Stepping out of the shadows of colonialism to the beat of the drum : The meaning of music for five First Nations children with autism in British Columbia, Canada

Abstract: This dissertation set out to examine the meaning of music for First Nations childrenwith autism in BC, Canada. The research questions addressed were: How can thediagnosis of ASD be seen through a First Nations lens? How do the First Nationschildren with ASD use music? In which ways is music used in different domains?In which ways is music used to facilitate inclusion? How is traditional music used?The dissertation is based on four original articles that span over the issues of under-detection of autism among First Nations children in BC, ethnographic fieldwork,and the paradigmatic shift to Indigenist research methodologies, the role of music insocial inclusion and a First Nations lens on autism, the use of Indigenous music withFirst Nations children with autism, put in context with First Nations children’s rights.Material was collected during six week periods in two consecutive years, generatingdata from conversations, follow-up conversations, observations, video-filmed observations,and notes. Post-colonial BC, Canada is the context of the research, and issuesof social inclusion and children’s rights are addressed. During the research process,a journey that began with an ethnographic approach led to an Indigenist paradigm.It was found that colonial residue and effects of historical trauma can influenceFirst Nations children being under-detected for autism. The First Nations childrendiagnosed with autism in this study use music in similar ways to typically developingchildren and non-Indigenous individuals with autism. These uses include for communicationand relaxation, for security and happiness, to soothe oneself and whenstudying. However, music interventions in school settings are not culturally sensitive.Music as a tool for inclusion is overlooked and Indigenous music not utilizedoutside of optional Aboriginal classes. The most important lesson of the study wasthe significance of reciprocal experience, emphasized by the Indigenist paradigm. Itcan be suggested that carefully designed, culturally sensitive music interventions,in collaboration with traditional knowledge holders and Elders, would be beneficialfor the development of First Nations children with autism. Consequently, culturallysensitive music interventions could have potential to ensure that the children’s rightsare respected. For these interventions to be culturally adequate, specific IndigenousKnowledge must be the foundation.