Journal Article

Painting the Prison ‘Red’: Constructing and Experiencing Aboriginal Identities in Prison

Joane Martel and Renée Brassard

in The British Journal of Social Work

Published on behalf of British Association of Social Workers

Volume 38, issue 2, pages 340-361
Published in print February 2008 | ISSN: 0045-3102
Published online October 2006 | e-ISSN: 1468-263X | DOI:
Painting the Prison ‘Red’: Constructing and Experiencing Aboriginal Identities in Prison

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Dominant Western paradigms of the social work profession have largely failed to integrate Aboriginal traditional knowledges and practices on healing and helping. This paper contributes to the promotion of a context-based approach to social work in prison by examining Aboriginality from both institutional and individual points of view. Drawing on documentary analyses and interviews with Aboriginal women prisoners in Canada, the paper sheds light on the prison’s endorsement of a hegemonic vision of Aboriginality, and on social work practitioners’ inclination to adhere to it. Conversely, we argue that Aboriginal women prisoners negotiate their passage into prison through Aboriginal self-identification configurations that often have little in common with the prison’s vision of Aboriginality. Service delivery in prison may be enhanced by considering individual modes of resisting identity-based oppression in prison, and by challenging prisons’ master narrative on Aboriginality.

Keywords: prisons; ethnicity; women

Journal Article.  9177 words. 

Subjects: Social Work

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