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Dr. David Danto publishes new book on Indigenous mental health

My hope is that this book will be a small part of inspiring change, of informing people and allowing people to see some of the global hardships that Indigenous Peoples have faced...

Portrait of Dr. David Danto


Bringing together Indigenous researchers and allied scholars, “Indigenous Knowledge and Mental Health: A Global Perspective” addresses wellbeing among Indigenous Peoples around the world. Edited by University of Guelph-Humber Psychology Program Head Dr. David Danto and Humber College Professor Dr. Masood Zangeneh, this new book explores how Indigenous knowledge, tradition and practice are central to mental health and resilience.

The idea for the book started in 2018, when Dr. Danto and Dr. Zangeneh invited scholars from around the world to the Global Indigenous Mental Health Symposium.

“What emerged from the symposium was how relevant family, community, culture, ceremony, the land and language are to resilience and strength, particularly in terms of healing the harms and trauma that have been caused by colonizing forces,” Dr. Danto said.

With perspectives from the Americas, Asia, Africa and Oceania, the book offers a journey around the world to different Indigenous communities and introduces the reader to ongoing work on the path toward reconciliation.

“The book is written from a strength and resilience perspective,” explained Dr. Danto. “The diverse experiences of Indigenous Peoples are of course distinct in many ways, but there are also some real commonalities shared by many First Peoples around the world.”

“Many Indigenous populations around the globe have similar experiences of being forced to participate in a religion that is not of their own, in an economy that is not of their own and in a society that is not of their own choosing, on their own land. In many cases there has been death by disease, by war and by intentional systematic genocide. And it's often in the tradition, the culture, the community and the relationship with nature itself that so many peoples find strength and resilience.”

An Indigenous story

Each chapter of the book is written by an Indigenous author or an allied scholar who closely collaborates with Indigenous people.

“We wanted the chapters to really focus on an appreciation of the Indigenous knowledge itself rather than an external frame of reference. We really wanted this to tell an Indigenous story,” Dr. Danto said.

He emphasized the importance of bringing Indigenous experiences to the forefront.

“It's easy to place all those stories conceptually in the distant past. For me, one of the hopes for this book is to prevent that and to highlight the stories of survivors,” Dr. Danto reflected. He pointed to the example of residential schools in Canada.

“We're not talking about something that happened 300 years ago. We're talking about people who are alive today who were in the residential schools and who were subjected to all manner of abuse. People carry those wounds with them today. As strong as they are, that is a source of complex intergenerational trauma and those are really important stories to be told and important for us to hear.”

Though public awareness has heightened since the recent evidence of the remains of nearly 1,000 bodies at residential school sites, Dr. Danto noted that these numbers are not surprising within Indigenous communities and those who work closely with Indigenous people.

“Indigenous Peoples in Canada have been saying this has been going on for a very long time. Certainly, when you look on the global stage, it's impossible to calculate how many innocent lives were lost as we think about what has happened to Indigenous Peoples throughout history and all over the world,” Dr. Danto said.

This is also why documents such as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report and the Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls are so important, Dr. Danto emphasized.

“We need to have these stories emblazoned in our consciousness because these records recount actual events that have happened,” he said. “It’s so important to learn not only about what has happened to these people but also about the motivations of the dominant culture that inflicted this, in order to understand the current oppression and marginalization that continues to occur and to prevent these things from happening again.” 

Inspiring change

It was his experience working in federal corrections that started Dr. Danto’s work in the field of Indigenous knowledge and mental health. There, he saw a disproportionate number of incarcerated Indigenous offenders. With the help of an Indigenous Elder, Dr. Danto began learning about the role of culture, language and tradition in healing and treatment.

Dr. Danto went on to develop a field course at UofGH, where students visit Mushkegowuk Territory to learn directly from Elders, traditional healers, residential school survivors and mental health professionals.

He now continues his work with indigenization and reconciliation, as well as his own research on land-based healing. Dr. Danto recently joined the Impact Conversations podcast to discuss more about his work and research.

While Dr. Danto is starting to see a positive shift in attitudes and awareness, he knows there is still much work to be done. He hopes this book provides the opportunity for more Indigenous knowledge to be shared.

“My hope is that this book will be a small part of inspiring change, of informing people and allowing people to see some of the global hardships that Indigenous Peoples have faced as well as the amazing wisdom, knowledge, hospitality and resilience of Indigenous Peoples around the world, and encourage all of us to be better allies and better supporters for our Indigenous friends and neighbours.”

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