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Deficit Discourse: Positive Developments

Updated: Feb 6, 2023

Tansi Nîtôtemtik,


This week, we have been talking about deficit discourse. As discussed in the posts from earlier this week, “deficit discourse refers to disempowering patterns of thought, language, and practice that represent people in terms of deficiencies and failures. It particularly refers to discourse that places responsibility for problems with the affected individuals or communities, overlooking the larger socio-economic structures in which they are embedded.” [1]


For more information on deficit discourse, check out Monday’s post.


Meanwhile, today’s post, rather than focusing on negatives or areas that are lacking, will look at some of the successes and positive developments that Indigenous communities have made over the past several decades in Canada. Recognizing the strengths of Indigenous communities is one way to avoid the trap of deficit discourse.



Positive changes regarding Indigenous issues can sometimes come from Canadian governments, institutions, and businesses. However, the majority of change comes from the “persistent, methodical and concentrated actions” of Indigenous advocacy groups, Indigenous organizations, and the “individual resilience, dedication and collaborative will of Indigenous people.” [2] Thanks to the tireless efforts of Indigenous groups in Canada, there have been great strides in areas such as child welfare, education, language and culture, health, justice, and business. [3]


Another positive thing that has gained momentum over the decades is the revitalization of Indigenous practices, including “healing circles, smudging, sweat lodges, [and] the medicine wheel.” [4] Traditional Indigenous practices such as these provide Indigenous peoples with a connection to their cultural roots, and to a deeper understanding of Indigenous views of the world. [5] Revitalization also shows the strength and resilience of Indigenous communities and individuals, who refuse to give up ties to their culture, despite continuous colonial efforts to assimilate Indigenous peoples and disconnect them from their roots.


Indigenous communities in Canada have also been making great strides in areas such as language preservation, the repatriation of artifacts from museums, and the “reclamation of traditional songs, dances, stories, and drumming.” [6]


In many Indigenous communities, Indigenous women lead the way in resistance and revitalization. Indigenous women continue to exhibit strength, leadership, and perseverance when it comes to making changes for their people. [7] They have continuously “organized to resist violence and paternalism and to more assertively pursue their and their families' needs through taking on responsibility at the level of the family and the community and beyond to the national and even the international arena.” [8] Indigenous women have spearheaded many movements, including those in response to crises like Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, environmental conservation [9], and movements for Indigenous sovereignty and protection of the land like Idle No More. [10]


To focus on and celebrate Indigenous successes and strengths is not to make light of the issues that do exist in Indigenous communities. Colonialism is ongoing, and has impacted Indigenous peoples in Canada in countless negative ways. The legacy of colonialism continues, and there are many related issues that need to be addressed. However, it is important to be mindful of the way these issues are discussed, and the harmful consequences of only talking about Indigenous peoples in terms of deficit.


Indigenous peoples in Canada have shown, and continue to show, resilience, strength, and power, and their successes must be acknowledged and celebrated.


Until next time,

Team Reconcili-ACTION YEG



[1] “Deficit Discourse and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Policy” (May 2018) at 1, online (pdf): The Lowitja Institute <www.lowitja.org.au/content/Document/PDF/deficit-discourse-summary-report.pdf>.

[2] “What does Indigenous success look like? Here are 85 examples of reconciliation in action!” (5 March 2021), online: Indigenous Watchdog <https://www.indigenouswatchdog.org/2021/03/05/what-does-indigenous-success-look-like-here-are-85-examples-of-reconciliation-in-action/>.

[3] Ibid.

[4] J. Rick Ponting & Cora J. Voyageur, “Challenging The Deficit Paradigm: Grounds For Optimism Among First Nations In Canada” (2001) at 282, online (pdf): <https://cjns.brandonu.ca/wp-content/uploads/21-2-cjnsv21no2_pg275-307.pdf>.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Supra note 4 at 283.

[7] Supra note 4 at 288.

[8] Ibid.

[9] “'It's for our survival' — Indigenous women lead conservation efforts in Canada” (8 March 2022) online: Canada’s National Observer <https://www.nationalobserver.com/2022/03/08/news/its-our-survival-indigenous-women-lead-conservation-efforts-canada>.

[10] “An Indigenous-Led Social Movement” (2020) online: Idle No More <https://idlenomore.ca/about-the-movement/>.

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