Language and Culture as Protective Factors for At-Risk Communities

  • Onowa McIvor Doctoral student, Department of Language and Literacy Education, University of British Columbia
  • Art Napoleon Cree language speaker, language and culture preservationist and faith-keeper
  • Kerissa M. Dickie Research assistance and technical support
Keywords: Indigenous, Aboriginal, culture, language, health, protective factors


A comprehensive review and analysis of the literature related to the role of Indigenous language and culture in maintaining and improving the health as well as reducing the risk factors for health problems of Indigenous people. Although much literature exists on various topics related to culture, language and health, the specific focus of this paper was studying the effects of the use of language and culture on the health of Indigenous people. Once all relevant literature was gathered, six linked themes emerged as protective factors against health issues; land and health, traditional medicine, spirituality, traditional foods, traditional activities and language. Findings included evidence that the use of Indigenous languages and cultures do have positive effects on the health and wellness of Indigenous people. However, the majority of the existing literature focuses on culture and its effects on health. Therefore, more studies are needed specifically on the potential health benefits of Indigenous language use. Other recommendations for ways forward include more targeted research on urban Indigenous populations, and making links between the loss of traditional land, contaminants in the food chain and the health of Indigenous people in Canada.