As NAIDOC Week celebrations focus on the importance, resilience and richness of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages, a new study has found the recognition and understanding of the role Elders have in preserving traditional knowledge in Indigenous communities is crucial.
Led by Dr Lucy Busija from the Institute for Health and Ageing at Australian Catholic University, in partnership with a regional Indigenous community in Queensland, Carbal Aboriginal Medical Service, and the University of QLD Rural Clinical School; the research explores community wellbeing and the contemporary role of Indigenous Elders.
Indigenous community leader, Dr Maree Toombs, Director of Indigenous Health at the University of Queensland, said insights from the research would be used to enhance the role of Elders within the local Indigenous community.
“The research paints a more detailed picture about the perceptions of Elders within the community and how we can increase the transfer of knowledge, culture, and language,” she said.
Carbal Aboriginal Medical Service Programs Manager and Kamilaroi man, Charlie Rowe, Toomelah Mission, says Elders play a vital role in all Indigenous communities.
"Elders in our community are respected for their stories, art, song and language. While many of them are caring for their grandchildren they are consulted about programs and services."
“By empowering Elders with support we can make a positive step in helping close the gap and transfer sacred spiritual knowledge.”
Charlie says in good times and bad, Elders aim to provide guidance, counselling and knowledge.
"Elders sit within the local Murri Court. The men and women facing charges sit with the Aunts and Uncles and yarn about their journeys and a way forward," he said.
"Spending time with elders and community can help people – many of whom are dealing with mental health issues - feel a positive connection to their history, Country and the Dreamtime."
Dr Lucy Busija said the research helped shine a light on the different components of Eldership and the vital role Elders played in addressing an array of issues affecting Indigenous Australians.
“Elders not only play an integral part in preserving traditional knowledge, they are also pivotal in helping tackle broader community issues such as health, education, unemployment, racism and oppression,” she said.
“By empowering Elders with the support necessary to address issues in their communities, we can make a positive step in helping close the gap and transferring sacred spiritual knowledge.”
Issues that arose from interviews and focus groups included the lack of Elder representation within the government, low Indigenous life expectancy and poor health, unemployment and lack of a cultural space, or place for teachings.