Indigenous Elders still key to community wellbeing

7 Dec 2018

In an effort to strengthen community health and wellbeing, University of Queensland researchers have investigated the role of Elders in a contemporary rural Indigenous community.

For the first time in Australia a concept map was used to gain insight into how members of the community viewed the role of Elders, as well as how Elders viewed themselves.

The researchers hope this approach will enable the co-design of community-led programs to improve health and wellbeing. 

Rural Clinical School Professor Geoff Nicholson said the study used unstructured interview techniques, such as yarning, to allow participants greater ability to express their views organically.

“We recruited young and  middle-aged adults and Elders, and allowed them to tell us how they saw the role of Elders and what issues relating to community wellbeing concerned them,” Professor Nicholson said.  

“The participants revealed they saw Elders playing integral roles in a variety of community issues, ranging from caring for youth and safeguarding a sense of identity, to tackling racism and oppression. 

“Overall, they viewed Elders as still playing an import role in keeping the community together.”  

Concerns over loss of a traditional way of life and external pressures had raised questions over the role of Elders in a contemporary society.

Professor Nicholson said gaining a community’s perspective on their Elders and unique community issues was a fundamental first step towards improving community wellbeing.

“If you don’t know what the relevant issues are in a particular community, you don’t know where to start,” he said. 

“By creating a concept map of the concerns, we can work with the community on how we can improve the situation to strengthen the role of Elders to benefit the community.

“Future projects are more likely to be successful when they are led by the communities involved, so discussing our initial results with them is an essential part of the process.”

The study was a collaboration between UQ and the Australian Catholic University, and the findings are published in The Gerontologist (doi: 10.1093/geront/gyn140).

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