Putman (2000) found that high levels of social capitalism in communities usually results in “enhanced productivity, more effective democratic processes, and reduced criminal activity” (p. 4), and later goes on to explain that social problems can be attributed to the declines of social capitalism (as cited in Brown & Hannis, 2012). Further, Mata and Pendakur (2014) suggest the idea that societies with high magnitudes of minorities will have lower levels of social capital than the dominant population; which seems to be the case with the Aboriginal communities here in Canada. At the time of colonialization, the Europeans attempted to destroy the indigenous cultures with the overall intention of assimilation (Brown & Hannis, 2012; Cao, 2014). This imperialist view gave the white settler’s time to out mass the natives (maltreatment, and disease assisted) and become the more dominant population; making the aboriginals a minority in their own land (Brown & Hannis, 2012). With the potential consequences of having a low social capital being so dire, and the likelihoods in which Aboriginal communities may be susceptible to these consequences, it can be speculated that assessing the level of social capitalism in Aboriginal communities stands out as an important area for research in the social work field.
This paper will be directed toward answering one question: do the Aboriginal reserves within Canada generally display high levels of social capitalism, or low levels of social capitalism? After reviewing the areas of social capitalism and how they can be attributed to the Aboriginal reserves of Canada, it can be seen by the varying levels of connections and trust within these communities, those outside of it, and the institutions they are connected with, that the reserves tend to display characteristics consistent with that of low social capitalism. To begin, the paper will start with an educational piece that explains the topic of social capitalism in depth. Afterwards, we will be diving into three main factors of social capitalism: bonding, bridging and linkages (which will be assessed in the next section), and how these things will work to measure the level of social capitalism in Aboriginal reserves.
Additionally, to consolidate the evidence being presented, and to bring it all together into a condensed fashion, this paper will provide a summary section. Nearing the end, this paper will highlight the benefits and repercussions of the varying levels of bonding, bringing, and linkages within the reserves, which will act to provide clarification as to how these things actually impact the particular community in question. Finally, a concluding paragraph will be added to briefly analyze what has been covered in the paper as a whole and to highlight any limitations that may have arisen during research.
Understanding Social Capitalism
In order to delve further into the subject of social capitalism, it is important to provide the reader with better understanding of what is being evaluated. Social capitalism has a rich array of definitions and ways in which it can be broken down. Brown and Hannis (2012) describe it as being the “social networks and ways of getting along that facilitate coordination and cooperation for mutual benefit” (p. 76). However, Natcher (2015) looks at social capitalism through a much more economic lens, and describes it as being a person’s “personal associations who together constitute a social network capable of confronting poverty and avoiding social vulnerability” (p. 230). Both examples provided convey the notion that social capitalism does not act as a “thing”, but instead as a process which connects individuals to create better conditions for exchanging information and/or resources (Malecki, 2012).
The social capital dimension- as mentioned previously- can also be broken down into a variety of forms as well. Two distinct types that have come up in research include the externally observable structural social capitalism (information sharing, rules, procedures, etc.), and the more subjective and tangible cognitive social capitalism (shared norms, cultural values, trust, etc.), (Brown & Hannis, 2012; Malecki, 2012). Additionally, social capital has also been broken down and “adapted to a first nations community context” (Brown & Hannis, 2012, p. 4), which separates it into three “relational assets that people have access to in varying degrees” (Malecki, 2012, p. 1026). The three “assets” mentioned above include: 1) bonding (relations within the community; i.e., immediate family, friends, and neighbors), 2) bridging (ties to other communities; i.e., more distant colleagues and associates), and 3) linkages (ties to institutions; i.e., schools, hospitals, or connections to people in positions of authority), (Brown & Hannis, 2012; Malecki, 2012). Nevertheless, it seems that no matter how it is broken down, social capitalism in its rawest form consists of two vital components: relationships and trust (Brown & Hannis, 2012; Malecki, 2012).
Bonding in Aboriginal Reserves
Memmott and Meltzer (2005) found that “aboriginal communities invest a considerable amount of time and energy into building and maintaining social capital, yet such investments often go unobserved” (as cited in Natcher, 2015, p. 230). This statement seems to be accurate in regards to bonding and its connection to cognitive social capital. Aboriginal people have a strong sense of bonding within their communities and it is likely due to having similar attitudes, beliefs and trust within one another and often time goes unobserved; which Gelsing (1992) and Sako (1992) would only attribute to goodwill trust (as cited in Malecki, 2012). Goodwill trust can be described as a higher-level trust that “refers to mutual expectations of open commitment, seen in willingness to do more than is formally expected, such as sharing of non-routine information [or resources]” (as cited in Malecki, 2012, p. 1029). For instance, in the Aboriginal reserves of Alberta, it would be all too common to see food exchanges happening between individuals and households within the direct community (if families were struggling), and less likely with more distant members (Natcher, 2015). This might be due to a sense of trust and togetherness that can only be found in small rural communities.
Additionally, there is a positive correlation between levels of social capital (bonding being a part of that) and religious participation (Natcher, 2015). To elaborate on this point a little more, Natcher (2015) looked at studies which showed that as levels of religious participation raised, so too did the levels of social capitalism in the given community. That being said, it can be speculated that in a closely knit Aboriginal reserve most of the people living within its boundaries would have similar indigenous religious, cultural, and societal norms, which may allow for a deeper level of bonding between community members. The “various social or ceremonial events including community feasts and cultural ceremonies” (p. 233), where community members hunt for or purchase food to share as a collective, provides an excellent example to the high level of bonding that can take place within reserves.
Bridging in Aboriginal Reserves
In terms of the quote by that began the previous section (Bonding in Aboriginal Reserves), this writer feels as though this observation relates more to the bonding portion of social capitalism than it does to bridging. It’s not as though this writer believes that aboriginal people are not trying to build bridging ties, but that the levels of trust associated with outside ties tends to be pretty low from the perspectives of both sides. Since the time of colonialization, the Aboriginal people have been exposed to social and economic exclusion and forced to live in substandard situations in poverty stricken communities (Cao, 2014). To elaborate, this writer feels as though this social and economic exclusion has caused the Aboriginal people’s trust in outside communities and institutions to waiver (Cao, 2014); and from the outside perspective, it seems as though the non-aboriginal population finds it hard to trust the competence of the aboriginal people.
Sako (1992) would consider the non-aboriginals trust to be competence trust, and the Aboriginals trust to be contractual trust (as cited in Malecki, 2012). Competence trust refers to the belief in an individual’s ability to carry out a task, and contractual trust refers to “the mutual expectation that promises made are kept” (Malecki, 2012, p. 1029). If the history of the relationship between the two groups is taken into account, these lapses in trust can be better understood. Europeans believed that by forcing the natives to assimilate they could change them from “savage, drunken Indians” to functioning members of society (Brown & Hannis, 2012; Cao, 2014). However, when simple assimilation tactics weren’t enough for the Europeans high imperialist standards, they introduced residential schools (Brown & Hannis, 2012; Cao, 2014), and their trust in the Aboriginals ability to carry out a task likely declined substantially.
From the Aboriginal’s perspective, Europeans in the past never seemed to stay true to their initial words. For instance, there are a variety of treaties that exist between our government and the Aboriginal communities in Canada today (Brown & Hannis, 2012); however, these treaties were not always as they were, and in the past it wasn’t uncommon for the government to play with the details of these contracts to better suit their own needs (Spiegel, Matthews, Taw, & Williams, 2013). This is why it can be speculated that Aboriginals have trouble believing that promises made by outside communities are kept.
Although trust and relationships may not exist between the Aboriginals on reserves and outside communities a lot of the time, it does not mean that these interactions do not occur. Mushinski and Allen (2006) argue that “bridging social capital has been critical to community economic development by facilitating access to external sources of financial capital, thereby enabling community members to acquire a far wider range of economic resources” (as cited in Natcher, 2015, p. 231). However, the sharing of resources and resource extractions have not been shared equally “resulting in considerable economic and social differentiation between Aboriginal and Non-Aboriginal groups” in Alberta (Natcher, 2015, p. 233).
Further, bridging between reserves and outside communities can be difficult due to the isolation factors of some reserves, and certain ones can only be accessed by air, seasonally (in the winter when the water freezes over), or by boat (Natcher, 2015). Although it can be seen that Aboriginal’s living on reserves reach out to other communities more often than previously anticipated, these interactions still seem to lack the necessary level of trust to actually form a relationship with them and is more an act of business and economic growth than anything else. Because of this it appears that bridging social capitalism remains low between reserves and outside communities, in a sense that they would much rather trade within their immediate community due to issues with trust (non-equal sharing or costly rates).
Linkages in Aboriginal Reserves
When considering the ties Aboriginals have to institutions, the same levels of trust and relationships mentioned in the previous section (bridging in Aboriginal reserves) can be seen here. This is considered a cause for concern to professionals studying this field such as Turner (2007) who feels that “while bonding and bridging social capital supports the day-to-day survival of an enterprise, only linking social capital provide the more substantial support necessary for enterprise advancement” (as cited in Malecki, 2012, p. 1026). However, trust and uncertainty in institutions- and unavailability in some cases- is something that seems to trouble the Aboriginal community. Problems with linkages seem to be derived from the structural social capital associated to these institutions and their ability to control decision making (hospitals), rules (police), and procedures (government officials).
In a study done by Cao (2014) which looked at the level of trust between Aboriginal people and the police, he found that Aboriginal people showed lower levels of confidence in the police for every item. This isn’t really much of a surprise when you consider history of strained relationships between the police and aboriginal persons (Cao, 2014). This is obviously an area of concern for the Aboriginal peoples because if they don’t trust the police force and the police institutions in their immediate areas, where can they find a sense of safety and security on a legislative level?
In aboriginal reserves employment is not readily available and the First Nations people must take advantage of employment opportunities when they present themselves (logging, road construction, etc.), (Natcher, 2015). Often times when there are jobs and services available to the Aboriginal people on reserves they are extremely far away and hard to get to and from. Natcher (2006) found that “the regional centre of High Level is located approximately 78 miles west of John D’Or” reserve, and that it “provides a wider range of services to First Nation members” as well as occasional job employments (as cited in Natcher, 2015, p. 232). The isolation factor mentioned previously can be applied to linkages to institutions as well.
Health care and access to healthcare institutions on reserves seems substandard by comparison to off-reserve access. Although Health Canada “provides funding for prevention and health promotion as well as for home and community care services for people living on reserves” the health services on reserves are actually “managed under a separate health system” and disparities can still be seen in terms of the levels of care being provided (Gilbert, Auger, & Tjepkema, 2015, p. 3). Because reserve health care is managed under a separate health system, it can be speculates that their rules and regulations at these institutions would differ from that of off-reserve health care as well.
Despite all of the outside funding and “assistance” going into Aboriginal health care, things like infant mortality rate and post-neonatal mortality remains higher in Aboriginal groups than it does in other groups (Gilbert et al., 2015); which forms the question: are Aboriginal people receiving the same level of healthcare as non-aboriginal people? And if not, why? In addition to seemingly lower levels of care being provided for aboriginal people on reserves, these reserves are constantly under investigation to see whether or not they fit under the meaning of the Indian Act (criteria for ‘proper’ reserves), and if they do not, then Health Canada no longer has to fund them (however, they still provide services), (Gilbert et al., 2015). Because of the unavailability, uncertainty, and the overall lack of trust within a lot of the institutions that Aboriginals interact with, it seems pretty clear that the level of linkages associated with social capitalism remains low in this population.
In terms of bonding, it was discovered that a cognitive social capital can act to create closer bonds between Aboriginal members of reserves because of shared beliefs, cultural norms, and religious beliefs (Brown & Hannis, 2012; Malecki 2012; Natcher 2015). Because of these connections and high-levels of trust (goodwill trust) between community members, it allowed them to share resources and come together regularly as a community for things such as ceremonies and feasts (Malecki, 2012); which displays a high level of bonding social capitalism.
As for bridging social capitalism, colonialization, and actions taken by white settlers since, has impacted not only the level of trust that Aboriginals feel toward outside members of their communities (contractual trust), but also the trust that non-aboriginal communities may have for the Aboriginal populations as well (competence trust); which has ultimately impacted the relationships and interactions between the two groups (Brown & Hannis, 2012; Cao, 2014). The interactions that do occur happen for economical purposes and not for relational purposes, and oftentimes results in unfair distribution favouring the Non-Aboriginal people (Natcher, 2015). Isolation factors can also negatively impact bridging ties as well (Natcher, 2015). Because of these things, the level of bridging social capitalism within Aboriginal reserves would be considered to be low.
Finally, trust, uncertainty, and sometimes even unavailability, are some of the areas that seem to have negatively impacted the Aboriginals’ ties to institutions (linkages). Therefore, it can be seen by: (1) the low level of trust that exists between Aboriginal people, the police, and police institutions, (2) the higher level of death rates for infants in the Aboriginal healthcare system in comparison to that of the Non-Aboriginal, and (3) the overall difficulty or unavailability of finding employment and services within aboriginal reserves, that the level of linkage relationships remains low in the Aboriginal reserves of Canada as well.
Impacts and Consequences
Although high levels of bonding can be seen as a good thing for Aboriginals on reserves, when there is too much bonding social capital, there is a likelihood that it can become a negative trait (Malecki, 2012). High levels of bonding can create conformity opposed to variety which can lead to the exclusion of outsiders, excess claims on group members, and restrictions in both business initiative and individual freedom (Malecki, 2012). Also, because of the seemingly poor levels of care being provided for Aboriginal communities, it was discovered that in comparison to Non-aboriginal members, Aboriginal individuals have higher rates of infant mortality before and during pregnancy (Gilbert et al., 2015). Additionally, having low levels of linking social capitalism makes economic growth and enterprise advancement harder to achieve.
Malecki (2012) found that “social capital also can be a liability if too dependent on a core network player or if over-embeddedness characterizes the network” (p. 1032). For instance, in the Little Red River Cree Nation (LRRCN), an Aboriginal portion of Northern Alberta, there is a select few households that do the majority of the harvesting each season known as: super-harvesting households (Natcher, 2015). If one of these households were to reduce their wild food harvest (due to injury or other factors), than the whole food system in the LRRCN would be negatively impacted as a result (Natcher, 2015); leaving them in constant risk of food distribution issues.
Overall, trust impacted all three of the areas of social capitalism that were discussed throughout this paper. The impact of this trust according to Fountain (2001) is that “trustful relations tend to be self-reinforcing and thereby strengthen cooperation. Mistrust, on the other hand, tends to cycle in a negative direction, which weakens relationships and cooperation” (as cited in Malecki, 2012, p. 1029). In relation to the Aboriginal reserves of Canada, trust at the bonding level of social capital was strong and therefore can produce strong relationships and cooperation, whereas mistrust for the outside communities (bridging) and institutions (linkages) seems to provide weaker relationships and cooperation.
After completing the research on the levels of social capitalism in the Aboriginal reserves of Canada, I have managed to reach but one conclusion: that the Aboriginal reserves of Canada tend to have a low level of social capital in two of the three major aspects. In order to reach this conclusion, we began by defining and broking down social capitalism in order to get a better understanding of what we were working with. Next, we discussed in detail three assets that are a part of social capitalism (bonding, bridging, and linkages) with the intent of measuring the level of social capitalism within the Aboriginal reserves of Canada.
By doing this, it could be seen that due to varying levels of trust and relationships within these three sections (bonding [high trust, strong relationships], bridging [low trust, poor relationships], and linkages [low trust, low availability]), that Aboriginal reserves in Canada tend to have a low social capital overall. Finally, the impacts and consequences of the varying levels of social capitalism were looked at in order to provide a clearer picture as to how some of these things impacted the Aboriginal reserves and the consequences that may have followed. One limitation faced during research was that the articles used in this research only covered three provinces: Ontario, Quebec, and Alberta, which restricted the Canadian wide range that I had initially intended to hit. Another limitation that comes to mind was that only a select few articles were used for each topic which may have taken away from the diversity of evidence being used to defend the thesis. Because of the low levels of social capitalism that were found in Aboriginal reserves during the course of writing this paper, and because of the looming consequences that can come as a result of low levels of social capitalism, this area remains as an important subject for future research.
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