Ways of Knowing of the Brain and Mind: A Scoping Review of the Literature About Global Indigenous Perspectives

Louise Harding, Caterina J. Marra, Vyshnavi Manohara, Judy Illes


Indigenous peoples’ pursuit of brain health has been challenged by the violation of their rights to practice their cultures, speak their languages, and engage in traditional medical practices. Despite ongoing systemic oppression, indigenous knowledges and healing practices endure today and contribute to global understandings of the brain and mind. We conducted a scoping review of the academic literature, both research and reviews, which has examined the perspectives of global Indigenous people relevant to the neurological sciences. We searched three academic databases using phrases and terms pertaining to brain, neuro, mind, and Indigenous populations. Of the 66 articles included for analysis, 46 were research and 20 reviews or commentaries. The earliest date of publication was 1963; the majority were published after 2000. Most research studies involved consultations through focus groups or interviews, and involved people spanning all age groups. Sixty Indigenous communities were identified in the articles across 21 countries and regions and five continents. By contrast, the countries of affiliation of the corresponding authors were far less diverse: two-thirds were affiliated with institutions in the USA, Canada, Australia, or New Zealand. Only seven authors were in Latin America or Asia, and there were no corresponding authors primarily affiliated with institutions in Africa. The most prevalent focus of the articles was on mental health and illness, followed by aging and dementia. Ethics topics were embedded in two-thirds of articles, with substantial coverage of issues pertaining to public policy and public health, and cultural diversity and heterogeneity. The concepts of wellness and well-being, spirituality, holism and relationality were prominent reference features of this diverse body of research. This work supports the meaningful incorporation of Indigenous knowledges into initiatives involving the neurological sciences, such as the International Brain Initiative, the Canadian Brain Research Strategy, and the USA NIH BRAIN 2.0. Research with Indigenous populations that is collaborative and situates ethics at its core is key to the realization of a truly global, collaborative neuroscience.

J Neurol Res. 2022;12(2):43-53
doi: https://doi.org/10.14740/jnr708


Brain; Mind; Indigenous peoples; Indigenous health; Ethics; Mental illness; Neurologic conditions; Wellness

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