A new discussion paper, Indigenous Nation Building and the Political Determinants of Health and Wellbeing, has been published by the Lowitja Institute in partnership with Jumbunna Institute for Indigenous Education and Research at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS).
Led by Professor Daryle Rigney, a citizen of the Ngarrindjeri Nation, the paper demonstrates that self-governance and self-determination through nation building results in improved health outcomes for Indigenous peoples.
In the article below, Adjunct Professor Janine Mohamed, CEO of the Lowitja Institute, and Senior Policy Officer Jessica Szwarcbord urge support for nation building projects and for full implementation of the Uluru Statement.
Janine Mohamed and Jessica Szwarcbord write:
Those working in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health sector have always known that politics cannot be separated from health. Our peoples have a holistic, collectivist worldview.
We understand that individual and collective health and social and emotional wellbeing relates to cultural, social, and political determinants and that health and wellbeing sit within a complex constellation of factors that cannot be separated.
A new paper, Indigenous Nation Building, and the Political Determinants of Health and Wellbeing, published this week by the Lowitja Institute, explores the inextricable links between our collective and individual health and wellbeing, our governance, self-determination and nation building as First Nations Peoples.
The Lowitja Institute, the National Health Leadership Forum (NHLF) and the Aboriginal community-controlled health sector have been driving the national conversation about social and cultural determinants of health and pushing for policy development for many years.
The strong advocacy and leadership from the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health sector facilitated the recognition and inclusion of the cultural, social and political determinants of health into the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Plan 2021-2023 (Health Plan).
Another success of the sector’s advocacy was the explicit inclusion of Nation Building in objective 1.2. The objective calls for mechanisms that support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander nation building. This clear and firm inclusion into national health policy acknowledges and elevates the critical role that nation building plays in our health and wellbeing outcomes.
To understand why this is a milestone, it’s necessary to contextualise this within the history of the past 234 years since colonisation and within the international Indigenous nation building movement, which has been building momentum for decades.
The new discussion paper, co-authored by Professor Daryle Rigney from the Jumbunna Institute for Indigenous Education and Research at the University of Technology in Sydney, highlights the growing evidence that Indigenous nation building improves health and wellbeing outcomes for our peoples.
Our communities have always known that political factors influence our health and wellbeing. We have always known empowerment is vital to community wellbeing. And we’ve always known that one of the most significant impacts on our health and wellbeing came from the dismantling of our nations by colonisation. (The quote below comes from page three of the new discussion paper).
It is important to recognise that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Elders and leaders have always been nation builders.
Prior to colonisation, Indigenous peoples had complex sovereign systems of law and lore, which governed relationships within and amongst First Nations. These systems and structures were systematically and intentionally dismantled by the colonial settler-state.
Consequently, contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders are best thought of as nation rebuilders.”
Our leadership is a powerful tool for healing our communities and supporting our individual and collective health and wellbeing.
Our leadership looks different from dominant cultural concepts of leadership because it comes from our unique worldviews and ways of knowing, being, and doing. Our leadership is consensus-building, community-focused; it is not about the individual and is not an exercise in coercive power.
In the Close the Gap Campaign Report 2021, the Lowitja Institute highlighted the strength of our leadership across the health sector. The power of our leadership was shown in our swift and effective crisis responses to COVID-19, our communities’ leadership in climate change solutions, and in the sector’s development of effective and culturally centred health programs and services.
The Close the Gap Campaign Report 2022, also authored by the Lowitja Institute, discussed the need for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander-led transformation. Our leadership is required to forge effective partnerships. Taking a step back, our wisdom is vital to understanding what partnership relationships look like in the first place.
We need a new base for relationship-building between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and Australia’s federal, state, territory and local governments. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander nation building is this foundation; support for and celebration of this project and the explicit recognition of the political determinants of health by non-Indigenous Australians will help cement it.
For this reason, the new Federal Labor Government’s commitment to fully implementing the Uluru Statement from the Heart gives great hope.
Our nations may have been disrupted 234 years ago, but they were never broken. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander nation-building will support our nations to build further, redefine and rediscover self-governance, and achieve greater self-determination at local, state, territory, and national levels – to exercise our political determinants.
The most powerful action that non-Indigenous allies can do at this critical point is to support our nation building projects and push for full implementation of the Uluru Statement. That is a Constitutionally enshrined voice to Parliament, a Treaty that recognises the sovereignty and self-determination of our diverse nations, and a Makarrata, or truth-telling Commission.
Now is the time for us to harness and centre nation building within communities to influence national health policy and strengthen healthy futures for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
See Croakey’s archive of articles on the cultural determinants of health
(Declaration by Croakey Health Media: The discussion paper was co-edited by Croakey Professional Services.)