Sorry Day: one year on

Cultural attachment is key to closing the gap of indigenous disadvantatge, according to a new study. Photo: iStock

By Staff Writer

On the first anniversary of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s formal apology to the Stolen Generation, new research has found that culture is key to fixing Indigenous disadvantage stemming from assimilationist policies.

Research Associate Mike Dockery from the Centre for Labour Market Research at Curtin University Business School, analysed the 2002 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey (NATSISS) to investigate the relationship between the socio-economic wellbeing of Indigenous Australians and attachment to traditional culture.

In his paper titled Culture and wellbeing: the case of Indigenous Australians, Dr Dockery found that the policy of removing Indigenous children from their families and integrating them into white society had proven to be a “dismal failure” with a lasting negative legacy.

“The legacy of these policies is still apparent in significantly worse health status and higher incidences of arrest and alcohol abuse,” he said.

“Even though these policies were intended to accelerate the integration of Indigenous people into the mainstream economy, the results pertaining to employment outcomes suggest they had exactly the opposite effect.”

Dr Dockery said that the pursuit of ‘assimilationist’ outcomes and employment at the expense of culture had negatively impacted on the socio-economic wellbeing of Indigenous Australians, while strong attachment to Indigenous culture was “statistically associated with better outcomes across a diverse range of dimensions of socio-economic wellbeing.”

But members of the Stolen Generation and their descendants went against this trend, as they seemed to have a stronger cultural attachment. He told Government News that one possible explanation was that a re-engagement with traditional culture provided a “safety-net” for victims of the Stolen Generation.

“Exactly why that is, is something I haven’t yet been able to find,” he added.

Dr Dockery said Indigenous culture should be seen as part of the solution to indigenous disadvantage, not part of the problem.

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