Culture and wellbeing: the case of Indigenous Australians

Aboriginal Australians Australia

A recurring theme in the debate surrounding Indigenous affairs in Australia is a tension between maintenance of Indigenous culture and the achievement of ‘equity’ in socioeconomic outcomes: essentially ‘self-determination’ versus ‘assimilation’. Implicit in this tension is the view that attachment to traditional culture and lifestyles is a hindrance to the achievement of ‘mainstream’ economic goals.

This paper argues the need for a renewed focus on the wellbeing of Indigenous Australians, and for empirical evidence on the link between culture and socio-economic wellbeing instead of ideological debate. Using data from National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey, a strong attachment to traditional culture is found to enhance outcomes across a range of socioeconomic indicators. This suggests Indigenous culture should be viewed as a potential part of the solution to Indigenous disadvantage in Australia, and not as part of the problem.

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