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Strengthening culture

At the time of British colonisation there were over 250 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Countries – each had language, law and lore, as well as deep physical and spiritual connections to Country.

During the colonial years, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Culture, identity and connection to Country was decimated. Considered a ‘dying race’, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples continued to experience devastating loss of life and trauma, with the few thousands that remained being displaced to small missions. This removal was supported by church denominations, who were intent on converting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to Christianity, while their traditional lands were used for farming and the development of towns and cities.

These events caused a ripple effect for generations as the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population began to increase in number and the gap between the health, wellbeing and the social status of white Australians and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples grew wider.

These beliefs, attitudes, laws and policies remained in place until the mid to late 1900s.

In 2008, the Government, under Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, established the National Agreement on Closing the Gap with support of the Council of Australian Governments to address the current issues created by previous generations.

Today, Wellbeing SA continues to support the strengthening of Culture and identity for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as a strengths-based approach to better health and wellbeing outcomes.

The Mayi Kuwayu study outlines six Cultural Determinants which Wellbeing SA will use as a framework. For more information on the Cultural Determinants, see below.

The six cultural determinants

Connection to Country

Connection to Country links an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander person to their land or island and community in a deeply cultural and spiritual way. Culturally, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people describe themselves as being “of Country” with identity, cultural practices, systems of authority and social rules, traditions and spirituality all tied to Country.

Family, kinship and community

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander identity comes from being connected to your Country or island of origin. Identity is about knowing and being part of a community and seeing yourself as an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander person.

Cultural beliefs and knowledge

Cultural beliefs and knowledge, such as the Dreaming or dreaming stories, tell the story of creation and inform ways of living and being. Dreaming stories are reproduced through storytelling, art, ceremony, song and dance.

Cultural expression and continuity

Culture means connection to Country and community, respect for Elders, kinship and family connections, gender and age roles, identity, language, art, ceremony, spirituality and storytelling.

Language

A small number (20 out of some 200-300) of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages remained strong in 1990. Since that time, there has been a lot of language revitalisation activity occurring in some communities.

Self-determination and leadership

Self-determination and leadership in decision-making and control over life, an area or program is essential for the wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

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