Poster, STOP Fetal Alcohol Syndrome/Fetal Alcohol Effects NOW, First Nations and Inuit health, Health Canada, 2002

It makes sense that the way we understand a problem shapes the solutions we develop. Gemma Hunting and Annette Browne have recently published an article in the journal Women’s Health and Urban Life (click here for free full-text) that looks at how issues related to alcohol use, mothering, and Aboriginal women are often understood.

Despite the growing discussion among researchers that Aboriginal communities may be no more affected by FASD than non-Aboriginal communities, Hunting and Browne argue that FASD continues to be perceived as an ‘Aboriginal issue.’ The problem with this is that, rather than paying attention to all women’s alcohol use, negative misperceptions about Aboriginal women, and Aboriginal health and social issues are perpetuated.

They address some key prevailing ideas (incorrect ideas!) such as:

  • Aboriginal people have a genetic vulnerability to the effects of alcohol (despite compelling evidence that this is not true)
  • Aboriginal women are not capable mothers (they connect this to policies that started in the 1960s and continue today in child welfare practices)
  • Increased awareness about the dangers of alcohol use during pregnancy will lead to changes in behaviour (relates to the idea that health education is the primary solution to FASD)

Overall, Hunting and Browne show that the assumptions underlying FASD prevention policies and interventions, while well intentioned, can inadvertently contribute to racializing and stigmatizing Aboriginal people in Canada (and abroad for that matter). It also means that we continue to focus our energies and resources on who we think are “high risk groups” for FASD rather than on all women and on addressing the broad range of factors that influence their drinking.

For more on this topic, see previous posts:

Further Reading

Hunting, G. and Browne, A. (2012). Decolonizing Policy Discourse: Reframing the ‘Problem’ of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder. Women’s Health and Urban Life, 11(1): 35-53. (Free full-text here).

Salmon, A. (2004). ‘It takes a community’: Constructing Aboriginal mothers and children with FAS/FAE as objects of moral panic in/through a FAS/FAE prevention policy.  Journal of the Association for Research on Mothering, 6(1), 112-123. (Free full-text here).

Tait, C. L. (2009). Disruptions in nature, disruptions in society: Indigenous peoples of Canada and the ‘making’ of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. In L. J. Kirmayer & G. Valaskaki (Eds.). Healing traditions: The mental health of Aboriginal peoples in Canada (pp. 196-222).Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press.

Wilson, S. A. & Martell, R. (2003, October). The story of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome: A Canadian First Nation’s response. Women & Environments International Magazine, 60/61: 35-36.

STOP Fetal Alcohol Syndrome/Fetal Alcohol Effects NOW, First Nations and Inuit health, Health Canada, 2002 – Inuktitut