Lydia Nicole Fanelli

Lydia Nicole Fanelli


The Irresponsibility of Responsibilization: Problematizing the Canadian Discourse Regarding Inuit Health

One of the primary tenets of Canada’s national identity is its universal health care policy. Despite a distinct focus on the distribution of health services, a recurrent theme is the imbalance that exists between the health of the nation’s mainstream public and its Indigenous peoples. This is especially true for Canada’s Inuit population who have an infant mortality rate at almost three times the national average and an estimated life expectancy rate of 15 years less than their Canadian counterparts. The existing health inequalities between Inuit peoples and the rest of Canadians continue to increase. Under the neo-liberal strategy of health responsibilization which holds individuals accountable for their well-being, current national initiatives meant to address Indigenous health tend to identify genetics and poor lifestyle choices as the primary determinants of health problems among Inuit peoples. In so doing, the discourses surrounding these health disparities disregard other underlying circumstances that contribute to the experience of health among contemporary Inuit, including social, environmental and historical factors.

This paper argues that the current health policy in Canada encourages the health responsibilization of Inuit peoples thereby supporting a colonial framework that reinforces the disadvantages experienced by this population. In this paper I first discuss how current health care strategies seek to construct certain health issues as related to biological deficiencies or to poor health practices that are predominant among Inuit peoples. I then examine the ways in which health initiatives attempt to hold Inuit peoples responsible for their own health as I uncover the contradictions of responsibilizing this population. Specifically, I outline the continued effects of colonialism that not only contribute to perceptions of Inuit ill health but also prevent Inuit peoples from accessing the services necessary to allow for wellness. I conclude with some considerations about how public health policies can better address Inuit health by recognizing the reality of Inuit experience beyond a biomedical framework.


Lydia Nicole Fanelli is a first year Masters student of Sociology at Concordia University in her native city of Montreal, Quebec. Her working thesis is the collection and analysis of mobile oral histories of Inuit women living in situations of homelessness in Montreal. She currently holds two university research assistantships. The first is a 5 year SSHRC-funded Participatory Action Research project under Dr. Mark Watson that aims to better understand the experiences of Inuit in and around the city of Montreal. The second is a CIHR-funded study under Dr. Viviane Namaste which records the history of HIV in Montreal’s Haitian community during the 1980s.

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