Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Performance Framework (HPF) 2012

Tier 2—Community capacity—2.14 Indigenous people with access to their traditional lands

The HPF was designed to measure the impact of the National Strategic Framework for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health (NSFATSIH) and will be an important tool for developing the new National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Plan (NATSIHP).

Page last updated: 15 November 2012

Why is it important?:

Access to traditional lands can take many forms including living on traditional lands through to visiting. Loss of traditional lands has been associated with trauma, illness and poor social outcomes experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples today (Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody 1991; Northern Land Council & Central Land Council 1994). Ongoing access to traditional lands is also seen as a determinant of health (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner 2005).

Traditional kinship structures play a much more prominent role at small homelands/ outstations than at the larger centralised communities (where such structures have been damaged and distorted in the colonisation process) (Christie et al. 2004). This traditional aspect of governance contributes to the greater social cohesion, availability of social support and psychological wellbeing often associated with homelands/ outstations (Morphy 2005). Greater social cohesion has long been associated with improved health outcomes in non-Indigenous communities (Stansfeld 2006).

A study comparing the health of Aboriginal people living on homelands/ outstations in Central Australia with that of Aboriginal people living at the surrounding, larger centralised communities showed residents had significantly lower prevalence of Type 2 diabetes, hypertension and obesity, significantly lower mortality rates, and were significantly less likely to be hospitalised for any cause including infections and injury (particularly injury involving alcohol). They were also likely to live, on average, 10 years longer than residents of the centralised communities. The positive association with health was more marked among younger adults (McDermott et al. 1998).

A recent long-term study has found that health outcomes are better at Utopia, a remote Aboriginal community, relative to the NT average for Indigenous populations. Features of this community include: people living a traditional lifestyle, including hunting, on outstations away from the community store, which has led to better diet and more exercise; the community-controlled health service providing regular health care services to outstations; and the community having mastery and control over life circumstances. Residents are in control of community services and connected to culture, family and land, with the community holding freehold title to their land (Rowley et al. 2008).

Caring for country means participation in activities on traditional land, with the objective of promoting ecological, spiritual and human health (Berry et al. 2010). In central Arnhem Land it was found that participation in caring for country was associated with better health outcomes including diet, physical activity, mental health and lowered risk of diabetes, kidney disease and cardiovascular disease (Burgess et al. 2009).

A small study in the NT found a link between Indigenous cultural and natural resource management and indications of health and wellbeing such as lower levels of the precursors of cardiovascular disease and diabetes (Garnett et al. 2007).

Findings:

In 2008, approximately 72% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples aged 15 years and over reported that they recognised their homeland or traditional country. Approximately 25% reported they lived on their homelands, 45% did not live on homelands but were allowed to visit, and less than one per cent were not allowed to visit their homeland/ traditional country.

Those who lived in remote areas (44%) were more likely than those in non-remote areas (19%) to live on homelands/ traditional country. The majority of Indigenous Australians who recognised, but did not live on homelands, were allowed to visit (41% of those in remote areas and 46% of those in non-remote areas).

Being able to visit homelands is associated with identifying with a clan or language group, providing support to relatives outside the household and speaking an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander language. It is also associated with low to moderate levels of psychological distress, not having a disability or long-term health condition and being employed (see measure 1.13).

Implications:

While evidence from research studies lends support to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to return to live on their traditional country, for many people this is no longer an option, particularly in south-eastern Australia. In this situation, occasional and infrequent visits may be the only realistic possibility. An emerging body of literature is improving knowledge about how relationships with Country are maintained by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples living in urban and metropolitan centres, and the effects of these relationships on health, wellbeing, cultural expression, heritage and education (AIATSIS 2009).Top of Page
Figure 119—Access to homelands/traditional country, by remoteness area, Indigenous Australians aged 15 years and over*, 2008
Figure 119—Access to homelands/traditional country, by remoteness area, Indigenous Australians aged 15 years and over*, 2008
*Excludes ‘Not known’ responses
Source: AIHW analysis of 2008 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey
Top of Page
Figure 120—Self-assessed health status by whether Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people recognised/did not recognise homelands/traditional country, 2008
Figure 120—Self-assessed health status by whether Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people recognised/did not recognise homelands/traditional country, 2008
Source: AIHW analysis of 2008 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey
Top of Page
Figure 121—Presence of neighbourhood/community problems by whether Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people recognised/did not recognise homelands/traditional country, 2008
Figure 121—Presence of neighbourhood/community problems by whether Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people recognised/did not recognise homelands/traditional country, 2008
Source: AIHW analysis of 2008 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey
Top of Page