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2.14 Indigenous people with access to their traditional lands

Why is it important?

Connection to family and community, land and sea, culture and identity has been identified as integral to health from an Aboriginal perspective (NAHSWP 1989). As stated by Anderson: 'Our identity as human beings remains tied to our land, to our cultural practices, our systems of authority and social control, our intellectual traditions, our concepts of spirituality, and to our systems of resources ownership and exchange. Destroy this relationship and you damage—sometimes irrevocably— individual human beings and their health' (1996:15). Ongoing access to traditional lands also offers socio-political, economic and environmental benefits (Weir et al. 2011). Analysis of 2008 Social Survey data found a clear association between cultural attachment and positive socio-economic outcomes and wellbeing (Dockery 2011).

For many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, disconnection from Country is considered a form of homelessness. Likewise many people are less likely to perceive themselves as homeless, regardless of the adequacy of their dwelling, if they are on Country (ABS 2014h).

Access to traditional lands is not only a determinant of health in remote contexts where Indigenous Australians are more likely to have ownership and control over their Country; it is also a determinant of health for those living in non-remote and urban areas. Research in Victoria has found the role of Country in strengthening self-esteem, self-worth, pride, cultural and spiritual connection and positive states of wellbeing (Kingsley et al. 2013).

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, a cross-sectional study of almost 300 Indigenous adults aged 15–54 years applied multivariate analysis to control for socio-economic characteristics and health behaviours and 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).

Findings

In 2012–13, 73% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults reported that they recognised their homeland or traditional country. A quarter (25%) reported they lived on their homelands, 46% did not live on homelands but were allowed to visit, and less than one per cent were not allowed to visit their homelands/traditional country.

Indigenous Australians in the 45–54 year age group were more likely to recognise their homelands than those in the 18–24 year age group (75% compared with 60%). Note that 14% of Indigenous Australians reported they had been removed from their family, and 40% reported that they had relatives removed from their family. People who were removed from their family were less likely to live on homelands/ traditional country (24%) compared with those who were not removed from their family (25%). This was also the case for people who had a relative removed from their family (22% lived on homelands/ traditional country compared with 27% who did not have a relative taken away).

Those who lived in remote areas (46%) were more likely than those in non-remote areas (19%) to live on homelands/traditional country. Many of those who recognised, but did not live on homelands, were allowed to visit (42% of those in remote areas and 47% of those in non-remote areas).

The 2012–13 Health Survey provides opportunities to analyse relationships between access to lands and other factors. The analysis outlined below summarises the associations found in the data and further multivariate analysis is needed to explore the complex interactions between these issues. Compared with those who do not recognise homelands, those who lived on homelands/traditional country were less likely to have completed Year 12 (18% compared with 30%), to be employed (22% compared with 29%), or be able to raise $2000 in a week (19% compared with 32%). However, living on homelands was also associated with having no current long-term health condition (23%) compared to those who did not recognise homelands (15%). Those living on homelands were less likely to report having a disability; particularly a profound, severe or moderate core activity limitation (11%) compared to those who did not recognise homelands/traditional country (14%). Those living on homelands were more likely to report having a low/ moderate level of psychological distress (75%) compared with those who did not recognise homelands (71%).

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who do not recognise homelands/traditional country are less likely to report experiencing family stressors than those who do recognise homelands (32% compared with 22% reported no family stressors). People who recognised homelands were more likely than those who do not recognise homelands to report community safety related stressors (38% compared with 29%), death of a family member or close friend (42% compared with 25%) and overcrowding at home (11% compared with 7%). There was no significant difference between those who recognised homelands and those who did not for health-related stressors.

Implications

While the evidence suggests there are health benefits in connections to Country and culture, for many people living on Country is not an option, particularly in non-remote areas. In this situation, visits may be the only realistic possibility.

Indigenous Land Corporation data show that in April 2014, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples collectively owned or controlled 16% of land in Australia, with most of this land (98%) in very remote areas. Nationally in 2013, Native Title had been determined to exist in 21% of Australia (up from 5% in 2004) and registered Indigenous Land Use Agreements covered 24% of Australia.

Figure 2.14-1 Access to homelands/traditional country, by remoteness area, Indigenous Australians aged 18 years and over(a), 2012–13
Access to homelands/traditional country

Figure 2.14-1 shows the proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples aged 15 years and over who had access to homelands/traditional country in 2012–13. Data is presented on the proportion of people who recognise and live on homelands/traditional country; who recognise and are allowed to visit homelands/traditional country; who recognise but are not allowed to visit homelands/traditional country; and who do not recognise homelands/traditional country. Refer to the findings section of this measure for a description of key results found in this figure.

a) Excludes 'not known' responses

Source: ABS and AIHW analysis of 2012–13 AATSIHS

Figure 2.14-2 Highest year of school completed by whether Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people recognised/did not recognise homelands/traditional country, 2012–13
psychological distress(a)

Figure 2.14-2 shows the proportions of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with year 12 or year 9 or below as highest year of school completed by those who recognise and live on homelands/traditional country; who recognise and are allowed to visit homelands/traditional country but do not live there; and who do not recognise homelands/traditional country. Refer to the findings section of this measure for a description of key results found in this figure.

Source: ABS and AIHW analysis of 2012–13 AATSIHS

Figure 2.14-3 Psychological distress(a) by whether Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people recognised/did not recognise homelands/traditional country, 2012–13
long term health conditions

Figure 2.14-3 shows the levels of psychological distress using Kessler 5 (low/moderate or high/very high) of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who recognise and live on homelands/traditional country; who recognise and are allowed to visit homelands/traditional country but do not live there; and who do not recognise homelands/traditional country. Refer to the findings section of this measure for a description of key results found in this figure.

(a) Kessler 5

Source: ABS and AIHW analysis of 2012–13 AATSIHS

Figure 2.14-4 Long-term health conditions by whether Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people recognised/did not recognise homelands/traditional country, 2012–13
highest year of school completed

Figure 2.14-4 shows the proportions of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with no currently long term health condition or three or more long term health conditions by those who recognise and live on homelands/traditional country; who recognise and are allowed to visit homelands/traditional country but do not live there; and who do not recognise homelands/traditional country. Refer to the findings section of this measure for a description of key results found in this figure.

Source: ABS and AIHW analysis of 2012–13 AATSIHS