Cultural issues in Indigenous health

Richard D Chenhall
Med J Aust 2005; 182 (7): . || doi: 10.5694/j.1326-5377.2005.tb06722.x
Published online: 28 April 2004
Addictions and healing in Aboriginal country.
Gregory Phillips. Canberra: Aboriginal Studies Press, 2003 (xix + 210 pp). ISBN 085575408.
This is not the first book documenting the problems of addiction and healing in Aboriginal communities. It is, however, the first written by an Indigenous academic. It is also important because it puts forward a methodology for an Indigenous science that seeks to provide a theoretical and practical basis for Indigenous ways of knowing and working.

The study is based on ethnographic research in an Indigenous community in north Queensland. Phillips first discusses his own role and responsibilities as an Indigenous academic working in an Aboriginal community. He articulates an Indigenous-defined methodological theory and culturally appropriate knowledge production, an issue that has received very little discussion in research among Indigenous Australians. Interweaving the voices of the community of “Big River” with a range of historical, anthropological and medical material, the experience of trauma and substance misuse is explored. Arising from these explanations, the author reflects on some of the ways the Big River community talk about addressing addiction problems.

One fascinating chapter explores approaches to treating addictions among Native Canadians, where the author, together with a suicide prevention officer from Big River, made a number of visits to different communities and treatment programs. Through these experiences the author provides a provisional approach to the treatment of addictions, one that acknowledges the importance of culture and spirituality, but which also incorporates a number of other approaches, such as harm reduction, Alcoholics Anonymous and residential treatment.

One criticism would be that the approaches to an Indigenous science outlined at the beginning are not clear in the following chapters. How would the Indigenous methodologies be replicated elsewhere? Do they rely on identification as an Indigenous person and in what ways can non-Indigenous academics and health professionals engage with this approach? In order for such important ways of knowing to be transferred elsewhere, it is important that such methodologies be clearly formulated. Nevertheless, this is an important book on a difficult subject, and one that successfully conveys the individual and social traumas of substance misuse and the ways communities are addressing them.

Richard D ChenhallResearch Fellow Menzies School of Health Research, Darwin, NT


  • Richard D Chenhall



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