Spirit winds: A narrative inquiry into the aboriginal stories of diabetes

Sylvia Sophia Barton
Faculty of Nursing, University of Alberta
July, 2006


Diabetes mellitus affects aboriginal peoples disproportionately at a rate two to five times higher, depending on region, than other Canadians. The extent and magnitude of diabetes in Aboriginal Canadians reveal an increasing prevalence across the life span, which includes a significant number living with diabetes as an undiagnosed condition. In response to this epidemic in progress, I conducted a research project in central British Columbia, Canada, in early 2003. The purpose of the study was to understand the aboriginal experience of living with diabetes through personal and human elements, as well as cultural and healing dimensions. Narrative inquiry (Clandinin & Connelly, 2000) based on hermeneutic phenomenological philosophy was the methodology that guided the research, and dialogue and conversation were used to retrieve a storied view of experience. I co-participated with one man and three women of aboriginal ancestry to elicit their life stories and to explore the experiences that were informing their diabetic stories. Ultimately, a window for co-constructing a narrative about diabetes as a process of healing and wellbeing from an aboriginal perspective was explicated. The dissertation has been prepared using a traditional format and includes eight chapters. The first chapter is informative and narratively autobiographical in situating the study within the three-dimensional narrative inquiry space. The second chapter is a descriptive analysis of the fields of aboriginal diabetes knowledge research that guides the involvement of health professionals in aboriginal diabetes programs of care. In the third chapter, the methods involved in the process of making meaning of experience within aboriginal stories of diabetes are described. In the four findings chapters, an aboriginal self understood through the arrow of time, aboriginal experiences of diabetes understood through a sense of place, diabetes as a gateway to aboriginal healing understood through the inclusion of body, and aboriginal reflections of living with diabetes understood through the interpretation of relationship are revealed. The dissertation concludes with a synthesis and discussion of three overarching interpretations that emerged from the inquiry, including implications for the professional discipline of nursing.