In its latest Croakey update, the Primary Health Care Research and Information Service (better known as PHC RIS) highlights an article examining the relationship between caring for country and health.
Healthy country, healthy people: Involvement in land management has positive health benefits for Aboriginal Australians
Bradley Smith writes:
Aboriginal people have jurisdiction over roughly 20 percent of the country. It was hoped that such expansive land ownership would lead to successful agriculture and advance the economic wellbeing of Aboriginal Australians.
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However, these lands are situated primarily in the Australian desert, and have limited agricultural value.
Fortunately, social expectation regarding land use has shifted from a focus on production and amenities, to a more multifaceted one, including tourism and conservation.
This allows Aboriginal people with cultural connection to the land, the opportunity to manage the country by applying Indigenous ecological knowledge (or ‘caring for country’).
Caring for country involves spending time on the land, removal of grasses through cool weather burning, gathering food and medicinal resources, protection of sacred sites, production of art and craft work, as well as intergenerational transfer of knowledge.
A paper recently published by David Campbell argues that for Indigenous Australians, being involved in caring for country can provide many advantages that are of benefit to both public and private health, and the environment.
For example, direct health benefits such as increasing knowledge and supply of traditional foods, medicines, and promoting exercise, psychosocial determinants such as meeting cultural responsibilities; and environmental benefits such as an increase in biodiversity, soil stabilisation and mitigation of dust storms (a vector of disease).
To support this idea, the article compares homeland and township Indigenous residents in Arnhem Land. Comparison reveals that those living in homelands have much higher caring for country scores, lower BMI, and lower prevalence of chronic disease than township residents. This represents a large saving in primary health care costs.
Campbell provides preliminary evidence for the premise that involving Indigenous Australians in caring for country will result in health and economic benefits due to the cultural connection they share with ‘country’.
He argues that addressing the psychological and social determinants of health is fundamental to closing the gap in health outcomes.
• Bradley Smith is Research Associate, Primary Health Care Research & Information Service (PHC RIS)
Campbell, D. (2011). Application of an integrated multidisciplinary economic welfare approach to improved wellbeing through Aboriginal caring for country. The Rangeland Journal, 33, 365-372.
This article, which can be accessed here, features in the 25 January 2012 edition of PHC RIS eBulletin, available at http://www.phcris.org.au/publications/ebulletin/index.php. The eBulletin is designed to inform readers of recently published articles and reports, news items, media releases, upcoming conferences and courses, research grants, scholarships and fellowships, PHC RIS products and services and relevant websites in the primary health care field. Those interested in receiving the weekly eBulletin are invited to subscribe to the free service at http://www.phcris.org.au/mailinglists/index.php
Previous Croakey posts from the PHC RIS