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Aboriginal Sex Offenders: Melding Spiritual Healing with Cognitive-Behavioural Treatment

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Dr. Clare Brant's views about aboriginal attitudes and ways of living (1990, 1993) provide a context for the rest of this paper. Dr. Brant has had experience dealing with aboriginal offenders, as both a psychiatrist and as a Mohawk. His knowledge of aboriginal culture is widely recognized by health care professionals in Canada.

Canadian aboriginals are one of the largest single ethnic groups in Canada. Their culture remains, although it has been strongly influenced by colonization. Professor Larocque at the Department of aboriginal Studies, University of Manitoba, refers to colonization as the process of encroachment and subsequent subjugation of aboriginal peoples since the arrival of Europeans. "From the aboriginal perspective, it refers to loss of lands, resources, and self-direction and to the severe disturbance of cultural ways and values" (Larocque, 1994). Prior to colonization, aboriginals lived by their own rules of behavior. They abided by these rules for the sake of survival. Both individual and group survival required harmonious interpersonal relationships and cooperation in the aboriginal woodlands and plains societies (Brant, 1993). Harmonious relationships were established and maintained by conflict suppression, and as a result, aboriginal people have a tendency to reduce conflict by not dealing with it directly.

Clare Brant identifies eight principles which promote harmony within the community. Conflict suppression is achieved in an extended family, clan, band or tribe largely through the practice of non-interference, non-competitiveness, emotional restraint (including the suppression of anger), sharing, the aboriginal concept of time, attitude towards gratitude and approval, aboriginal protocol and the principle of teaching (shaping vs modeling) (Brant, 1990). The first four principles are the most important factors promoting harmony, while the latter four are less influential. Over time, they became embedded in aboriginal culture as societal norms, and continue to influence aboriginal life today (Brant, 1990).

The ethic of non-interference is a behavioural norm of North American tribes, which promotes positive interpersonal relations by discouraging coercion of any kind, be it physical, verbal, or psychological. Respect for every human being's independence, leads the aboriginals to view instructing, coercing or attempting to persuade another person as undesirable behaviour. Non-interference is one of the most widely accepted principles of behaviour among aboriginal people. This extends to adult relationships with children and may be misinterpreted by mainstream society as permissiveness (Brant, 1990).

The practice of non-competitiveness suppresses conflict by averting intragroup rivalry, and preventing the embarrassment that a less able member of the group might feel in an interpersonal situation. This non-competitiveness extends into working life despite the fact that it may be seen by non-aboriginal employers as a lack of initiative and ambition (Brant, 1990).

The exercise of emotional restraint is a combination of non-interference and non-competitiveness. On one hand, it promotes self-control by discouraging the expression

of strong and violent feelings. On the other hand, emotions such as joyfulness and enthusiasm are suppressed along with both anger and destructive impulses.

The principle of sharing, stems from the basic need to survive in the wilderness. When this principle originated among aboriginal peoples, group survival was more important than individual prosperity; consequently, individuals were expected to take no more from nature than they needed and to share it freely with others (Brant, 1990). This principle helped to ensure group survival by avoiding starvation, and it also served as a form of conflict suppression, reducing the expression of greed, envy, arrogance and pride within the tribe. This may also suppress individual ambition, since one is not supposed to individually benefit from one's work. The ethic of sharing has its corollaries in equality and democracy. Economic and social homogeneity is promoted by the ethic and practice of sharing, and every member of the society is considered as valuable as any other (Brant, 1990). This principle is at odds with mainstream society's drive towards individual success, power and wealth. Consequently, there is pressure on aboriginal society to adopt the "white man's" outlook and to relinquish the ethic of sharing for the sake of individual prosperity and success. Dr. Brant states that aboriginal society has not been willing to do so.

The preceding four principles of conflict repression constitute the basis for demystifying and understanding aboriginal behaviour. To carry the process further, Clare Brant describes four more traditional influences on behaviour. These have been observed during his clinical practice. These are: the aboriginal concept of time; the aboriginal attitude toward gratitude and approval; aboriginal protocol; and the practice of teaching by modelling.

aboriginals have an intuitive, personal and flexible concept of time. Brant speculates that this may have originated in an age when the activities of aboriginal people were regulated by the seasons - by the sun, migratory patterns of birds and animals, and a changing food supply. aboriginal people are less preoccupied about schedules. They are less disposed to express any feelings of inconvenience if social functions and meetings start hours after the scheduled time. They developed the concept of "doing things when the time is right" - that is, when the whole array of environmental factors converge to ensure success (Brant, 1990).

aboriginal people rarely show or verbalize praise, rewards or verbal reinforcement. One is expected to accomplish whatever he or she undertakes and therefore one does not expect praise or gratitude for something that should be done properly. To non-aboriginals working amongst aboriginal people, this attitude toward expressions of gratitude or approval can be disconcerting (Brant, 1990). Also, as aboriginals expect competence to the point of excellence all the time, this may make them reluctant to try something new.

aboriginal protocol includes manners, ceremony and "savoir faire". For non-aboriginals, it may seem that aboriginal society is rather loose and unstructured and that there are few rules of social behaviour or etiquette. On the contrary, aboriginal society has highly structured and demanding rules of social behaviour (Brant, 1990). Some of the many rules are specific to villages, clans, tribes, and bands. In keeping with the ethic of non-interference, it is not possible to instruct a stranger regarding local practices or protocols. Rules can never be explicitly stated, for to do so would interfere with the individual's right to behave as he or she sees fit (Brant, 1990).

This line of thought promotes the aboriginal practice of teaching through modeling. The methods of teaching used by non-aboriginal people, come predominately from "shaping" theories or approaches. "Shaping", rewards learners for successive approximations to the behaviour that they have been instructed to carry out. aboriginals have another perspective on teaching and almost exclusively use modeling. Somebody can be "shown how" rather than "told how". This may be seen as another form of conflict repression, in that the teacher does not purport to know more than the students, though the teacher's own actions conveys useful and practical information which the student then has a choice of adopting or rejecting (Brant, 1990). The principle of modeling seems to increase attachment to the older members of the group, improving group cohesiveness and continuity.

In earlier times, reinforcing and promoting conflict repression meant developing a number of superego constructs that would prevent deviations from these principles, without causing intense anxiety. Brant categorizes these devices of social control as "bogeymen" admonitions or teasing, shaming and ridicule. These were used as ways of perpetuating control over people who did not adhere well to the principles of conflict suppression. Teasing, shaming and ridiculing are ways of maintaining harmonious interpersonal relationships. They involve placing the responsibility for the discrepancy between true self and ego ideal upon the child. However, shaming and teasing, as well as parental anger, can also serve to erode self-esteem and give rise to an overwhelming sense of humiliation when encountered later in life. This tends to promote blame-avoidance, which shows up as further non-interference, hesitancy to try anything new or unwillingness to apologize or otherwise admit error or defeat (Brant, 1990).

Anger suppression is taught to young aboriginal children using aboriginal spirituality as its vehicle. There were purportedly shamans and witches who could be dangerous to an individual or the family (Brant, 1990). It was said that they could cast spells and curses upon the perpetrators of insult and injury. Since anger could provoke them, children were taught from a very early age, not to engage in angry behaviour. Angry behaviour was considered not only unworthy and unwise, but harmful.

This method of suppressing intragroup hostility maintains harmonious interpersonal relationships, by projecting responsibility for the child's frustration onto an unknown and invisible external force. By the same token, the parents were not seen as the source of frustration and deprivation, so good behaviour could be maintained without direct confrontation with parents or elders. As a result, in current times, responsibility for frustration is easily projected onto teachers, Children's Aid Society workers, police, family court judges and others who impose restrictions and demands from without (Brant, 1990).

Underlying these principles are three environmental factors:

  1. Poverty aboriginals live well below the poverty line. This results in restricted choice of movement, vocation, creativity and self-realization.
  2. Powerlessness. aboriginals comprise only five percent of the voting population and have been unable to impact on choice of government direction and policy. They have only recently learned the alternative political manoeuvers of lobbying and peaceful protest.
  3. Anomie. Loss of traditional ceremonies to promote cohesiveness, mental health, a clear sense of identity, purpose, direction, and belonging, were lost mainly due to restrictive legislation. One example of this is the "Pot latch Law" which forbade aboriginal ceremonies in Canada for over seventy years, ending only in 1957.

Carter and Parker (1991) hypothesize that "victimization" ideology pervades Indian cultures.