A recently published Lowitja Institute paper arguing the need for constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as a basis for ensuring that their health needs are met has been creating waves in the blogosphere.
As reported in the December 2011 edition of Wangka Pulka, ‘Legally Invisible – How Australian Laws Impede Stewardship and Governance for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health’ found that Australian laws are failing to provide a system-wide structure to promote the health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
The Australian health blog Croakey followed up on 31 January 2012 with a post titled ‘Using Constitutional change to improve Indigenous health’, in which regular blogger Dr Enrico Brik (a pseudonym) made the similar point that current moves to recognise Australia’s First Peoples in the Constitution could make a major difference to their sense of wellbeing and acceptance.
‘… As an overall program Aboriginal health has been an almost unmitigated failure, indeed quite literally a tragic one,’ the post says. ‘It is a tragedy not simply because of its origins but because of the tolerance of it by non-Indigenous Australians and our refusal to root out the deeper causes.
‘Those causes ultimately are ones of attitude – their resolution thus can occur only by social, political and legal means; by us changing the way we look at ourselves and each other.’
On 2 February Croakey published a post from the ‘Legally Invisible’ researcher, Adjunct Associate Professor Genevieve Howse, and fellow researcher Professor Judith Dwyer, titled ‘The law is a powerful lever for improving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health’.
‘Legal invisibility of Australia’s First Peoples was an ugly beginning for their engagement with British common law and it continues to have tragic consequences for their health, but Australian jurisprudence need not continue to be a “prisoner of history”,’ the researchers say. ‘The current push for constitutional reform gives us an opportunity to establish a real basis for responsibility to provide for the health and wellbeing of our nation’s original inhabitants.’
Then, on 7 February, Croakey published a post by Aboriginal psychologist Professor Pat Dudgeon, titled ‘Putting the focus on “protective factors” for Indigenous mental health’.
‘The appalling statistics of our disadvantage is a consequence of this history and lack of recognition,’ Professor Dudgeon says. ‘As someone who has seen the toll of suicide on our young people and our families first hand, and who has researched the causes of community distress in Australia and overseas, I believe taking this big positive step forward in our nation’s founding document will help to make our communities, and especially our young ones, feel stronger.
‘Psychologists often refer to “protective factors” as things that serve as a unique reservoir of resilience for people in the face of prolonged adversity – factors that help to moderate the impact of stressful circumstances on people’s social and emotional well-being. We need to look at ways to support and increase that in our communities.
‘This is where recognising Aboriginal people in the Constitution can help. It won’t change things overnight nor will it change Indigenous disadvantage by itself. But it goes some way towards undoing a silence that is harming our people and is one of the many positive changes we need to have happen.’
To read the blogs in full, go to blogs.crikey.com.au/croakey/ and search the 2012 archive. The Lowitja Institute has also recently published a Legally Invisible Policy Brief, which can be found on the Institute’s website.