Literature review

Defining the indefinable: descriptors of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ cultures and their links to health and wellbeing

Indigenous health Cultural awareness Aboriginal Australians customs social wellbeing Indigenous mental health Australia New Zealand Canada United States of America

This review provides insights into what Indigenous peoples across the world describe as culture. However, much more knowledge is likely to be held by cultural leaders and others who have not engaged in what is often nonIndigenous-led research. This also means that what is described as culture is largely viewed through the lens of people from non-Indigenous cultures. The content of this review is not intended to be a tool to measure indigeneity or cultural proficiency for individuals or groups and should not be read or interpreted as such.

This review was undertaken at the international level but covers literature primarily written about Indigenous peoples from Aotearoa (New Zealand), Australia, Canada and the United States.

The aim of this review was to help the reader understand the cultural factors that are important to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and how these factors relate to health and wellbeing.

Key findings:

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander concepts of health are conceived of as holistic, encompassing mental, physical, cultural and spiritual health, and land is central to wellbeing. This holistic concept does not merely refer to the ‘whole body’ but is steeped in the harmonised interrelations that constitute cultural wellbeing, including spiritual, environmental, ideological, political, social, economic, mental and physical factors.
  • Country is an important connection for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. It brings an identity, a sense of belonging and a place of nurturing qualities, which, along with cultural activities conducted on Country, provide empowerment. For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, the connection/disconnection with their lands has historically resulted in a number of determinants of ill health.
  • The process of forced removal results in the destruction of culture and deprivation of songs, spiritual and cultural heritage, and spiritual connection with Country. These are known to be major contributors to the resulting intergenerational trauma and poor health and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
  • There is a positive relationship between the sustainability of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander land, language and culture on subjective emotional wellbeing. The loss of language has been linked to the loss of environmental knowledge— in particular, knowledge of local biodiversity and natural medicines.
Publication Details
2nd Edition
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