Resilience has been most frequently defined as positive adaptation despite adversity. Over the past 40 years, resilience research has gone through several stages. From an initial focus on the invulnerable or invincible child, psychologists began to recognize that much of what seems to promote resilience originates outside of the individual. This led to a search for resilience factors at the individual, family, community — and, most recently, cultural — levels. In addition to the effects that community and culture have on resilience in individuals, there is growing interest in resilience as a feature of entire communities and cultural groups. Contemporary researchers have found that resilience factors vary in different risk contexts and this has contributed to the notion that resilience is a process. In order to characterize the resilience process in a particular context, it is necessary to identify and measure the risk involved and, in this regard, perceived discrimination and historical trauma are part of the context in many Aboriginal communities. Researchers also seek to understand how particular protective factors interact with risk factors and with other protective factors to support relative resistance. For this purpose they have developed resilience models of three main types: “compensatory,” “protective,” and “challenge” models. Two additional concepts are resilient reintegration, in which a confrontation with adversity leads individuals to a new level of growth, and the notion endorsed by some Aboriginal educators that resilience is an innate quality that needs only to be properly awakened.
The review suggests five areas for future research with an emphasis on youth: 1) studies to improve understanding of what makes some Aboriginal youth respond positively to risk and adversity and others not; 2) case studies providing empirical confirmation of the theory of resilient reintegration among Aboriginal youth; 3) more comparative studies on the role of culture as a resource for resilience; 4) studies to improve understanding of how Aboriginal youth, especially urban youth, who do not live in self-governed communities with strong cultural continuity can be helped to become, or remain, resilient; and 5) greater involvement of Aboriginal researchers who can bring a nonlinear world view to resilience research.
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