Conceptualization of family: complexities of defining an Indigenous family

Benita Tam, Leanne Findlay, Dafna Kohen


Defining family is complex, particularly when considering cultural aspects, characteristic of Indigenous populations. This paper provides a theoretical review of conceptualizations of family particularly relevant for an Indigenous context, including a critical review of defining Indigenous families through non-Indigenous terms and possible alternate approaches in defining Indigenous families. In general, our review found that family may be conceptualized by blood, legal, or residence status, following a general systems theory approach. Such terms, however, may be limited in defining Indigenous families due to factors influencing family boundary ambiguity such as multiple caregivers, ambiguities in legal status, complex households, and different perceptions of defining families. Moreover, when understanding Indigenous families, cultural differences in identity, kinship, language, and mobility need to be considered in family definitions. In conclusion, it is necessary to recognize complexities of families, limitations ofusing one definition versus another, and the importance of applying a cultural lens when defining Indigenous families.

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