Becoming Whole : a grounded theory analysis of empowerment in Aboriginal women leaders and professionals

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Ritchot, Kathryn F. M.
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Empowerment has been labeled an important route to psychological wellness for the field of Community Psychology (Cowen, 2000). Yet, little research has examined the extent to which Aboriginal people, arguably the most marginalized group in Canada (Waldram, Herring, & Young, 1995; York, 1990), would find empowerment as it is commonly understood to be meaningful. The purpose of this research was to generate an understanding of the meaning, processes, and outcomes of empowerment in Aboriginal women leaders and professionals. In-depth interviews were conducted with nine Metis and First Nations women, resulting in 394 pages of transcripts. The data were generated and analyzed according to grounded theory method (Glaser, 1992; Glaser & Strauss, 1967; Strauss & Corbin, 1990). The results showed that the research participants struggled with the basic psychosocial problem of powerlessness, which took different forms for each research participant. Notably, all research participants had felt the burn of racism and discrimination, and many had suffered other forms of abuse. Nonetheless, they had managed to overcome these and other obstacles to become leaders and professionals. A model, Becoming Whole, was developed which outlines the processes and outcomes grounded in the research participants' experiences of empowerment. It has three main parts: 'The core concepts' and two subprocesses, 'Healing within the community' and 'Healing within the Self'. Empowerment was defined by research participants in a manner consistent with current theoretical perspectives (Rappaport, 1981, 1987; Zimmerman, 1995; 2000) and with themes developed from the model. Overall, research pafticipants believed that empowerment was meaningful in their lives. Empowerment as experienced by the Aboriginal women leaders and professionals was similar but not identical to empowerment experienced in other groups (Kar, Pascual, & Chickering; 1999; Kieffer, 1984; O'Sullivan, Waugh, and Espeland; 1984; Shields, 1995) and was consistent with empowerment theory (Zimmerman, 1995; 2000). The results are discussed in terms of implications for empowerment theory, intervention, and clinical practice with Aboriginal women and with other marginalized groups.