Impact of culture and social inequality on risk communication : a case study of the Roseau River Anishinabe First Nation, Southern Manitoba
Master of Arts
SubjectRisk communication Roseau River Region (Minn. and Man.)
Floods (Roseau River, Manitoba)
Roseau River Anishinabe First Nation
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This thesis examines the sociocultural factors that influenced risk perception and risk communication among the residents of Roseau River Anishinabe First Nation in Southern Manitoba during the flood of 1997. I discuss the limitations of the technical assessment of risk and the need to understand the cultural contexts in which risks are framed and debated. I discuss how risk communication occurs within specific cultural contexts and how the people of Roseau River chose risks other than flooding as their focus for concern. This research is based on both primary and secondary data collection. Primary data sources include: I) a household survey of flood risk communication in the Roseau River Anishinabe First Nation Community; 2) personal interviews with several residents and key informants in the community of Roseau River; and, 3) ethnographic field notes from three visits to the community. Secondary data sources include social science literature on the social construction of risk and risk communication studies, and scholarly and popular descriptions and analysis of the flood and its consequences. Similar to other studies, this research confirms that risk is socially constructed and furthers our understanding of how persistent disagreements about risk have their origin in different belief and value systems. The residents of Roseau River had a different dialogue of risk than other communities. This dialogue involved a rhetoric of rectitude and a call for justice. I argue that risk is best understood when the social context of framing is considered, rather than simply focusing on the physical or technological agents. For the people of Roseau River the flood of 1997 was more about injustice and government policy than it was about floodwaters and property damage. My data supports the argument that culture plays an important role in framing of risk, I discuss that for the people of Roseau River, floodplain management is ultimately the product of a public policy, the Indian Act, whose main thrust has always been, and continues to be, the assimilation of Aboriginal people. I argue that it is not risk from flooding but risk of dependence that distresses the people of Roseau River. Based on statements made by community members and the results of the household survey, I argue that the members of Roseau River must be consulted in the development of future floodplain management policy. For these people, risk communication is not about disaster warnings; it is about having a seat at the table during policy formation. Policymakers must open effective two-way communication between themselves and the people of Roseau River. Effective communication must incorporate the Roseau River language of risk and not be biased towards a more technical language of risk. This community must be supported in its efforts to rebuild and to heal. Rediscovery of culture and renegotiation of self-determination efforts must be encouraged from within the community and from Canada. Further research needs to be undertaken regarding the social construction of risk in First Nation communities. Whether it is natural hazards like flooding in Roseau River or technological hazards like pollution or resource depletion. Aboriginal people continually struggle for protection from the imminent dangers they face. There is a need to examine the various contexts in which Aboriginal people negotiate risk. This may provide us with solutions for minimizing risk and improving risk communication for Aboriginal peoples.