AUSTRALIAN ASSIMILATION AND THE IMPACT ON ABORIGINAL HEALTH: A CRITICAL ANALYSIS
Australia and its Indigenous Society: Australia is one of the world’s most culturally diverse societies and it is commonly assumed that the country offers free and fair opportunities to all its inhabitants. However, on close observation it is clearly evident that the country’s indigenous population is at a social and economic disadvantage when compared to their non-indigenous counterparts and as a consequence the present aboriginal health is in a grave situation.The purpose of this report is to critically analyze the effect of the Australian assimilation policy on the current health status of the aboriginals through various factors such as education, unemployment and housing. The Intent of the Australian Assimilation: Australia was originally inhabited by aboriginal people.However, Europeans migrated into the country from the year 1788 and federated themselves into colonies and a nation called as Commonwealth of Australia was formed in the year 1901 which formulated the policy of Assimilation to integrate all Australians including the aboriginals into the English Speaking culture under which all new immigrants were expected to learn English (Australian Government 2008 pp.
23-24). Under this policy the aboriginals were housed in reserves where grave restrictions were imposed on every aspect of their lives.They were either involved in menial jobs or provided by the government (Encarta 2008 p. 4). Though assimilation was officially agreed upon by the heads of State and Territory Aboriginal affairs authorities in 1937 it was only by the year 1951 that all Australian governments adopted the policy (Australasian Legal Information Institute 2008). According to the Native Welfare Conference of Commonwealth in the year 1961 the policy of assimilation means that all Aborigines and part-Aborigines are expected eventually to attain the same manner of living as other Australians and to live as members of a single Australian community enjoying the same rights and privileges, accepting the same responsibilities, observing the same customs and influenced by the same beliefs, as other Australians” (Encarta 2008 p.
5). The intent of the assimilation policy was to include all aborigines into the Anglo Celtic Australian society completely eliminating their indigenous cultures and traditions in addition preventing the growth of the native population.Assimilation measures even included drastic ones such as removing aboriginal children of mixed parentage from their families and adapting them into the white Australian culture. Though the Assimilation policy was officially discontinued in 1960 it has had a devastating effect on the aboriginal population. The intention of the policy was to protect the indigenous population however, it has managed to wipe out the race completely except in some isolated parts of Australia who live under constant socio economic pressures. Aboriginal Health-Past and Present:Prior to the European immigration the aboriginals were healthy with no conspicuous diseases that plague them today.
However, at present there is a serious health inequality between the aboriginal and non aboriginal population. The neglect, racism, inequality, the social and economic disadvantages such as lack of education, poor nutrition, poverty, unemployment, lack of proper housing and infrastructure facilities have all contributed to the present poor state of aboriginal health which is analyzed in the following pages. Education:It is generally believed that education plays a significant and positive role in improving the health and welfare of the aboriginals. An educated aboriginal community would be able to utilize the various community health care services optimally. It is a fact that educating aboriginal mothers brings down the infant mortality rate in addition preventing minor accidents and sicknesses in their children.
Educated aboriginal adults have a lower incidence of heart ailments (Australian Government 2005 p. 22). However, the assimilation policy has had a severe impact on the education and subsequently the health of the aboriginals.From the time the Europeans migrated into the country aboriginal culture and education has been given a step motherly treatment. Till the year 1972 schools refused admissions to aboriginal children if any objections were raised by the white settlers and according to the Board of National Education it was “impracticable to attempt to provide any form of education for the children of the blacks” (Education Fact Sheet 2007). Though education was considered as one of the ways to assimilate the aboriginals the quality of schools and teachers were of substandard nature.
Aboriginal schools were established on reserves with no proper teachers and the aboriginal children had access to proper primary and secondary education only in 1950 and 1960 respectively (Education Fact Sheet 2007). Reports have proved that the governmental educational policies of the past have played a major part in low educational outcomes of the aboriginals and the numerous dropouts in the secondary level. In the year 2003 the representation of aboriginal students in the vocational training and the higher education sectors were a meager 3% and 1% respectively (Australian Bureau of Statistics 2006).According to the ABS (2004), only 39% of the aborigines completed their 12th standard while 22% undertook vocational training. A meager 4% had a bachelor’s degree. Health and lack of education form a vicious cycle.
While lack of education affects the health of the aboriginals the poor health conditions of the aboriginal children prevent them from getting proper education. Around 40% of the aboriginal children are affected by repeated middle ear infections which lead to permanent or temporary hearing loss making education a difficult task for them (Australian Government 2005 pp. 2-23). Also unemployment and poverty in the aboriginal households prevent the children from getting regular nutritious meals. This leads to various associated problems in the children such as malnutrition and anemia.
Reports also mention that around 13% to 22% of children under five years are underweight (Australian Government 2005 p. 23). Generally these undernourished children lack the ability to concentrate in school and have a lazy disposition.Though at present governmental policies are being formulated to improve the educational status of the aborigines more needs to be done to improve the education and subsequently the health status of the aborigines. Unemployment: It is a proven fact that various socio economic factors contribute to the health of an individual and community. One such factor is employment and income.
However, the assimilation polices have had a direct impact on these factors thus affecting the health of the aboriginals. Aboriginals have been plagued by unemployment and low income problems right from the time of colonization and assimilation.They were either involved in menial jobs or lived on rations provided by the government (Encarta 2008 p. 4). Many aboriginals found themselves without work when the ranches they worked for were divided into smaller ones (Encarta 2008 p.
5). It has been estimated that 25% of the aboriginal males and 20% of the females are unemployed which is more than double the unemployment ratios of the non indigenous population (Bailie 2008). The present unemployment scenario can be attributed to a multitude of reasons: ? Lack of Education ? No employment opportunities in the agriculture and primary industries ?Reluctance of other sectors of the population to employ aboriginals (Bailie 2008). The low level of educational qualifications in the aboriginals has been discussed earlier. This lack of education is a major contributing factor to the high levels of unemployment. Even if employed the aboriginals are offered only low paid menial jobs as they are unskilled.
Reports indicate that a higher proportion of aborigines in unskilled jobs than compared to skilled or managerial ones (Bailie 2008). Also there has been a dearth of employment opportunities in agriculture and the ranches.In rural Australia about half of the income for the aboriginals is derived from being employed in Community Development Employment Projects (CDEP) schemes. Most aborigines are unemployed and manage on the economic benefits offered by the government (Bailie 2008). The average household income of an aboriginal was also lesser than the non indigenous counterparts (Year Book Australia 2005).
Also the indigenous population is refused work due to their health conditions and their social behavior. The aborigines suffer from a multitude of diseases such as obesity, hypertension, diabetes, renal failure, coronary heart disease, cancer and arthritis.It has also been found that these aboriginals are more prone to mental and vision disorders than the non indigenous population. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (2005), aborigines are violent, commit crimes, are prone to drug abuse and sexual crimes. This explains the statistics that an aborigine is 13 times more prone to imprisonment and they comprise around 32% of the prisoners (Taylor 2007). The aboriginals are both perpetuators of crime as well as victims with possibility of being victims twice when compared to the other population.
Lower levels of income and unemployment lead to stress, rug and alcohol abuse which complicate the situation further (Booth ; Carroll 2005 p. 2). Housing and Infrastructure: Housing and adequate living conditions is another major factor influencing the health of the aborigines. The aborigines mostly dwell in poor quality houses with minimum or lack of significant facilities overcrowded with people. These kind of unhealthy living conditions are the cause of a variety of diseases in the aborigines.
The aborigines have been in a disadvantageous position with respect to housing facilities right from the time of colonization and assimilation.European settlers amassed the aboriginal lands pushing them into reserves and in worse situation some of them were forced to live as fringe dwellers (Bailie ;Wayte 2006 p. 178). The loss of the land to the settlers had devastating ill health effects on the aborigines. Housing the natives has been an important issue for the country. However, the housing and infrastructure facilities provided to them in both rural and urban areas are substandard in nature.
The housing needs of these aborigines are generally managed by indigenous housing communities.The houses are of poor quality needing frequent repairs consequently increasing the maintenance costs. Also these dwellings have poor infrastructural facilities (Howson 2003). Reports mention that 41% of these houses experienced problems in water supply while 35% of them had problems in sanitation. Pests were a major problem in 44% of the housing communities and majority of them (around 70%) had serious housing problems. 37% and 36% of the houses were without rubbish or waste water disposal units (Wyatt 2008 pp.
2-3). These kinds of conditions give rise to variety of diseases in the aborigines.Many aboriginals suffer from respiratory, gastrointestinal and infectious diseases due to the poor housing and hygiene conditions (Wyatt 2008 p. 3). Though diseases were rampant in these dwellings 44% of them never had any visits from health workers still aggravating the unhealthiness of the aborigines. The frequent problems in the structure of the housings exposed the aborigines to harsh environmental conditions leading to respiratory, eye and skin infections (Bailie and Wayte 2006 p.
180). Statistics denote that these indigenous houses are overcrowded with an average of 4. persons per household and this strains the already poor infrastructure. Also overcrowding in a single house facilitates the spreading of parasitic and infectious diseases such as ear infections, skin diseases and tuberculosis in addition to contributing heavily to stress and domestic violence. According to the ABS (2005) most of the aboriginals lived in rental premises.
In urban areas only 34% of the aborigines owned houses while the rest rented out dwellings from private or community housing projects. The percentage of home owners reduced to 14% in rural areas. Culturally Safe Nursing:It is beyond doubt that the present health status of the aboriginals is comparatively poor when compared to the non indigenous population. The policy of assimilation and the events after that have had a serious impact on the mental, physical and social health of the aboriginals. Aboriginal health has been one of the major problems faced by Australian governments and it has reached a stage where it can’t be ignored.
The medical fraternity especially the health workers and the registered nurses (RN) should now assume a significant role in the treatment and welfare of the aboriginals.It has always been the requisite of a nurse to offer culturally safe nursing care. It would be useful to understand what cultural safety means. Cultural safety is the basic understanding of a nurse that they are dealing with people who differ from them in a variety of ways such as religion, race, sex, education etc. Also cultural safety lies in the understanding of the fact that the patients would have totally different culture and beliefs from them as both of them have been raised under different circumstances.
A culturally safe nurse would offer proper medical services aimed at treating the condition despite these differences (Hughes & Farrow 2007). Also a nurse should use the nursing knowledge to the advantage of the patient making him/her make a fast recovery. The concept of culturally safe nursing care becomes all the more important in the aboriginal context. The nurse should be aware of the fact that aborigines have faced dispassion, racism, segregation not to mention extreme mental and physical trauma. The social, economic and political disadvantage that the aborigines face should also be taken into consideration by the RNs.
Also cultural and race differences should not be allowed to dominate the delivery of health care (Luschwitz 2008). Aboriginals are deep rooted in their cultural beliefs and holistic health concepts. Many rural Aboriginals don’t report their medical conditions and are indifferent to the treatments offered. They have a basic fear about the health care system (Cox 2008). Also many of them show reluctance to move from their place of residence to undergo treatment for even for serious diseases such as kidney problems.Reports have clearly mentioned that nursing care if offered after a clear understanding of the aboriginal culture would be highly effective.
Adequate cultural training should be offered to the non indigenous nurse to understand the illness and social beliefs of the aboriginals. A health care professional should offer culturally inoffensive medical care after the appropriate understanding of aboriginal beliefs. The aboriginals concern for maintaining their cultural identity and traditional knowledge should be respected by the nurses (Aboriginal Drug and Alcohol Council 2008).Researches also indicate that problems in delivery of health care arise mainly due to the innate cultural differences between people. Increasing health care services would of no use if these differences are not addressed. Thus it very important for a health care professional especially registered nurses to set aside their biases, racist attitudes and prejudices against the aboriginals to deliver culturally safe nursing services in the process improving the current health situation of the aboriginals.
Conclusion: Completing this assignment according to me has been a good learning process about the original inhabitants of Australia and the disadvantageous position they are in due the assimilation policy. ? This assignment has made me understand the mental and physical trauma that the natives would have felt when they were dominated and dispossessed by the European settlers ultimately isolating them into reserves. ? The intent of the assimilation policy and its consequences on the aboriginal race were clearly comprehended by me.This helped me in understanding and analyzing the social and economic disadvantage that the aborigines are at present in addition to their current health status. ? I was able to relate the poor health status of the aborigines and the various socio economic indicators such as lack of education, unemployment, low income and inadequate housing conditions. ? I could understand how inadequate educational qualification and health status were directly linked and also the various reasons that plague the aboriginals in the employment market.
? Lack of ducation led to unemployment or poorly paid jobs and as a consequence low income.This low income subsequently made the aboriginals susceptible to malnutrition, infections and disease. ? I could also fathom the relation between unhealthy living conditions and the health of the aboriginals. ? The health of aboriginals needs to be improved and a nurse would play an important role in doing so. However, they need to be aware of their own prejudices and prevent these from interfering in the delivery of health care.
Care should be taken to preserve the cultural identity of the aboriginals intact. Culturally safe treatment of the health problems of the aboriginals would facilitate improving their health status drastically.