Posted to the Ethnos Project by on August 18th, 2013


In Taking Back Our Spirits , Jo-Ann Episkenew (2009) writes of the significance of indigenous literature as a “medicine” in healing the wounds of “colonial contagion.” This healing process, according to Episkenew, is articulated through the spoken and written words of Aboriginal writers. These counter-narratives challenge what she terms the master narrative of the settler: the national myth of Canada which “valorizes settlers but which sometimes misrepresents, and more often excludes Indigenous peoples” (Episkenew, 2009: 2). Here we examine the value of digital story-telling as a similar kind of “medicine” that, as counter-narrative, communicates both suffering and healing as much in their telling as in their production, distribution and consumption. Health information and communication technologies are without doubt transforming the healthcare and social landscapes of many Aboriginal communities today (Beaton, O’Donnell, Fiser, Walmark, 2009). Yet as much as e-health technologies are valuable and empowering (Gideon, 2006) there is an interventionist model ascribed to them and with it a presumption that the technology is predominantly for data transmission rather than as a resource unto itself. Further, the experience of Aboriginal communities, and especially those that are marginalized, is that there is the potential for health innovation to be viewed less as an advancement in health care provision than as another form of encroachment of settler technologies and surveillance.

Here we offer an alternative perspective on digital technologies as creatively engaged tools of healing and empowerment in ways that effectively challenge issues of encroachment while at the same time going beyond standard configurations of medical innovation. With examples drawn from on-line sites including My Word: Storytelling and Digital Media Labs ,The Toronto Centre for Digital Storytelling (TCDS), Reel Youth and Youth Have the Powerwe explore the internet, in particular, as simultaneously social space and therapeutic tool i. Indigenous youth are participating in health-related initiatives including the creative representation of Aboriginality through online stories, amateur video production and various forms of file-sharing and communication. These digital projects are not just acts of storytelling or social interaction; they are part of a larger complex of contemporary healing initiatives that must be viewed within expanded conceptualizations of health and health innovation (Adelson, 2000). Health innovation, in this sense, must extend to include the use of information communication technologies as tools to strengthen communities of support and facilitate social engagement with health issues. We include in that engagement studies such as this which seek to offer additional space to broaden the dialogue on the relationship between digital technologies and health.

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