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Art and Wellness: The Importance of Art for Aboriginal Peoples’ Health and Healing

June 18, 201518 June 2015

Arts, health, and well-being

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This brief report highlights the fact that cultural practices are important for “the wellness, health, and healing of Aboriginal peoples and communities”. The report notes that many Aboriginal cultural practices are “simultaneously art, creative expression, religious practice, ritual models and markers of governance structures and territorial heritage, as well as maps of individual and community identity and lineage”. Some of these cultural practices include “feasting and gifting rituals, petroglyphing, body ornamentation, singing, dancing, drumming, weaving, basket making, and carving”.

The report provides a very brief summary of some research evidence related to the relationship between the arts and health:

  • There are strong links between a community’s cultural vitality and “the sociocultural, physical and mental health of individuals within those communities”, with potential factors including a sense of belonging, ownership, pride, engagement, and social capital.
  • Art may be a “protective factor that strengthens individuals and communities and acts as a buffer against ill health”.
  • Art therapy, in addition to helping people communicate or heal, may also be “something that can make healthy people healthier”.

The report indicates that the arts may have particular importance for Aboriginal Peoples in many ways:

  • The arts can help with the healing of wounds related to “a long history of colonization and marginalization”, including residential schools.
  • When used as a means of communication in therapy settings, art can be “an effective way of bridging the divide between primarily non-Indigenous health care systems and providers, and Indigenous world-views and understandings of health”.
  • “Creative and cultural expression can promote community strength and resilience”, thereby helping to improve health.
  • “The revival, practice, and expansion or exploration of culture has a profound effect on identity formation and solidification, and in turn, health and well-being.”
  • The arts can help “reduce the marginalization often experienced by Aboriginal people when accessing health services.”

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