“In recent years, interest in understanding the relationship between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ cultures and how culture relates to health and wellbeing has been growing. The first step in understanding this relationship is to identify what is described in the literature as ‘culture’ and then to describe how the literature reports the relationship between culture and health and wellbeing.
Some people argue that culture is not definable or that it is intangible. However, all people are born into and grow, work and live within a culture or cultures. Cultures are maintained or modified when they are passed on and are reinforced and practised in both specific and general situations.
The many definitions encompass culture- specific knowledge, attitudes, beliefs and behaviours (including within cultural variations according to rules), and all human life is culturally bound.
Much work in epidemiology and public health focuses on the presence (or absence) of disease and not on the culture within which illness and wellbeing manifest.
We need to understand both wellbeing and culture to have effective public health. “
From the publication Mayi_Kuwayu and Lowitja Institute Defining the Indefinable : Continued Part 1
In Australia, limited data establish or define the relationship between health, wellbeing and culture and the mechanisms through which Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural determinants impact health and wellbeing.
There is increasing attention on the relationship between culture, health and wellbeing in this population.
The authors conducted this literature review as preliminary work for the Mayi Kuwayu Study—Mayi Kuwayu broadly means “to follow Aboriginal people over a long time” in Ngiyampaa language (language of the Wongaibon people of New South Wales, Australia).
The aim was to help us understand the cultural factors that are important to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and how these factors relate to health and wellbeing.
The authors examined the Australian literature, as well as literature from countries that have experienced colonisation events similar to those of Australia— primarily Aotearoa (New Zealand), Canada and the United States.
Part 1 Introduction continued from opening
This work stems from the desire of many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to achieve that understanding in order to improve our health. Culture (the maintenance, revitalising, embracing, nurturing and growth of it) is important to our happiness and wellbeing and for improving health outcomes.
This review provides insights into what Indigenous peoples across the world describe as culture. However, much more knowledge is likely to be held by cultural leaders and others who have not engaged in what is often non-
Indigenous-led research. This also means that what is described as culture is largely viewed through the lens of people from non-Indigenous cultures. The content of this review is not intended to be a tool to measure indigeneity or cultural proficiency for individuals or groups and should not be read or interpreted as such.
The Lowitja Institute Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health CRC funded this review under project 16- SDH-0503. Our aims were to identify from the literature the broad domains (and additional sub-domains) of Indigenous peoples’ cultures and describe how these relate to health and, more broadly, wellbeing.
We mainly restricted our review to literature published between 1990 and 2017 and used an iterative search process that initially returned many thousands of results from five online databases and through hand searching. We included grey literature to ensure as much material as possible was included.
We identified six broad, frequently cited cultural domains or themes, each with a number of sub-domains (see ‘Summary of cultural indicators’ at the end of Chapter 3). The broad domains were:
- Connection to Country
- Indigenous beliefs and knowledge
- Indigenous language
- Family, kinship and community
- Cultural expression and continuity
- Self-determination and
This revised edition of the literature review has been published by the Lowitja Institute as part of the project completion process.
Part 2 : The Conclusion
We have highlighted the often complex and overlapping factors that affect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture and wellbeing.
These factors can operate at the individual or community level. Importantly, we have identified that, while some practices, processes and beliefs are different in the context of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture, there are some universal elements across Australia and internationally.
We have highlighted in this review that health and more broadly wellbeing appear to be enhanced when cultural elements and culture more broadly is learnt, practiced and incorporated into people’s lives.
While we have likely not produced a succinct definition of culture, as a result of this review we have a better understanding of what things constitute the varying parts of culture for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and how these relate to health and wellbeing.
The authors acknowledge that this review may not include some elements of Indigenous peoples culture however this paper, has for the first time, put in one place the range of factors describing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture from an Australian and international perspective.
As a result of the extensive search we have been able to list broad domains of culture and a range of sub themes under each broad cultural domain. This is the first time to our knowledge this has been done.
Through the review we have been able to identify quantitative cultural measures that did not currently exist and this enabled the research team identify areas for data development – the creation of new measures for Mayi Kuwayu, the National Study of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Wellbeing.
This review also assisted in informing the modification of existing measures for inclusion in the Study. The Mayi Kuwayu Study commenced data collection in October 2018.
The report was prepared by Minette Salmon, Kate Doery, Phyll Dance, Jan Chapman, Ruth Gilbert, Rob Williams & Ray Lovett
‘Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people know what works best for us.
We need to make sure Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth voices are reflected and expertise is recognised in every way at every step on efforts to close the gap in life outcomes between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and other Australians.’
‘The Coalition of Peaks is leading the face to face discussions, not governments.
The Peaks are asking Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth to tell us what should be included in a new Closing the Gap agreement and we will take this to the negotiating table.’
There is a discussion booklet that has background information on Closing the Gap and sets out what will be talked about in the survey.
The survey will take a little bit of time to complete. It would be great if you can answer all the questions, but you can also just focus on the issues that you care about most.
To help you prepare your answers, you can look at a full copy here
The survey is open to everyone and can be accessed here: