Healing Through Art: Ritualized Space and Cree Identity


167 pages
Contains Photos, Illustrations, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-7735-2721-4
DDC 616.89'1656'08997323




Reviewed by Joan A. Lovisek

Joan Lovisek, Ph.D., is a consulting anthropologist and ethnohistorian
in British Columbia.


Ferrara is an art therapist who later in her career studied
anthropology. In this book, she attempts to provide a theoretical
justification for why art therapy works or should work for the Cree.
Whether the theory justifies the method cannot, however, be readily
established, for the author provides only the sketchiest of
demonstrations of how this technique has been applied, or how the
findings were originally interpreted. The reader has to take her word
for it that art therapy works for the Cree.

Unlike most contemporary ethnography, in which fieldworkers prepare
intellectually for the field beforehand, Ferrara’s fieldwork was her
clinical experience undertaken years before she embarked on an academic
study of the Cree. This retrospective approach lends a certain naпveté
to her “discovery” of Cree culture.

Although art and the narrative associated with the art are key elements
to her therapeutic approach, Ferrara does not explain how her Cree
patients, most of whom appear to be children, could provide what she
calls mythopoetically constructed narratives. Does this mean Cree
narratives are culturally innate? Ferrara recognizes that the Cree have
experienced culture contact for more than 300 years, and in particular
the effects of residential schools, but she does not attempt to
reconcile what she has constructed as authentic “Cree” notions of
self with those that may have been created from Pan-Indian sources.

Like many studies that attempt to probe difference, Healing Through Art
works within the increasingly tired polemic of comparing a monolithic
Western culture with Cree culture. This unbalanced but theoretically
convenient perspective tends to attribute the positive, self-affirming,
and harmonious attributes with Cree culture and the negative attributes
with Western culture. However, after developing the theme of Cree
“otherness,” Ferrara is ultimately forced to

draw the confusing conclusion that it is, in fact, the similarities with
Euro-Canadian society that should be promoted as part of the healing

Despite its limitations, this book will likely provoke discussion among
art therapists and students of Cree culture.


Ferrara, Nadia., “Healing Through Art: Ritualized Space and Cree Identity,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed April 18, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/14475.