Abstract: Interconnectedness of Place, Culture, and Health (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

Interconnectedness of Place, Culture, and Health

Friday, January 17, 2020
Liberty Ballroom J, ML 4 (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Shanondora Billiot, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, IL
Background and Purpose. Social determinants of health do not sufficiently explain high rates of poor health outcomes among Indigenous communities, which has led scholars to include environmental changes and historical trauma to examine intergenerational transmissions of health disparities. Indigenous peoples’ relationship with land is spiritual, cultural, and place-specific. Anthropogenic activities for development projects, such as natural resource extraction, damming, and dredging, have caused detrimental effects to the physical environment and has led to displacing Indigenous communities. Interruption of Indigenous Peoples’ ability to interact with land is a contemporary form of environmental injustice.

The purpose of this study is to illuminate meaning from shared cultural experiences and perceptions of exposure to environmental changes among a coastal Indigenous community. In particular, the study sought to understand if historical events, such as structural discrimination through forced separate schooling, informed how the community perceived environmental changes and in what ways the changes have directly impacted them.

Methods. This study is part of a larger community-engaged research project that involved a concurrent mixed-methods design where interviewer-administered surveys (n=160) and ethnographic in-person interviews (n=19) were collected by the lead author as PI with the intention of exploring impacts of environmental changes on the health of an Indigenous population. Eligibility for the larger study included (a) enrolled members of tribal community; (b) over the age of 30; (c) resided in a chosen coastal community; (d) had subsistence income. A purposive subset of the participants participated in the semi-structured interview who (a) had strong ethnic identity; and (b) sole income from subsistence activities as indicated on their survey. This presentation will report data from the in-depth semi-structured interviews and observation notes. Data was analyzed using Nvivo10 software to categorize participants’ experiences into descriptions and meaning clusters until arriving at central themes. The PI utilized a community advisory committee to guide the entire research project and followed Indigenous community-engaged research principles (Walters et al., 2010). For example, the Indigenous community (through a community advisory committee) and the PI’s university IRB approved all research activities.

Results. Key findings show the cyclical nature between sociocultural events, physical environmental changes, and impacts. Members expressed a great connection to their land (term to describe their place that includes the water, land, air, location, and all its living creatures). These participants are dependent on the land for their basic subsistence and thus observe changes to their environment daily. The anthropogenic activities lead to a loss of medicines and harvest, which leads to impacts on health and livelihoods that leads to loss of cultural knowledge transmitted and reiterated between and among generations, which leads to loss of knowledge on protecting land and leads to developing anthropogenic activities that cause changes in the environment.

Implications. The results can only be generalized to the participants of the study but could have implications for the Indigenous community and similarly vulnerable Indigenous coastal communities. The results also contribute to the empirical understanding of environmental justice and could inform future research for social workers in this area.