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poverty among Aboriginal AustraliansAboriginal Australians have faced discrimination, genocide and marginalization within their own lands since the British began their initial colonization of the continent in 1788. Aboriginals did not receive any credence in the eye of the Australian government until 1967. Because of this, poverty among Aboriginal Australians skyrocketed.

By simply removing the words “…other than the Aboriginal people in any State…” in section 51(xxvi) and the whole of section 127 of the constitution, the country finally saw Aboriginals as their own individualized people. They are now part of the census and the government can make laws specifically concerning Aboriginal issues. However, even with the government’s recognition of these peoples did not eliminate the discrimination and inequality they often face from the government and society. Here are eight facts about aboriginal Australians’ quality of life.

8 Facts About Aboriginal Australians’ Quality of Life

  1. Today in Australia, a mere 3.1 percent of the Australian population is indigenous. Even though they make up so little of the population, however, 19.3 percent of Aboriginal Australians live in poverty compared to 12.4 percent of other Australians.
  2. Only 4.8 percent of Aboriginal peoples have employment within the upper salary levels in Australia. This low percentage may link to pervasive racism within the country. Nineteen percent of Australians believe they are casual racists but refuse to change. Twenty-six percent of Australians have anti-Aboriginal concerns. Meanwhile, eleven percent of Australians do not think all races are equal. There does seem to be a changing tide, however, as 86 percent of Australians believe that Australia needs to do something to fight the pervasive racism in the country.
  3. There have been significant improvements and money allocations towards the betterment of the indigenous communities in Australia in recent years. In 2017, $33.4 billion went toward government expenditure on indigenous Australians, a 23.7 percent increase since 2009 (taking into account inflation). That is $44,886 per indigenous person or two times the amount of direct government expenditure on non-indigenous peoples. However, Aboriginal peoples are still more than twice as likely to be in the bottom 20 percent for equivalized gross weekly household income. High unemployment and lasting impacts from colonialism have caused low income in Aboriginal homes.
  4. Today, people often find that Aboriginal communities in non-rural areas live off welfare in crowded housing. About 20 percent of Aboriginal Australians living in non-rural areas were living in overcrowded accommodations in 2014 and 2015. In remote or very remote areas of Australia, the overcrowding was almost 40 percent. Overcrowding can often lead to a faster spread of illness in these communities. The proliferation of disease in overcrowded spaces creates a significant financial burden on families who must then seek treatment for their ailing loved ones. However, Australia has put multiple initiatives into place to address and resolve these issues. In 2008, the Federal government started and funded the National Partnership Agreement on Remote Indigenous Housing.
  5. From 2014 to 2015, three in 10 Aboriginals (29 percent) 15 and over experienced homelessness for a portion of time. Homelessness prevents individuals not only from human, tribal and societal interaction but can also often prevent them from being active members in the workforce, and therefore, the economy. Aboriginal peoples 15 and over in remote or very remote areas experienced homelessness in their lifetime at a 3 percent increase from non-remote Aboriginals (32 percent).
  6. Aboriginal Australian children between the ages of 5 to 17 are committing suicide at a five times higher rate than non-indigenous peoples in Australia. There is a direct link between the suicide rate and the crushing poverty in these communities and failing government-funded aid services. People have called upon the Australian government to either increase spending on indigenous peoples’ aid or to even wholly reconsider its tactics. As of 2019, the Australian government has implemented restrictions on takeaway alcohol, broadening education initiatives and developing further cultural healing projects.
  7. More than 28 percent of Australia’s prison population was Aboriginal in 2016, which is a shocking fact as less than 3 percent of Australia’s population identifies as indigenous. This widespread incarceration significantly impacts rates of poverty in the Aboriginal community. When one removes a person from a home–that statistically is likely to suffer overcrowding and have underprivileged individuals–they remove supporting income from an already disadvantaged family.
  8. People widely acknowledged that limited completion of education, and more specifically, secondary education, have close ties to poverty for Aboriginal Australians. In previous years, Aboriginal peoples were less likely to obtain a Year 12 or equivalent level of education; 45 percent of Aboriginals achieved this level of education in 2008. However, the gap is closing fast, and as of 2014-2015, records indicate that that percentage has risen to 62 percent of Aboriginal peoples obtaining their Year 12 level of education.
Though the gap between non-indigenous and Aboriginal people ages 20 to 24 with post-school qualifications has not changed, the number of indigenous peoples in this age range who have received a secondary education has doubled since 2002.

NASCA

NASCA, or the National Aboriginal Supporting Chance Academy, is a nonprofit that works directly within indigenous communities doing mentoring, education and development programs. Its initiatives seek to create empowerment and movement from within these communities and alleviate poverty among Aboriginal Australians. Each year, over 1,200 indigenous youths directly benefit from the organization’s work.
In 2018 alone, the program delivered a total of 6,006 educational and health program hours, and attendance in its northern territory program schools saw a 33 percent increase in school attendance. Its work is seeking to create pride in communities and put into motion change that will bleed into the higher political and social sphere of Australia.

Australia has so long ignored its Aboriginal community on both a social and governmental level, so it is a welcome and pleasant change to see so much work on behalf of an underprivileged group of people. Though there is still far to go, some are taking steps both within and outside of the community to build up the visibility and civil rights of the Aboriginal peoples and their needs. Poverty among Aboriginal Australians has set them back long enough. Though they are undeniably Australian, they are fiercely and independently Aboriginal peoples with a right to civil liberties, native land and socioeconomic equality.

– Emma Hodge
Photo: Flickr

Epilepsy, Indigenous
Epilepsy represents an important public health issue, particularly in low-income communities where significant disparities are present in the care available to patients with epilepsy.

Where there is annually between 30 to 50 per 100 thousand people in the general population in high-income countries who suffer from epilepsy, this figure could be two times higher in low- and middle-income countries. Up to 80 percent of people with epilepsy live in low- and middle-income communities.

Due to the higher incidence of psychological stress, nutritional deficiencies and missed medication, poverty-stricken countries are prompted with greater seizure triggers, situations that precipitate seizures. Mortality associated with epilepsy in low-income countries is substantially higher because of untreated epileptic seizures.

According to a study by The World Bank, indigenous peoples are more likely to be poor as opposed to the general population due to their likelihood of living in rural areas and lack of education. Therefore, what can be said about their epilepsy rates?

Epilepsy in Indigenous Populations

Within the indigenous populations of Bolivia, the prevalence of this non-communicable disease is 12.3 persons out of 1000. This prevalence is also reflected within Canada’s First Nations, wherein 122 per 100,000 persons were found to have epilepsy, twice more than the non-indigenous populations. The numbers were even greater among the Australian Aboriginals, with over 44 percent of patients who were admitted to hospitals identifying as indigenous.

Despite the similarity in epilepsy syndromes among the indigenous and non-indigenous populations, the former presents with more serious degrees of the disease when diagnosed. Research has stated this is related to the inequitable access of healthcare resulting from geographic isolation and cultural issues to treatment.

Geographic Isolation and Epilepsy

The Bolivian Guaraní live in the Bolivian Chaco, a hot and semi-arid region of the Río de la Plata Basin. This area is sparsely populated, but of the 49 percent of indigenous persons, 68.9 percent of them live in conditions of poverty, with everyday issues of energy and sanitation.

Nevertheless, in 2012, an educational campaign directed to the Bolivian Guaraní has been implemented by general practitioners to teach the population about the main causes of epilepsy, its diagnosis, treatment and first aid. They also target the social stigma that exists around the disease.

With the help of programs like Bono Juana Azurduy, Programa Mi Salud, Ley de Gratuidad and Seguros Departamentales, there has been an increase in the social security and improvement in the treatment for epilepsy among the geographically isolated community.

Cultural Issues

Apart from geographic isolation, indigenous populations such as the Aboriginals of Australia also have traditional health beliefs about the causes of epilepsy. For instance, environmental factors like the moon are seen as an epileptic precursor. They also associate a connection with the supernatural due to transgressions as causes of the diseases, making it more difficult to find treatment for the neurological condition.

When such cultural issues arise due to a difference in beliefs, it is important for general practitioners and patients to find a suitable course of treatment that is acceptable for both parties. Various clinics in Far North Queensland, where many Aboriginals reside, have assessed and managed the situation through gathering as much information as possible about the person’s original function and the impact of the disease on them.

They also advise other hospitals treating Aboriginal people to identify and implement strategies, whether they be medication, behavioral, environmental or social, to be developed in conjunction with the patient, their families and communities. In time, it is believed that this will lead to the best interim solution for all parties in the support network and the patient themselves.

Within the Aboriginals living in Canada, the British Columbia Aboriginal Network on Disability Society (BCANDS) has also successfully delivered treatment for epilepsy patients by working as a liaison between service agencies and clients to find the best possible treatment. Their services extend to alleviate anxiety from patients who have previously had negative experiences with healthcare.

Moving Forward

Knowing that epilepsy is a neurological condition that receives substantial stigma in indigenous communities, there is a barrier for patients to have access to biomedical treatment and have it become integrated within the society they live in. Therefore, in order to reduce the burden of epilepsy in poor regions of the world, and especially within indigenous populations, hospitals, non-governmental organizations and the government have much to do. Aid can come in the form of risk factor prevention, offering check-up clinics in rural areas, stigma-reducing educational programs, improving access to biomedical diagnosis and treatment as well as providing a continuous supply of good quality anti-epileptic drugs to patients who need it, irrespective of their background.

– Monique Santoso
Photo: Pixabay

Indigenous PopulationThere are 370 million indigenous people in the world today. The majority live in China, where 36 percent of the population is indigenous. This is followed by South Asia at 32 percent, Southeast Asia at 10 percent and Latin America at 8 percent. The United States is 1.5 percent indigenous. Indigenous populations account for about 5 percent of the world’s population but more than 15 percent of the world’s poor. What is the connection between indigenous people and poverty, and how can it be broken?

Who Is Indigenous?

There is such a wide variety of indigenous cultures that it makes creating a common definition challenging. The United Nations refers to them as the descendants of the inhabitants of a country or geographic regions prior to the immigration of a second ethnic group. The second ethnic group then became dominant through conquest and settlement, marginalizing the original inhabitants. Examples include Native Americans, the Saami of Northern Europe, the Maori of New Zealand and the Maasai of Eastern Africa.

Many people prefer to be called by the name of their individual group or tribe, such as “Navaho” or “Inuit.” However, the blanket term, “indigenous,” is gaining popularity since it links together different peoples and provides a legitimate status for special rights in many countries.

What Problems Do They Face?

It is difficult to find data for countries in Asia because most governments deny the existence of indigenous populations. For example, China has officially stated that there are no indigenous people within their borders despite having the highest concentration in the world. In areas like the Philippines and Vietnam, there are indigenous populations as well as “ethnic minorities,” who are indigenous but do not come from the country in which they are currently living. Often these “ethnic minorities” were forced to leave their native lands.

The best data came from Latin America in 2010 where indigenous people made up 8 percent of the population, but 14 percent of the poor and 17 percent of the extreme poor. Part of the reason for the disparity is the fact that indigenous populations are more likely to live in rural or remote areas. In cities, there is better access to electricity, clean water and education. This is also evident if they are living in an urban slum where indigenous people can outnumber nonindigenous two-to-one.

There is also a significant pay gap for indigenous populations. In Mexico, native people earn 12 to 14 percent less than non-native people. In Bolivia, the gap is 9 to 13 percent and in Peru and Guatemala, it is about 6 percent. In Australia, aboriginals have 30 percent less disposable income than their non-aboriginal counterparts, and in Canada, the wage gap can be as high as 25 percent. This is a large part of the connection between indigenous people and poverty.

How Can This Be Solved?

Approximately half the poverty gap can be accounted for by differences in employment type, education level, living in a rural area and family size. The other half is the “unexplained” gap, which is a result of direct discrimination or racism. This creates a unique challenge for bringing indigenous people out of poverty. Reducing the gap in education rates is widely regarded as the first step and has been steadily improving in the past few years.

In Ecuador, Mexico and Nicaragua, indigenous children attend primary school at the same rate as non-indigenous children. However, in many communities, primary education is still strongly associated with assimilation to the majority culture. The best way to fight this belief is to offer bilingual language and a curriculum sensitive to cultural differences, which is slowly gaining popularity in many countries.

Indigenous peoples often have their own ideas of what improvement should look like; therefore it is important to increase their power to advocate for their own needs. The United Nations Declaration of Indigenous People’s Rights in 2007 brought together groups from all over the world. This put them in a better place to negotiate for further rights and land privileges on their terms.  Worldwide, native peoples are asserting their political power to bring long-needed changes to their communities. If governments are willing to listen, indigenous people will have a better chance of breaking the connection between indigenous people and poverty.

Jackie Mead

Photo: Flickr

Human Rights in CanadaHuman rights in Canada became a major topic of discussion after an investigation found that cultural genocide had been committed against Native Canadians. The Canadian government has vowed to reconcile with aboriginal Canadians, who also have the support of several advocacy groups.

In June 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission published a report that found the Canadian government guilty of cultural genocide following a detailed investigation into its former practice of sending Canadian aboriginal children to attend state-funded residential schools.

The report’s introduction explains that cultural genocide is “the destruction of those structures and practices that allow the group to continue as a group. States that engage in cultural genocide set out to destroy the political and social institutions of the targeted group. Land is seized, and populations are forcibly transferred and their movement is restricted. Languages are banned. Spiritual leaders are persecuted, spiritual practices are forbidden and objects of spiritual value are confiscated and destroyed. And, most significantly to the issue at hand, families are disrupted to prevent the transmission of cultural values and identity from one generation to the next.”

“In its dealing with Aboriginal people,” the report states, “Canada did all these things.”

Six years of research was conducted in order to compile the report, which reveals that between the 19th century and the 1970s, 150,000 children from aboriginal families were forced to attend over 130 Christian boarding schools with the purported intention of integrating them into Canadian society. Native languages, religions and cultures were suppressed and many First Nation children faced physical and sexual abuse. The report estimates that at least 4,000 aboriginal children died in the schools, many buried in unmarked graves.

Since the report was initially published, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has expressed the Canadian government’s solidarity with aboriginal people and his commitment to improve human rights in Canada for all. To that end, this year Trudeau invited Pope Francis to visit Canada and issue a formal apology on behalf of the Catholic Church, which directed many of the schools.

In addition to the government’s pledged efforts, several nonprofit organizations are working to advocate for the reconciliation and inclusion of aboriginal peoples in Canada after being denied basic human rights, excluded from society and, as affirmed by the report, suffering cultural genocide. Here are three of organizations you can support in their mission to create a better tomorrow for Native Canadians and defend human rights in Canada for all of its citizens.

  1. Assembly of First Nations: “The Assembly of First Nations (AFN) is a national advocacy organization representing First Nation citizens in Canada, which includes more than 900,000 people living in 634 First Nation communities and in cities and towns across the country.”
  2. Canadian Human Rights Commission: A key site for annual reports, updates on related public policy and its outcomes, and related campaigns. Opportunities to support advocacy endeavors also disseminated.
  3. The Native Women’s Association of Canada: “founded on the collective goal to enhance, promote, and foster the social, economic, cultural and political well-being of First Nations and Métis women within First Nation, Métis and Canadian societies.”

Savannah Bequeaith

Photo: Flickr