Sixteen aspiring Aboriginal researchers are the latest to graduate from the Aboriginal Health Council of South Australia’s Certificate IV in Indigenous Research Capacity Building, a nationally accredited course supported and part-funded by the Lowitja Institute along with Flinders University and James Cook University. The graduation was celebrated on a beautiful summer evening in December 2011, cruising up Adelaide’s Port River on the Port Princess Dolphin Cruise.
This joyous end to the course does not undermine the seriousness of the project that the class undertook, investigating effective mechanisms for supporting Aboriginal workers during grief and loss. Their study found that the experience of grief and loss is just one more burden that contributes to the unacceptable gap in life expectancy, health, educational and employment outcomes for Aboriginal people when compared with other Australians.
The study also confirmed that because funerals carry considerable cultural significance within Aboriginal communities, and also because of the high mortality rate and large extended families, Aboriginal people attend more funerals than the general population. Particular responsibilities are placed on family members based on their relationship with the deceased, before, during and after the funeral, and attending to those obligations can help in the grieving process.
This heavy burden of grief on Aboriginal employees can be relieved or intensified in the workplace, depending upon the kinds of supports offered to them. Aboriginal community controlled workplaces appear to have well-thought-out policies and offer more generous entitlements and flexibility regarding bereavement leave than do government and non-government sectors. Aboriginal staff reported that having non-judgmental and understanding colleagues and managers, and flexible interpretations of bereavement leave entitlements, contributed to their feelings of cultural safety in the workplace.
Two of the recommendations from the project were:
- Reviewing organisational policies and guidelines regarding bereavement leave entitlements, in consultation with staff, to ensure that Aboriginal staff receive appropriate support and that the workplace is culturally safe; and
- Funding for research to investigate ways of developing Aboriginal community resilience in dealing with ongoing loss and grief.
We congratulate the course graduates and hope that future research projects and organisations will provide them with opportunities to hone and develop their research skills. To find out more about the Certificate IV course, and how to enrol, contact Merridy Malin at the Aboriginal Health Council of SA on +61 8 8273 7217 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo: Eleven of the graduates with their teachers Jerry Moller and Merridy Malin.