by Katherine Gilks, Projects Coordinator

One of the many questions Heritage Saskatchewan has been getting recently[1] is: “What is a heritage organisation doing with an index of wellbeing?” More simply put, what does wellbeing have to do with heritage?

This is understandable – from a purely auditory sense, we tend to associate “wellbeing” with “health”, and “heritage” with “history” or “culture”. We have made these internal associations largely based on over a century of how these topics are bureaucratically organised, whether at the government or school level. “Health” and “culture” are not readily linked in our minds, despite the fact that there has been a plethora of modern medical and sociological research linking the two concepts. Our health and culture are intrinsically linked, particularly when it comes to our mental health and when examining our health holistically, both at the individual and community levels.

But I will go back to “wellbeing” and “heritage”. Wellbeing is not only related to health, but also happiness and comfort[2]. One’s overall wellbeing could be suffering despite being in excellent health, while one could be in palliative care and still have an overall positive sense of wellbeing. Heritage is important to our sense of wellbeing because it is the lens through which we see ourselves, our communities, and our futures.

Based on the Canadian Index of Wellbeing, the Saskatchewan Index of Wellbeing measured how Saskatchewanian’s were “doing” in eight particular domains: Education; Living Standards; Healthy Populations; Time Use; Community Vitality; Environment; Democratic Engagement; and Leisure and Culture. The Index used data covering 1994-2014 and will be updated as new pertinent data is released for more recent years.

All of these domains intersect with each other and relate to our heritage. Our definition of wellbeing encompasses health (physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual), economic security, and citizenship. A person and/or community with positive wellbeing also has a strong sense of identity, belonging, and place – which ties directly into Heritage Saskatchewan’s definition of Living Heritage.

We have a tendency to focus only on one or two of these aspects of wellbeing at a time, but they all work together. Even in Canada, tying together health with economic security is not easy for everyone. Those with chronic poor health are less likely to have strong economic security. Those who lack economic security are less likely to worry about healthcare maintenance. If either health or economic security is lacking, citizenship is often of even lower priority. There is a lot of apathy about politics because people think, “things aren’t going to get better for me anyways”. These are external expressions of our internal sense of belonging, place, and identity.

So how is Saskatchewan doing? How are Saskatchewanians faring wellbeing-wise?

In short, most of the domains have increased over the past twenty years, reflecting the economic boom of the 2000s and early 2010s. That would indicate that overall, the wellbeing of the average Saskatchewanian has improved since the early 1990s. But that does raise the question – who is the average Saskatchewanian?

This again ties to our sense of belonging: how close are each of us, individually, to this mythical average Saskatchewanian? How close are our communities to the mythical “average Saskatchewan community”? How are we serving our outliers – those that conform least to the average?

There is no question that Saskatchewan has become more diverse over the past few decades (in many ways) and more urban. This makes the “average Saskatchewanian” more elusive and less reflective of the province’s population as a whole. This is good thing.

But how does that change how we see ourselves? How we see our neighbours? Our communities?

This is the essence of Living Heritage.


[1] Since we launched the Saskatchewan Index of Wellbeing on October 10, 2019, and received an award for it at the National Trust for Canada’s Awards on October 18.

[2] Saskatchewan’s definition of wellbeing: “Wellbeing is achieved when people are physically, emotionally and spiritually healthy; economically secure; have a strong sense of identity, belonging and place; and have the confidence and capacity to engage as citizens.”