Please be aware that this website may contain images, voices or names of deceased persons in the photographs, film, audio recordings or printed material.
Until the 1970s, most of the research conducted in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities were supervised by social scientists. Anthropologists were some of the first academic scholars to research Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and they did this with good intentions and a genuine concern about Aboriginal cultures being lost to Australia and the world. Many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who were part of the Stolen Generations, have used these publications as their initial starting point in trying to find their cultural heritage. 1
However, by the 1980s, there was an increase in health research in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. The Stolen Generations period has officially ended, and the health outcomes of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples became more obvious, especially through hospital separation data. 2
This in turn, led to an increasing volume of research being conducted in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. The increase in health research also coincided with several other significant changes that included:
Although the lack of control over the increasing volume of research being conducted in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities was the main driver behind AHRECs being established, there was still a need for rigorous research evidence in Aboriginal health to inform policy makers. 3 It was also essential that the research needed to be conducted in an appropriate manner that allowed Aboriginal communities to drive the agenda, be active partners in the research and acquire some benefits that will have a positive impact on their health. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations demanded they be involved in:
During this period, many researchers, when informed that they were required to submit and acquire ethical approval from an AHREC, as well as their institution or organisation, often expressed some anger or bewilderment about what was so different between the two ethics committees. Some researchers also protested about time being wasted, which put their funding at risk. Many argued that they were not aware of AHRECs or that there was a new set of NHMRC ethical guidelines about engaging Aboriginal communities. Generally, the response was that they had acquired ethical approval from their institution or organisation and had met the ethical obligations to continue their research study. This highlighted two issues: (1) researchers now having to submit an ethic application to AHREC for consideration, if their research involved Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander participants and (2) researchers understanding that the Guidelines on ethical matters in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Research (1991) was specifically about understanding and acknowledging the complex considerations necessary in the conception, design and conduct of appropriate research in Aboriginal communities. 4
1 Cowlishaw, Gillian 2015, Friend or foe? Anthropology’s encounter with Aborigines, http://insidestory.org.au/friend-or-foe-anthropologys-encounter-with-aborigines.
2 Reconciliation Australia The apology to the stolen generations, https://www.reconciliation.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/Apology-fact-sheet.pdf.
3 Chong, Alwin 2016, The past and the journey.
Chong, Alwin 2016, 'The past and the journey', in G Ayturk (ed), AHREC celebrating 30 years, Aboriginal Health Council of South Australia, Adelaide, pp. 10-15.
Cowlishaw, Gillian 2015, Friend or foe? Anthropology’s encounter with Aborigines, Inside Story, viewed 5 July 2016, http://insidestory.org.au/friend-or-foe-anthropologys-encounter-with-aborigines.
Reconciliation Australia The apology to the stolen generations, Reconciliation Australia, viewed 28 February 2020, https://www.reconciliation.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/Apology-fact-sheet.pdf.