Tradition and Culture: An Important Determinant of Inuit Women’s Health

// // Posted in Vol 4 Issue 1

Gwen K. Healey, MSc, Arctic Health Research Network

Lynn M. Meadows, PhD, Departments of Community Health Sciences and Family

Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, University of Calgary

Abstract

This exploratory qualitative study used a case study method to explore Inuit women’s perspectives

on their health and well-being. Data were gathered using face-to-face interviews from a

purposive sample of women in one Nunavut community who self-identified as Inuit. Data analysis

and interpretation were guided by an established approach in qualitative research called “immersion/

crystallization.” Various strategies, including methods of verification and validition, were

employed to ensure the scientific rigour and reliability of the study’s findings. The mechanisms

through which culture and tradition affected women’s perceptions of health and well-being

were clearly illustrated and clearly significant to the interview subjects. Women used examples

of teenage pregnancy and parenting issues to illustrate traditional practices in Nunavut communities

and their significance in an increasingly non-traditional society. Women stressed the

importance of speaking Inuktitut and teaching it to their children. Many associated their ability

to speak Inuktitut with their ties to Inuit traditions. Women described the grief experienced from

loss of culture leading to problems related to identity, social inclusion and wellness. Culture and

traditional knowledge were identified as key determinants of health for Canadian Inuit women.

This study provides important information to inform and guide health promotion and illness

prevention planning. The study will also help decision-makers and health professionals address

some of the health issues affecting Inuit women by providing them with some insight into Inuit

women’s local and contemporary circumstances. The results of this work can support local efforts

to identify priorities for policy and program development relevant to Inuit women’s specific

needs. Finally, the relevance of insight gained through the health perspectives of Inuit women in

Nunavut deserves further investigation in relation to other Arctic regions, both in Canada and in

the larger circumpolar community.

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