Country, culture and spirituality

Under the range of  holistic frameworks and models that have defined social and emotional wellbeing (SEWB) for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, Country, culture and spirituality play important roles to the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people [27487] [40655] [35856]. Country, culture and spirituality may have different meanings and significance to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and communities across Australia [43078], and can be dependent on factors such as age, geographical location and cultural knowledge [33834].

Rather than viewing Country, or land, as a physical environment, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people consider Country as a deeply symbolic and spiritual place [27487]. The connection between person and Country reinforces Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ identity and sense of belonging [33834]. Connection to Country can be expressed or maintained by, but not limited to [32038] [40745] [30843]:

  • caring for Country
  • birthing on Country
  • spending time on Country
  • ‘finishing up’ and/or being buried on Country.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ connection to culture refers to the preservation, continual expression and practice of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural heritage [27487] [33834]. Sustaining an active and healthy relationship with culture strengthens identity, builds resilience and provides opportunities to connect with the past [39792]. Cultural expression may  include [35856] [27487] [39792]:

  • language and storytelling
  • dance and ceremony
  • music and art
  • kinship
  • history
  • law.

Spirituality is a complex concept which connects the past, present and future [20914], and encompasses a person’s relationship with other people, the living (e.g. animals) and non-living (e.g. tides) life forces. The spirituality of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people can be expressed in many ways, including art, song, story, ceremony and Dreaming [27487]. Dreaming refers to the understanding that the world was created by ancestral spirits [35856]; Country and spirituality are therefore strongly linked and central to the identity of many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. The merging of religions, cultures and technologies means that concepts of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander spirituality have evolved over time and vary among the diverse cultural groups across Australia [20914].

It is important for health practitioners to recognise the significance of Country, culture and spirituality for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and to understand that when these domains become disrupted, culturally appropriate intervention is required [27487]. There are a number of successful programs in Australia which support  Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to (re) connect to Country, culture and spirituality [35856]. Research has demonstrated that connecting to Country, culture and spirituality is becoming increasingly fundamental to the resilience and positive SEWB of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander [19416] [41496] [20914].

References

Key resources

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