Changing the thinking about priorities in Indigenous health research

Changing the thinking about priorities in Indigenous health research Journal Article

Australian Journal of Rural Health

  • Author(s): Lindeman, M.A., Taylor, K.A., Reid, J.B.
  • Published: 2011
  • Volume: 19

Abstract: Researchers in remote and Indigenous health are constantly challenged by differing views as to the most pressing priorities for research and ways to improve Indigenous health. The more prominent of these views are often obtained from non-Indigenous health and other ‘experts’. Indigenous perspectives are less obvious and less well heard in the development of priorities which can change with the political interests of the day. We question the need to think simply in terms of priorities. Prioritising is a way of thinking with which non-Indigenous researchers are comfortable but is often anathema to Indigenous cultural beliefs – choosing one action or target population on which to focus by definition means that others are excluded. Whilst there is a need to identify research questions and projects to address issues, the challenge is to develop these ideas within an ‘Indigenous minds’ approach. Indigenous mind is a philosophy that gives practical meaning to Aboriginal ways of knowing, being and valuing. One Australian perspective of Indigenous mind takes the foundational values of reciprocity, respect and relationships as the social fabric that is woven through and binds together the people in those cultural locations. It is these values that form and inform the way Aboriginal people view and engage with the world. From a grounded cultural perspective outsiders need to accept the right of people to hold differing world views and that a shared understanding might not be possible or even necessary. Briskman argues that for human rights to frame human service delivery it is crucial to bring to the forefront the rights of Indigenous peoples to have their knowledge validated and affirmed. In the area of health research, this requires researchers to not only engage in a dialogue with Indigenous people, but to let go of dominant non-Indigenous processes and adopt a culturally safe approach that is framed by Indigenous realities. Cultural safety requires practitioners to reflect on their own cultural identity and on their relative power. Applying a cultural safety approach to developing research proposals complements the NHMRC ethical guidelines for Indigenous health research. The idea of Indigenous minds is also complementary and pushes the boundaries a little further. From this perspective, non-Indigenous health researchers have an obligation to follow ethical and cultural safety principles, but also have a responsibility, if not to understand how Indigenous people think, to accept the right to think differently and approach research from this position of acceptance. Focusing research on priorities, without reference to the broader context, provides an incomplete picture of a complex whole and will limit positive outcomes. Engaging in close partnerships allows for and thrives on an exchange of different ways of thinking. This takes time to establish and requires constant critical reflection. It is not always a comfortable ride for those who are used to being in the driving seat, but one that if taken, can allow opportunities to see things from a new and ultimately more comprehensive view.

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Suggested Citation
Lindeman, M.A., Taylor, K.A., Reid, J.B. , 2011, Changing the thinking about priorities in Indigenous health research, Volume:19, Journal Article, viewed 30 November 2023,

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