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Recognise the importance of culture for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples – 52 weeks of the year

“There are close to 500 million indigenous peoples the world over and if you think of the collective wisdom that represents that is extraordinary, why wouldn’t we be drawing on that in order how we progress as people?”
Professor Ngiare Brown, of the Yuin nation.

In her final report from the Healing Foundation’s recent Cultural Solutions forum, Summer May Finlay takes a broader look at the importance of Culture for the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples.

***

Summer May Finlay writes:

NAIDOC week is coming to a close. The nation has had a focus on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples over this week.

As Peoples we have celebrated our successes with the awards at the National NAIDOC Ball on the Gold Coast. 

In the other 51 weeks we still need to understand the role Culture plays in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

This was the focus of the Healing Foundation’s recent public forum, Cultural Solutions: Understanding Suicide.

While suicide was the focus of the forum,  the role of Culture in our health and wellbeing is important to improving health outcomes more broadly.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Culture is the oldest continuing living Culture. It is our Culture, which helps us survive today. Culture is the key to our ongoing health and wellbeing.

This is why the Healing Foundation, through the National Health Leadership Forum, a collective of 11 national health bodies, advocated for Culture to be central to the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Plan (NATSIHP).

The NATSIHP was developed by the previous Labor Government and was launched in July last year. The inclusion of Culture in the NATSIHP is significant because on a national level its importance has been recognised.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples have always recognised the importance of Culture. It is why, despite the policies of assimilation since invasion, we have been fighting those very policies.

Professor Ngiare Brown, a panellist at the public forum, believes that Culture is important for maintaining Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples’ health and wellbeing. She also believes we need to have a better understanding of the cultural determinants of health.

“Cultural determinants perspective is very much about a strength-based, approach so how we are protecting, revitalising and promoting Cultural concepts, cultural knowledge, Indigenous intellectual property,” she said.

Professors Brown’s views are supported by the research finings of Emeritus Professor Michael Chandler. Professor Chandler was the keynote speaker at The Healing Foundation’s forum, and is one of the most internationally eminent academics in the field of Indigenous social and emotional wellbeing and suicide prevention. 

His research, over the last three decades, has focused on why some Aboriginal communities in Canada have few or no suicides. In his research, he tried to marry together both the study of Culture and the study of individuals.

“The deep line theoretical concern on my part is that we have created, the ‘we’ in this case is the Western academic and intellectual and scholarly community, have created a dichotomous view in which selves and societies as seen to be opposite sides of a coin,” he said.

“That sort of dichotomy, that criss-crosses our intellectual landscape, is a stumbling block to trying to have an understanding of issues, like the Cultural issues face indigenous individuals.

“I set out some decades ago in search of concepts that somehow had traction in both the conceptual world of people who study individuals and individuals selves but also people who study whole groups of communities and societies and cultures. At least one of these candidate notions is the notion of Continuity.”

His research found that in communities, which had few to no suicides, there was a strong sense of “Cultural Continuity”.  

What his research suggests, in an Australian context, is individuals and communities whose histories are valued will have better health outcomes.

Here in Australia, and as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples we should be focusing our efforts on understanding the strengths of communities who are doing well rather than looking at the deficits of those who are not.

Understanding the problems is no good unless there is also an understanding of solutions.

Professor Brown said: “Our Elders they are the vessels and keepers of our traditional knowledge and we need to keep that stuff alive. So how do we then incorporate all those different threads into a whole again?”

Let’s move toward being whole, rather than focus on individual health issues.

• Summer May Finlay is a Yorta Yorta woman who grew up on Lake Macquarie. She has a Bachelor of Social Science and a Masters of Public Health, and has worked in Aboriginal affairs, in a range of capacities, for 10 years. She tweets as @OnTopicAus and has a blog, On Topic which you can read at http://summermayfinlay.blogspot.com.au. You can read more about her at The Guardian.

***

Resources

  • The National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Plan can be found here.
  • The National Health Leadership Forum submission to the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Plan here.
  • Details of the Cultural Solutions: Understanding Suicide can be found here

*****

For help or more information

For people who may be experiencing sadness or trauma, please visit these links to services and support

• If you are depressed or contemplating suicide, help is available at Lifeline on 131 114 or online. Alternatively you can call the Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467.

• For young people 5-25 years, call kids help line 1800 55 1800

• For resources on social and emotional wellbeing and mental health services in Aboriginal Australia, see here.

***

Croakey’s coverage of the Cultural Solutions forum is compiled here.

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