our homes. Family violence knows no social boundaries and tragically our native peoples have suffered its full impact on their homes and communities.

This article reports the findings of case studies of two Arctic communities and compares their responses to family violence before oil and gas development and after. The communities are situated in the centre of the recent exploration for hydrocarbon resources in the Beaufort Sea and have experienced the direct social impacts of this industrial activity. Thus, they provided an excellent opportunity to analyze the relationship between industrial development and violence within the home.

The research applied a model developed by Blishen et al (1979), developed specifically for northern communities. The model analyzed the community's social processes and functioning on a continuum from “communitarianism” (social integration) to “privatization” (social isolation). This research collected data comparing conjugal violence before and after development and explored how individuals would respond to family violence and where they would go for help in addressing this problem.

The analysis revealed that the communities held different levels of communitarianism and privatization before hydrocarbon development accelerated. After development, both communities experienced increased responses to family violence which were both communitarian and privatized in nature. Previous to development, the respondents tended to avoid situations of family violence and when confronted with it they often did not know how to respond.

The findings indicated that conjugal violence has been present in native communities for a long time and it was incorrect to suggest that it was a new phenomenon blamed on increased development. The data indicated that native communities can and have successfully taken a community-based action on this problem. The data demonstrated that social work intervention focused on the community at large can have a positive impact on changing attitudes and stimulate community-based action. And there exists a danger that the social/human service worker may “professionalize” the problem, thereby removing the sense of responsibility from the community and “privatizing” the solution.

The article's contribution lies in its critical assessment of traditional human service intervention with individuals and the structures of northern society. And, the paper challenges the professional helpers to broaden their strategies to include innovative community-based approaches.


Native Community Native People Family Violence Service Work Work Intervention 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Human Sciences Press, Inc 1991

Authors and Affiliations

  • Douglas Durst
    • 1
  1. 1.School of Social WorkMemorial University of NewfoundlandSt. John'sCanada

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