They do think about health - health, culture and identity in Katherine

  • Mascha Friderichs

    Student thesis: Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) - CDU


    This thesis describes the myriad of ways in which Indigenous young women in Katherine think about health and engage with the health system.

    Indigenous health is an important topic for the Australian government, which is trying to improve it through policies such as Closing the Gap. Health and social services also strive towards this goal. Service providers and government policies create certain constructions of what Indigenous health is. How Indigenous people themselves understand and negotiate health is less well-known. This thesis examines this question with a particular focus on Indigenous young women in Katherine.

    I conducted one year of ethnographic fieldwork in Katherine. This included semi-structured interviews with Indigenous young women and service providers, and participant observation at two social services. I worked with two Indigenous young women as peer researchers, and an older woman, who is a traditional healer, as a key informant.

    The young women expressed the standard health messages which focus on health as a behaviour and an individual responsibility. Concurrently, they also expressed broader conceptualisations of health. When seeking formal health care, the young women mainly attended the Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation, which they perceived as delivering biomedical care. Traditional medicine was still prevalent, though showing changes in practice and in its ascribed meanings. It was part of the “culture” as well as the “health” domain.

    Comparing Indigenous and non-Indigenous outcomes on social determinants of health and emphasising Indigenous disadvantage was shown to have negative consequences for how young Indigenous women experience their identities. To fully understand and to be able to respond effectively to the health challenges that these young women face, service providers and governments need to be able to look past the binary of Indigenous versus non-Indigenous, and understand the full complexity of the beliefs and experiences of these young women.
    Date of AwardAug 2018
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorKate Senior (Supervisor)

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