Why do some indigenous peoples fare better under colonizers than others? Per Axelsson proposes to find out, by looking at the forces that have shaped indigenous people’s health and well-being over the past 150 years in three different countries.
Per Axelsson, a researcher at the Centre for Sami Research at Umeå University, will compare the experiences of indigenous people in Australia, New Zealand and Sweden, from 1850 to 2000. While Sami people in northern Sweden once suffered greatly as outsiders, with poor health, high mortality rates and forced migration, they now enjoy similar levels of health as non-Sami people in Sweden. Meanwhile, the Aboriginals of Australia and the Maori of New Zealand still have not made the transition to the high levels of well-being that non-indigenous people in these countries enjoy
As a Wallenberg Academy Fellow, Axelsson plans to trace the historical development of indigenous health by bringing together missionaries' records, government reports and new databases on population, births and deaths. Together with researchers at University of Melbourne, Australia and University of Waikato, New Zealand, he will investigate concrete questions, such as which have been the dominating causes of death, when did political mobilization occur among indigenous people, when were vaccines were introduced and when did Sami health equate with that of the Swedish majority population. The results of the research team will bring a new understanding to the international debates on the linkages between colonization, indigeneity and health and wellbeing and contribute substantive knowledge about the particular ways in which these relations played out in three distinct sites.
Photo: Elind Berge, Umeå University