Community led research for better health and wellbeing of Australia’s First Nations

  • Lowitja INSTITUTE Chair Pat Anderson and Lowitja logo over smoking ceromony
    Lowitja INSTITUTE Chair Pat Anderson

Photos: the Lowitja INSTITUTE

The Lowitja INSTITUTE is Australia’s national institute for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health research, named in honour of its Patron, Dr Lowitja O’Donoghue. It works for the health and wellbeing of Australia’s First Peoples through quality research, knowledge translation, and by supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander researchers. It operates on key principles of Indigenous leadership, a broader understanding of health that incorporates wellbeing, and the need for the work to have a clear and positive impact.

Established in 2010, the Institute traces its origins to the establishment of the Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) for Aboriginal and Tropical Health, in Darwin, in 1997. Working with our many partners, as the Institute and four associated CRCs funded by the Australian Government CRC Programme, we have responded to the need in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities for a new research paradigm.

We believe that the translation of Indigenous values into the research agenda enables a questioning of the status quo and ensures a new perspective for research organisations and policymakers. It facilitates an interrogation of how we do things and opens up new perspectives for looking at issues that impact that the health and wellbeing of Australia’s First Peoples. It enables a dialogue that privileges Australia’s First Peoples’ knowledges and explores how things can be approached in a different, more sustainable and empowering way.

Research teams funded by the Institute—68 per cent of which are led by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander researchers—have identified the prevalence of deficit discourse in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health policy, and investigated strengths-based approaches to challenge problem-based paradigm.

Mayi Kuwayu, the first large-scale longitudinal study looking at Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture in relation to health and wellbeing, and other break-through projects initially funded by us have subsequently gained support from funders including the National Health and Medical Research Council. We have funded projects in early childhood service integration, young men’s health and wellbeing, and disability in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, among many others.

In June 2019, we honour where it all began by returning to the lands of the Larrakia Nation for the Lowitja Institute International Indigenous Health and Wellbeing Conference (#LowitjaConf19).

The 2019 conference will bring together Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders, researchers, health professionals, decision makers, community representatives, and our non-Indigenous colleagues to discuss the role of First Nations solutions in leading global change. The Institute is pleased to be able to showcase Darwin, a gateway to our Asia-Pacific neighbours, and a key location for regional and remote health in Australia.

The conference theme, Thinking. Speaking. Being. First Nations solutions for global change, acknowledges the United Nations International Year of Indigenous Languages (IY2019) and we will highlight the importance of language in enabling empowerment, cultural strength, wellbeing, and individual, family and community identity. It also highlights the international scope of the conference, its focus on solutions, and on benefits for communities on their terms.

Speakers announced so far include: United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Ms Victoria Tauli-Corpuz; Professor Tahu Kukutai, Professor of Demography at the National Institute of Demographic and Economic Analysis, The University of Waikato, New Zealand; and Dr Abhay Bang, founder director of SEARCH (Society for Education, Action and Research in Community Health), Gadchiroli, India.

A cultural program will privilege ancestors and traditional owners, their cultures and contemporary practices. A market showcasing local Indigenous artists and entrepreneurs will run throughout the conference. These elements will be interwoven with the scientific program.

the Lowitja INSTITUTE is a sponsor of the 15th National Rural Health Conference, Hobart 24-27 March 2019.


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