Aboriginal Health in Canada: Historical, Cultural, and Epidemiological Perspectives. 2nd ed.


367 pages
Contains Illustrations, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 978-0-8020-8579-2
DDC 362.1'089'07071




Reviewed by Joan A. Lovisek

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


Aboriginal Health in Canada is a welcome update of the 1995 version. In the original publication the authors conducted extensive research into the physiological, spiritual, historical, cultural, and environmental factors affecting Aboriginal peoples across Canada.


To this fine publication, the authors have now clarified and incorporated issues which have arisen from reviewers of the 1995 version and the results of new studies. They have accomplished this without significantly expanding the length of the original publication, although they have altered a few chapter headings, titles, and figures. The authors adopt an interdisciplinary approach to Aboriginal health, which includes contributions from medical anthropology and public health perspectives. Some of the new data derives from genetics, including DNA studies that have linked the origin of the Aboriginal population to Asia.


Most interesting is the empirical evidence obtained from skeletal and dental remains, which contradict the often cited idealized perspective that prior to contact with Europeans, Aboriginal people were immune from disease and poor health. Aboriginal peoples in Canada prior to contact did not live in a disease-free environment and were in fact subject to numerous diseases including, fungal, bacterial, and parasitic infections. The authors not only examine this subject but also consider the main theories of disease transmission after contact with Europeans, incorporate an overview of Aboriginal healing traditions, and document the attempts by early Europeans to treat Aboriginal health. They also trace the recent emergence of government intervention in Aboriginal health to the spread of tuberculosis. Although the authors provide no ready solutions, they stress the need for regional health programs that are integrated with Aboriginal healing systems. Unlike many studies that address Aboriginal issues as primarily a political issue, the authors do not allow theorizing, advocacy, or rhetoric to run ahead of their evidence.


This book provides a refreshingly skeptical dose of scholarship to a serious and complex subject. The book will continue to provide a foundation to encourage further studies.


Waldram, James B., D. Ann Herring,a nd T. Kue Young., “Aboriginal Health in Canada: Historical, Cultural, and Epidemiological Perspectives. 2nd ed.,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 24, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/32638.