Essay: Aboriginal Health and Health Professionals

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Aboriginal Health

The colonisation of Australia is a prime example of the rampant disregard for those who are other than us. The dominance of the British demonstrates fully the concept of ethnocentrism, often fostered by a xenophobic fear of the Aboriginal people whose natural perspective and total lack of a sovereign government made their land fair game for the legal concept of terra nullius. This principal allowed the British to establish a government and take over land because no one had ever filled out the paperwork to do so before. These initial conditions consisting of the complete disregard for the existing Aboriginal culture and the dignity of their people as well as a total emasculation of any form of familial rule and tribal control have left a stain on the way in which these people are treated even to this day. It is this stain that has blemished the health of the Aborigines and it is only recently that time and attitudes have changed enough to try and right this wrong. (Refer to Appendix I for a comparative chart)

The history of the colonisation of the Australia continent by white Europeans has had a tremendous impact on the culture, psychology and overall health of the Aboriginals. 'The process of colonisation and dispossession led to the development of cattle stations, mines, mission stations and reserves. These developments have strongly influenced the patterns of settlement of Indigenous people in Australia today.' (Carson, Dunbar, Chenhall, and Bailie 2007:224) When the British began to establish colonies in here they insinuate the white privilege of their own culture into the continent. Their ideas about families and familial relationships were at odds with the cultural traditions of the native Australians. The concepts that Aboriginal held dear were patently dismissed as vulgar and uncivilised. Since kinship was the basic organising principle amongst the Aborigines and in a very real sense the only government they had, stripping them of it made them powerless and has completely and utterly unravelled their social structure.

The impact of British colonisation was severe and Indigenous connections to the land and kinship systems were ignored. The establishment of reserves for Aboriginal people dates back to the early nineteenth century whereby remnants of tribes and clans were forcibly removed and placed under the control of either colonial governments or missionary organizations (Germov and Poole 2007: 134)

Beginning in 1788, the colonisation of Australia exposed the Aboriginal people to an onslaught of socio-economic, political and cultural influences that led to extremely rapid and quite distressing psychosocial change to the people as well as environmental displacement and shock. 'Such change was marked by a series of specific policy areas including segregation/protection, assimilation, integration, self-determination and self-management.' (Eckermann 1999: 5). These policies were firmly based and their foundations supported by current scientific theory that bred a particularly malicious form of institutional racism. This scientific racism assisted the Empire in justifying the dispossession and geographic alienation of the indigenous population. Darwin's evolutionary theory was key to an early conception of the Aboriginal people who were perceived as good examples of an earlier less evolved from of mankind. In the 1920s evolutionism was replaced with structural functionalism, which focused on the different parts of a society, the interrelationships between these parts and how they work to maintain equilibrium within a system. In Australia, this meant a shift from studying racial characteristics of 'primitive man' to studying the cultural characteristics of Indigenous societies. One of the leading figures within this tradition in Australia was a.P. Elkin, whose work was very influential in indigenous policy development. However, most attention was paid to 'traditional' culture and 'full-blood' Aboriginal people. Changes in Indigenous communities due to the political and economic forces of colonisation were largely ignored. As government control extended, institutional racism became inbred in schools and in employment practices as well. (Eckermann 1999; Anderson and Whyte 2006)

Australia has been characterised as a settler-colonial state in which the relation between the state and Indigenous peoples is based on dispossession of Indigenous peoples from their natural and cultural resources, and management of colonised peoples through settler administrative systems that articulate Indigenous peoples with the institutional structures of the settler-colonial state. (Anderson and Whyte 2006: 4)

The Aborigines of Australia, similar to other disadvantaged populations tend to live in poor housing conditions and have poor health care. 'The history of colonisation and the relationship of people to their land add to the significance of housing conditions as a determinant of health for Indigenous Australians.' (Carson, Dunbar, Chenhall, and Bailie 2007:204) the sheer size of the Australian continent, coupled with the high proportion of Aborigines living in urban areas results in the isolation of many of these communities. This makes health and housing issues particularly difficult in these areas.

People living in rural and remote locations have: poorer access to healthy food, higher rates of obesity compared with populations in metropolitan locations higher rates of suicide among men, especially young men, compared with metropolitan populations. Poorer access to all types of health services, including emergency and specialist services, than people in metropolitan locations. (Lin, Smith, Fawkes, Robinson and Chaplin 2007:346)

In 2001 Aborigines were found to be 31% more likely to be obese as compared with 16% of non-Indigenous Australians. (O'Brien 2003) Rural and Island Aboriginals often have little access to varieties of foods as well as access to communication with media and governmental agencies. Fortunately the policy cycle system also re-evaluated this issue and created a strategy specifically aimed at this group. 'The National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Nutrition Strategy and Action Plan (NATSINSAP) is the indigenous component of the Australian national public health nutrition strategy, Building a Healthy Active Australia' (Lawrence and Worsley 2007:194). The purpose of the strategy is to ensure national co-ordination and co-operation across the country, and to build on existing efforts to make healthy food choices easier for Aboriginal Australians experience a greater burden of Ill health and have a substantially shorter life expectancy than non-Aboriginal Australians. Aboriginal people also have much lower levels of access to primary health care services & #8230;[this] is strongly correlated to the inequtable distribution of the general practitioner workforce in Australia. ( Rosewarne & Boffa 2004: 89)

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, irrespective of where they live. The seven key priority areas for action identified in the strategy and action plan are: food supply in remote and rural communities, food security and socioeconomic status, family focused nutrition promotion, nutrition issues in urban areas, the environment and household infrastructure, aboriginal and Torres strait islander nutrition workforce, national food and nutrition information systems. (Lawrence and Worsley 2007:194-5).

Substance misuse is also a prime concern among Aboriginal communities and many feel that this is another part of impact of colonisation on these indigenous people. Tied in with governmental and cultural issues of racism, discrimination, alcohol prohibition as well as the breakdown of Aboriginal culture, dispossession, and the fragmentation of entire communities. 'Colonisation was a period of dispossession, oppression, conflict and violence and occurred at a time of traumatic social change causing much distress for Indigenous Australians.' (Bacon 2007: 71)

Another result of colonisation is the effect that many Aboriginal men have lost their leadership roles, which gave them status, dignity, and self-esteem. The empowerment of Aboriginal men is considered by many as important an issue as Aboriginal women's empowerment. The Health and Well-being of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Males, is an organisation that assists Indigenous males in establishing their own health strategies and agendas. This policy also advocates collaborative partnerships among communities as well as government and non-government health organisations. (Mcdonald, Arabena and Henderson 2006: 10)

The Assimilation Policy which began in the early 1900 and virtually began to wipe out much of the indigenous culture, began to take its tool on education in its later application. In the 1940's and 1950's Aboriginal children began to enter mainstream schools.

Like most western education systems attempting to cope with the needs and aspirations of culturally different children, Australian schools were, at the time, deeply influenced by the deficit model of education which squarely placed the 'blame' for minority group children's poor educational attainments on their socialisation, family patterns, cultural traditions and socio-economic situation. (Eckermann 1999:5)

This educational model is still a potent influence in Aboriginal education today and directly affects teachers' philosophies and strategies and still inhibits any cross-cultural educational practices.

The road ahead for the health and well-being of the indigenous population of Australia is still long and perilous. But in today's hopefully more enlightened scientific and cultural perspectives and sensitivities, there may still be hope. After all, since two hundred years following the colonisation of Australia in the late eighteenth century, the known age of the Earth has increased from what was originally thought to be only 6,000 years to now 4.6 billion. 'Darwin's theory of the transmutation of species linked humans and other animals, and a hierarchical progression of cultural stages based on technological differences was sketched for human races.' (Griffiths… [END OF PREVIEW]

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"Aboriginal Health and Health Professionals."  Essaytown.com.  October 29, 2009.  Accessed July 17, 2019.
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