Defining and Preserving the Well-Being of the Cree: waamistikushiiu v. miyupimaatisiiun
For the Cree, health is more than individual physiology. Health is definied by miyupimaatisiiun, a complex word that refers to an individual's enriching connection to his community and his natural environment. Miyupimaatisiiun can be interpreted as "being-alive well," a condition that includes the safety and security of family, friends and tribal members, as well as for the resources the Cree depend on to survive. Thus, the health of the Cree becomes a political entity, defined through challenging “environmental, social, political” as well as physiological threats to traditional life. Politcially, the term signifies “the ability to negotiate the obstacles that threaten the survival of the Cree” (57).
To understand the significance of Cree health, there is much to be said for cultural definition through opposition. The key element of waamistikushiiu, or "whiteman health," that distinctly separates it from the miyupimaatisiiun is its numbing divorce from the earth. Removed from a lifestyle of hunting and dwelling in the bush, waamistikushiiu life is by and large unattached to the intimate land-life story of the Cree people. Without such a story, “whiteman health” is alien and blind in Adelson’s ‘Being Alive Well’. Perhaps most significantly, waamistikushiiu health stubbornly denies the existence of other definitions of human health. Defined by individual physiology, waamistikushiiu health is universally evaluated against simple biomedical standards and “determined in proportion to a relative absence of disease”(5). Cree miyupimaatisiiun, however, is not a “biased and incomplete” standard of fitness, but a complex process comprising social relations, land and cultural identity (4).
In Whapmagoostui, “accidental and suicidal deaths, drug and alcohol related illnesses, infectious diseases, and chronic diseases such as diabetes mellitus and cancer are all found- sometimes in disproportionate number-in native communities across Canada” (14). By waamistikushiiu standards, such health conditions are deplorable; yet for the Cree, these ailments readily signify a deeper, perpetual ache of land and culture. For centuries, influences of waamistikushiiu culture have altered Cree living. Devastating fur trades, land usurpation, mercury poisoning in fish and waterways, and flooding damage are only a few of the casualties to Cree life in the whiteman’s pursuit of happiness. As “the only way to acquire [miyupimaatisiiun] strength is to eat Cree food, and the only way to get Cree food is by hunting,” the Cree are bound to defy whiteman devastation of their land and assert rights to survival on their own terms (94).