Who is speaking for us? Identifying Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander scholarship in health research

Janine Mohamed, Veronica Matthews, Roxanne Bainbridge and Megan Williams
Med J Aust 2021; 215 (8): 383-383.e1. || doi: 10.5694/mja2.51281
Published online: 18 October 2021

To the Editor: Australia is home to the oldest continuing cultures on Earth. Yet, rather than being treasured as a source of national pride, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander knowledges remain mostly unappreciated and, at times, actively silenced (eg, Uluru Statement).1 Passed down through generations, these valuable, continually changing knowledge systems are core to our adaptability, strength and survival against extreme adversity including colonisation.

Persistent health disparities between Indigenous and other Australians signal the ineffectiveness of allegedly well intentioned policy and research that have largely produced deficit‐focused research, describing the extent of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander problem rather than being driven by the priorities and solutions of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. Institutions are now acknowledging that to close the gap in health disparities, “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people must determine, drive and own the desired outcomes”.2 Gradual transformation in research governance and methodologies has occurred through ethics protocols and quality appraisal tools3 guiding the positioning of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as leaders and drivers of strengths‐based, benefit‐led research processes.4

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander researchers are more often leading the way in key health system domains, such as research ethics, education and effective community‐based research, but there is currently no systematic way of identifying our scholarship in the peer‐reviewed literature.

How do we, as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, know who is representing, and speaking for, us?

We assert the need to develop strategies to rectify and improve transparency of Indigenous health research. The first steps could be:

  • inclusion of searchable tags for Indigenous authorship and contributorship (acknowledging non‐written contributions); for example, through extension of the Contributor Roles Taxonomy (CRediT), which is integrated into the Open Researcher and Contributor ID (ORCID; and used in over 120 journals;5 and
  • expansion of contributor statements outlining diversity of roles and the positionality of our non‐Indigenous allies within the research.

This would enhance the ability to efficiently distinguish Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander scholarship, increasing the visibility of our knowledges and perspectives in research and translation, thereby improving the transparency of academic literature to guide decisions about our health and wellbeing. We seek the MJA’s leadership in “foregrounding Indigenous sovereignty”6 by advocating and appropriately acknowledging our contribution in health research.


  • Janine Mohamed1
  • Veronica Matthews2
  • Roxanne Bainbridge2
  • Megan Williams1,2

  • 1 Lowitja Institute, Melbourne, VIC
  • 2 Centre for Research Excellence: Strengthening Systems for Indigenous Health Care Equity (CRE‐STRIDE), University Centre for Rural Health, Lismore, NSW


We thank the staff and investigators at CRE‐STRIDE and the Lowitja Institute for their collaboration in developing the content for this letter. CRE‐STRIDE is funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC; grant No. 1170882). The NHMRC played no role in the planning, writing or publication of this letter.

Competing interests:

No relevant disclosures.

  • 1. Anderson P, Davis M, Pearson N. Don’t silence our voice, minister: Uluru leaders condemn backward step. Sydney Morning Herald 2019; 20 Oct. (viewed Aug 2021).
  • 2. National Indigenous Australians Agency. Closing the Gap in partnership. Canberra: Australian Government, 2020. (viewed Sept 2020).
  • 3. Harfield S, Pearson O, Morey K, et al. Assessing the quality of health research from an Indigenous perspective: the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander quality appraisal tool. BMC Med Res Methodol 2020; 20: 79.
  • 4. Bainbridge R, Tsey K, McCalman J, et al. No one’s discussing the elephant in the room: contemplating questions of research impact and benefit in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australian health research. BMC Public Health 2015; 15: 696.
  • 5. Allen L, O’Connell A, Kiermer V. How can we ensure visibility and diversity in research contributions? How the Contributor Role Taxonomy (CRediT) is helping the shift from authorship to contributorship. Learn Publ 2019; 32: 71–74.
  • 6. Bond C, Whop L, Singh D, Kajlich H. “Now we say Black Lives Matter but … the fact of the matter is, we just Black matter to them”. Med J Aust 2020; 213: 248–250.


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