Inside-out Approaches to Promoting Aboriginal Australian Wellbeing: Evidence From a Decade of Community-based Participatory Research

By Roxanne Bainbridge, Janya McCalman, Komla Tsey and Cath Brown.

Published by The International Journal of Health, Wellness and Society

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Article: Electronic $US5.00

Much documentation exists regarding the causes and contemporary circumstances of Aboriginal Australian health; measurements of compromised health and wellbeing are abundant and long-standing. However, there is little published evidence-based research that captures the intricacies of the processes involved in promoting initiatives to enhance Aboriginal health and wellbeing. Advocacy by international development and aid communities over recent decades has supported ecological bottom-up solutions, including participatory and empowerment strategies to promote sustainable social development and change. In reality, the approach represents a major challenge to implement. This presentation illustrates the approach taken by a multi-disciplinary research team in Far North Queensland, Australia. Over the past decade, the research team has operationalised an Aboriginal-developed empowerment education program at the personal/family, group/organisational and community/structural levels to reveal what capacity the program holds in contributing toward improving the social determinants of health and wellbeing for Aboriginal people. The paper relates how perceptions of control and choice in life play an important influential role in addressing the social determinants of health. It shares some important reflections from the field and communicates the importance of strengths-based approaches to working with Aboriginal partners. Discussed in particular is how researchers’ expertise can be relevant to Indigenous community priorities, people’s daily lives, needs and aspirations.

Keywords: Aboriginal Australians, Community-based Participatory Research, Empowerment and Control, Health and Wellbeing, Social Determinants of Health

The International Journal of Health, Wellness and Society, Volume 1, Issue 2, pp.13-28. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 893.022KB).

Dr. Roxanne Bainbridge

Senior Research Officer, School of Education, The Cairns Institute, James Cook University, Cairns, Queensland, Australia

Roxanne Bainbridge has family ties to the Gungarri and Kunja nations from South West Queensland. She is employed in the Empowerment Research Program (Education for Social Sustainability) located in The Cairns Institute at James Cook University, Australia. Roxanne holds a Research Fellowship with the Australian Research Council. Current projects include the development of a whole-of-community approach to engagement into education for Aboriginal learners; the development of a model of palliative care pathways for remote-dwelling Aboriginal people living with end-stage renal disease; and the development of a community social and emotional wellbeing action plan. Roxanne’s particular research interests lie in expanding empowerment education across the developmental pathways of Aboriginal children. Her PhD was in the field of Aboriginal women’s agency.

Janya McCalman

Senior Research Officer, School of Education, The Cairns Institute, James Cook University, Cairns, Queensland, Australia

Janya McCalman is a Senior Research Officer with the School of Education and The Cairns Institute at James Cook University in Cairns. She has made a major contribution to the Empowerment Research Program since 2003. She is undertaking a Ph.D. exploring the success factors for adapting and transferring Aboriginal empowerment programs across contexts. This will contribute to a better understanding the effectiveness of empowerment approaches towards improving the social determinants of Indigenous Australian health and wellbeing.

Prof. Komla Tsey

Tropical Leader, Education for Social Sustainability, School of Education, The Cairns Institute, James Cook University, Cairns, Queensland, Australia

Komla Tsey was born and educated in Ghana. He studied for a Ph.D. at Glasgow University, Scotland, from 1982-1986, then returned to the University of Ghana where he developed research partnerships with rural development associations aimed at improving the availability and access to facilities such as schools, health services, water and sanitation, income generation, and electrification for rural communities. Since the 1990’s Komla has been living and working in Australia where he continues to undertake longitudinal studies of community development projects. Since 2001, Komla has been the Program Leader for a 10-year program of empowerment research involving James Cook University, the University of Queensland and over a dozen community organisations and other government agencies. Komla has an extensive interdisciplinary research interests which include the social determinants of human wellbeing; macro public policies and local community initiatives that promote social inclusion and equity; adult education, community development, empowerment, engagement and social participatory strategies and Indigenous spirituality, resilience and wellbeing.

Cath Brown

Research Officer, School of Education, The Cairns Institute, James Cook University, Cairns, Queensland, Australia

Cath Brown is a Noonuccal woman from Quandamooka country [North Stradbroke Island] off Brisbane. She has been working with Indigenous Training Programs for 12 years. In 2007 she took up a Research Officer position working at James Cook University School of Indigenous Australian Studies Empowerment Research program. Most of her duties are around Project Coordination/Management of several large and small projects including the National Suicide Prevention Strategy & Capacity Building in the Lower Gulf. One of her duties with this and other projects is the facilitation of an Aboriginal training program called Family Wellbeing, an accredited program which aims to explore the role and contribution that concepts of empowerment and control can make towards better understanding and addressing the social determinants of Indigenous Australian health and wellbeing. Recently this year she graduated from Post Graduate Diploma of Indigenous Health Promotion at Sydney University.