Digesting the Message about Contaminants and Country Foods in the Canadian North: A Review and Recommendations for Future Research and Action


  • Chris Furgal
  • S. Powell
  • H. Myers




environmental contaminants, health, risk communication, comprehension, evaluation, environmental health, communication research, country/traditional foods


Communicating the risks of environmental contaminants in the food chain to northern Aboriginal peoples poses significant challenges for communities at risk and environment and health professionals alike. Reported results of poor risk communication practice on this issue include increased fear and confusion in northern communities, changes in the dietary behaviour and traditional lifestyles of their residents, and associated impacts on their society, economy, and health. A review of past communication research and activities on this issue in the Canadian North reveals a general ad hoc “learning by doing” approach to primarily one-way communication events. The lack of focused communication research on an issue that has garnered great focus and effort elsewhere in the country and continent has forced health professionals and communicators to rely on assumptions about the reception and level of comprehension of important health messages previously disseminated. The importance of this information is increasing as research begins to detect subtle health effects from exposure to these substances among newborns in some northern regions. Thus planning and evaluation are needed for risk communication, and possibly changes to the scale at which communication work is done in northern communities.