Oral Presentation Lowitja Institute International Indigenous Health and Wellbeing Conference 2016

‘Culture is a health asset’: How and why we need to measure the cultural determinants of health and wellbeing for Indigenous peoples (#29)

Ray Lovett 1 , Joanne N Luke 2 , Emily J Munro-Harrison 2 , Rachel Reilly 3 , Lisa Thorpe 4 , Raelene Nixon 2 5 , Sheree Cairney 6 , Siv Kvernmo 2 7 , Jasmine G Lyons 2
  1. National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health, Research School of Population Health, The Australian National University, Canberra, ACT, Australia
  2. Onemda Health Group, Indigenous Health Equity Unit, The University of Melbourne, Melbourne, VIC, Australia
  3. Wardliparingga Aboriginal Research Group, South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute, Adelaide, SA, Australia
  4. Bubup Wilam for Early Learning Aboriginal Child and Family Centre, Melbourne, VIC, Australia
  5. Rural Health Academic Centre, University of Melbourne, Shepparton, VIC, Australia
  6. Ninti One: The Cooperative Research Centre for Remote Economic Participation, Centre for Remote Health, Flinders University and Charles Darwin University, Alice Springs, NT, Australia
  7. University of Tromsø - The Arctic University of Norway, Tromsø, Norway

Unlike the economic and social determinants of health, which are well researched and widely accepted, cultural determinants of health and wellbeing are an emerging concept in research. The protective aspects of culture represent an important part of the Indigenous holistic view of health, and an avenue for both prevention and healing. On an academic level, measuring, defining and exploring ‘cultural determinants of health’ present many challenges: it is a complex, multidisciplinary concept that traverses epidemiology, psychology, sociology, anthropology and history. Moreover, Indigenous understandings of culture are understandably diverse, reflecting the lived experiences of different Indigenous populations, within Australia and internationally. Despite this, the need to incorporate cultural determinants into Indigenous health research is vital and has potential to provide valuable insights into how community strengths enable better health outcomes. But to what extent are our existing research methods capturing this complex, but powerful, influence?

Our presentation will reflect on the practices and experiences that shape culture and identity among Indigenous individuals’ communities, nations and nationhood and how these impact positively on health. We will discuss commonalities across different Indigenous cultures and how they can be utilised to improve health and wellbeing. We will also explore how processes of racism, assimilation and colonisation serve to undermine these relationships. We will speak to possibilities of current research methods exploring cultural determinants and discuss how emerging research methods are being employed to capture the core features of, and nuances within, culture. Finally, we will be presenting some preliminary results from cross-sectional and longitudinal studies that examine aspects of Aboriginal culture, identity, health and wellbeing outcomes.

Contributors to the presentation comprise Aboriginal, Sami and non-Indigenous researchers and practitioners, who will bring a wealth of diverse personal and research experience to this discussion. We anticipate our presentation, and subsequent discussion, will inform and guide future research practice, including upcoming Indigenous-led longitudinal studies.