Revenge of the Windigo: The Constructin of the Mind and Mental Health of North American Aboriginal Peoples


416 pages
Contains Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-8020-8600-4
DDC 155.8'497'009




Reviewed by Marilyn Mardiros

Marilyn Mardiros is an associate professor of health sciences at the
University of Ottawa.


Waldram, an eminent Canadian medical anthropologist, addresses two
significant questions in this book: what do we know about Aboriginal
mental health, and on what basis was that knowledge developed? A
European fascination with indigenous peoples spawned ethnographic
studies that provided generalizations about Aboriginal cultures, but the
methods used in the data collection and analysis are far less
understood. The result has been literature that is contradictory. On the
one hand, it portrays Aboriginal people as seriously disturbed
individuals who live in dysfunctional communities and suffer from
marginality and maladaptation resulting from cultural loss. On the other
hand, Aboriginal people are presented as basking in historical cultural
traditions, which are resurrected by New Age healers and newly
introduced (pan-Indian) traditions.

Waldram makes explicit that questionable and unquestioned social
science and medical research generates poorly conceived artifacts that
are handed down to successive generations of students, researchers, and
practitioners. The application of this dubious information to the
treatment of Aboriginal peoples has resulted in misunderstanding and the
creation of dichotomies: Aboriginal/white, non-rational/rational,
holism/dualism, nature/culture, primitive/civilized. Aboriginal values
are presented as categorical and absolute, fixed in the past and
romanticized in contrast to a perceived decaying Western civilization.
Cultural complexity becomes more rhetoric than reality.

Waldram’s well-researched scholarly book is a valuable resource for
those interested in Aboriginal mental health.


Waldram, James B., “Revenge of the Windigo: The Constructin of the Mind and Mental Health of North American Aboriginal Peoples,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 17, 2024,