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Aboriginal Populations: Social, Demographic, and Epidemiological Perspectives

By Frank Trovato and Anatole Romaniuk, Editors

November 25, 2015

Review By Leah Wiener

This substantial collection brings interdisciplinary approaches to a range of questions on Aboriginal populations. Aiming to bring about a “comprehensive understanding of the social demographic transformation of the Canadian Aboriginal population” (ix), the contributors review important questions of social demography. Trovato and Romaniuk argue that Canada’s Aboriginal population faces a hopeful demographic outlook. The collection comprises four sections, covering demographic, epidemiological, sociological, and international perspectives. The first two chapters provide essential historical and methodological context, making the collection accessible to an interdisciplinary readership; however, its questions are more likely to interest researchers in the social sciences than the humanities.

Several of the contributors emphasize the role of policy in shaping past, present, and future demography; they consider the ways in which policy affects how data is collected and how data collection can inform social policy. For instance, Guimond, Robitaille, and Senécal note the impact of legal changes, such as the 1985 amendment to the Indian Act, on ethnic mobility (113). King proposes a wider conceptualization of health, so that we understand initiatives affecting poverty and education as potential health initiatives (208). Some contributors critique the approaches that are common to policy about Indigenous peoples: Kukutai and Pool note that “closing the gap” policies focus on the perceived deficits of Indigenous people, ignoring cultural and socioeconomic heterogeneity in Indigenous communities (442). They argue that demographers focus on indigenous populations at the expense of Indigenous peoples (443) partly because it is hard to operationalize experiences like colonialism in social science research (444). This deficit paradigm is arguably entrenched by many chapters in this collection, which portray Aboriginal people as service users, obscuring their potential and actual role as policymakers.

The Canadian decennial census looms large as the key source for most of the chapters, and most of the contributors offer critical perspectives on the utility of historical and contemporary census data. Goldman and Delic liken census data to a mirror (59) reflecting social values. Given the politics of census design and collection, it is perhaps not surprising that a collection that draws significantly from the census offers relatively little in the way of Aboriginal perspectives on Aboriginal populations, with only a handful of Aboriginal contributors. The goal in this collection is to present information, rather than to decolonize a discipline.

The chapters in this collection present a wealth of data covering topics such as educational attainment, changes in fertility and mortality, employment, and language use of Aboriginal populations in Canada, New Zealand, Russia, and Australia. A list of the dozens of tables and figures would be a useful feature, but unfortunately is not included in this text. BC Studies readers looking for content specific to British Columbia may be disappointed; only one chapter is dedicated to the study of this province. This is Chandler’s examination of First Nations youth suicide, through which he shows the need to consider the experiences of specific communities rather than solely analyzing aggregate data (189). However, the national and international content in this collection mean that it will be of value to readers seeking a geographically expansive, interdisciplinary overview of Aboriginal populations.

Aboriginal Populations: Social, Demographic, and Epidemiological Perspectives
Frank Trovato and Anatole Romaniuk, editors
Edmonton: University of Alberta Press, 2014. 600 pp. $60.00 paper