Healthy Living in the North

Introducing a unique book on Indigenous determinants of health

Two book editors sitting behind poster of book cover.

What began as a casual conversation over breakfast is now a valuable book on Indigenous determinants of health. Photo courtesy of UNBC.

Have you ever had one of those “aha!” moments over morning toast and coffee? I’m so glad that three B.C. scholars had one such moment back in 2011! Because of their exchange of ideas over a casual breakfast, we now have access to a unique new collection of Indigenous perspectives on health and well-being in northern B.C. and Canada more broadly. I’m excited to tell you about it!

I will begin by introducing the concept of social determinants of health. According to the World Health Organization, they are “the conditions in which people are born, grow, work, live, and age. These circumstances are shaped by the distribution of money, power and resources at global, national and local levels” and “are mostly responsible for health inequities – the unfair and avoidable differences in health status” between groups.

To set the stage, by 2011 when the book was first imagined, a “social determinants of health” framework was increasingly accepted as important for understanding why different groups of people have different health outcomes and why this is unfair. But there were also limits to the conversations, particularly as they related to Indigenous peoples’ health. For example, colonialism was yet to be fully and consistently recognized as a significant determinant of Indigenous peoples’ health. As well, much of the research on the social determinants of Indigenous peoples’ health was a subsection of broader work instead of a unique area for sustained focus. And it was often conducted by non-Indigenous people.

So, casually over breakfast at a conference one autumn morning in 2011, Drs. Margo Greenwood, Sarah de Leeuw and Charlotte Loppie (Reading) conceived of an idea for a ground-breaking book that would address these limits. It would be about a broader understanding of determinants of Indigenous health in Canada and it would be a unique compilation of ideas, perspectives, and stories written primarily by Indigenous people. The three of them decided over breakfast to work together to make that book a reality!

They began to brainstorm Indigenous scholars, activists, clinicians, and community leaders who would likely have something to say about First Nations, Métis and Inuit well-being in Canada. Sometime later, after chapters had begun to pour in, Indigenous artists were also invited to contribute works that sought to creatively illuminate questions about Indigenous health. Poems, short stories, and reproductions of contemporary totem poles were added to the research contributions.

And then, in August this year, what started as a breakfast chat was published as Determinants of Indigenous Peoples’ Health in Canada: Beyond the Social, edited by Greenwood, de Leeuw, Reading and Lindsay (Canadian Scholars’ Press, 2015). This book is an invitation to think about health inequities lived by Indigenous people in Canada through the voices, stories and experiences of Indigenous people.

Explaining why this book is important, Greenwood said:

These are stories that document resilience, strength, and solutions from a health context, offering a richness of information far beyond what we would ordinarily see in discussions centred only on the basic social determinants of health.

In de Leeuw’s words:

What makes this book special is that it is has been written by Indigenous people about Indigenous people and their viewpoints on health. It also provides an artistic lens on health issues rarely seen in academic medical texts. The book includes creative voice in the form of poems, stories and other art that provide a unique and serious reflection on health status.

I wanted to share this book with you because these issues impact all of us and I believe that a better understanding of Indigenous perspectives of health and well-being can make a difference in all of our work, our communities, and our lives!


Determinants of Indigenous Peoples’ Health in Canada: Beyond the Social can be ordered through your local bookstore or online through Canadian Scholars’ Press. The book was supported through the National Collaborating Centre for Aboriginal Health (NCCAH) with funding from the Public Health Agency of Canada.

All royalties from the book are going to the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada.

Media Coverage

This blog post was informed by an article from the NCCAH.

Hilary McGregor

About Hilary McGregor

Hilary is the Lead of Knowledge Translation and Community Engagement for Aboriginal Health. She feels privileged to work for Northern Health, particularly within this department, because she gets to apply her passion for creativity, critical thinking, and quality to important issues related to health equity for Indigenous people in the north. Hilary is grateful for the opportunity to live on the beautiful traditional territory of the Lheidli T’enneh in Prince George, where she keeps busy renovating an older home, playing with her young nephew and niece, walking her feisty chihuahua, gardening and taking in the surrounding outdoors.

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