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Session 4: Critiquing the burden of history.   In this session we will look at the history of Indigenous health research from a political perspective.

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Presentation on theme: "Session 4: Critiquing the burden of history.   In this session we will look at the history of Indigenous health research from a political perspective."— Presentation transcript:

1 Session 4: Critiquing the burden of history

2   In this session we will look at the history of Indigenous health research from a political perspective   We will focus on how Indigenous people were thought of by researchers, and from that, how researchers saw themselves   We will look at the role of science in the formation of Indigenous and researcher identities

3 Thomas, D.P. 2004,. Reading doctors' writing: Race, politics and power in Indigenous health research, Canberra: Aboriginal Studies Press.

4   The first published article on Indigenous health was about the treatment of a spear wound using traditional medicine. This was published in 1870 in the NSW Medical Gazette   Early articles detailed Indigenous medical treatments but did not give credence to Indigenous explanations of disease causation   The MJA was established in 1914 and published articles on Indigenous health from its inception   However, only 1% of articles in this journal were about Indigenous health until the era of self-determination began in the 1970s

5 Indigenous health publications as a percentage of total MJA pages (excluding supplements)

6   1788 – 1900: Marginalisation   : Protectionism   : Assimilation   : Self-determination   ?: Partnership/Close the Gap? Dominant Eras in Indigenous Affairs

7   : Protectionism   : Assimilation Previous Eras of Indigenous Health Research

8   Aborigines were often portrayed as the source of infection for STIs and were hence subjected to surveillance and incarceration/quarantine for the protection of Whites Protectionism ( )

9   The dominant belief was that little could be done except to ‘smooth the pillow of a dying race’   Common until the 1950s. Also often portrayed pre- colonial Indigenous society as healthy and idyllic   There were two elements of Doomed Race Theory:   Aborigines were a different and inferior race   Primitive/inferior races inevitably succumb following contact with superior races/civilisations The Doomed Race Theory

10   Research in this era was not about the improvement of Indigenous health but the collection of scientific knowledge and the understanding of non-Indigenous health problems such as atherosclerosis through studying Indigenous people   Researchers ignored Indigenous people unless they were a potential risk the White health or a benefit to science Health Research & The Doomed Race

11   Salvage research was undertaken to learn as much as possible, for the good of science, before it was too late   Extensive blood samples and other physiological measurements were collected for later use   Case studies were undertaken of diseases common to Indigenous people but rare in non-Indigenous people   Search for biochemical definition of race: blood samples from Indigenous people (ABO blood groups) Health Research & The Doomed Race

12   Due to the virtual absence of type B blood, ‘Aborigines’ were thought to be ultra-Europeans in scientific circles   Although this finding attracted very little popular discussion it was used in human rights and later assimilationist discourses   There was a reluctance to delve into the implications of the relatedness of Aborigines and Europeans or to consider the implications for the notion of ‘race’ Blood Group Research

13   Cleland wrote of the “singular spirit of co-operation” shown by Aborigines and his puzzlement as to “why they are so ready to assist,” perhaps because “white people in general…were looked upon as being a very superior race”   Although Aborigines were seen as submitting to White power they also received food, sweets, tobacco, pipes etc. in trade   There is also evidence of a refusal to participate and of going ‘walkabout’ as passive resistance The Ethics of Blood Group Research

14   Even in this first era of health research there were those (both Indigenous and non-Indigenous) who criticised the conduct of such research   Talk of invasion and having ‘filched this large continent’ from Aboriginal people was quite common in the 1930s  “  “We do not wish to be ‘studied’ as scientific or anthropological curiosities…We ask you to be proud of the Australian Aborigines, and not be mislead any longer by the superstition that we are a naturally backward and low race. This is a scientific lie” Jack Patten & William Ferguson (1938) Critique of Health Research

15   Terminology changed after WWII with the rejection of ‘race’   Researchers avoided ‘race’ as determinedly as their pre-war colleagues avoided interpretations that undermined ‘race’. Phrases such as ‘ethnic constitutional factor’ were used to replace ‘race’   Although salvage research continued using this new rhetoric, most researchers accepted the need for research to be ‘useful’ not just to ‘science’ but to the goals of assimilation (but not yet to Aborigines themselves) Assimilation ( )

16   During the 1960s as an era-change loomed researchers began to address the health problems (but not necessarily the concerns) of Indigenous people   There was an acknowledgement of Indigenous co- researchers/participation and a reflection on the role and values of non-Indigenous researchers (Cawte 1964) Letters about the problems caused by racism and racist representations were written as the intrusion of politics into science was increasingly recognised (Christophers 1950s-60s) Assimilation/Self-determination

17   We now want to consider how the contemporary practice of Indigenous health are affected by the past   As a starting point we will watch a short video called ‘Two laws’ which shows a fictional discussion between the anthropologist Baldwin Spencer and an Arrente elder (Irrapmwe)   This video is from the Bunjilaka collection of the Melbourne Museum (used with their kind permission) Past vs. present health research

18   While you watch this video consider the following questions:   Who represents the present in this video? Who represents the past? What is the nature of their relationship and the dialogue between past and present?   How is the historical relationship between Indigenous and White people constructed?   How is the contemporary relationship constructed? Past vs. present health research

19 Baldwin Spencer Sir Walter Baldwin Spencer ( ) Sir Walter Baldwin Spencer ( ) Scientist and administrator, anthropologist and ethnographer Scientist and administrator, anthropologist and ethnographer In 1896 Spencer joined F.J. Gillen for the most intensive field work then attempted in Australia. The Native Tribes of Central Australia (1899) which resulted was to influence contemporary theories on social evolution and interpretations of the origins of art and ceremonial. In 1896 Spencer joined F.J. Gillen for the most intensive field work then attempted in Australia. The Native Tribes of Central Australia (1899) which resulted was to influence contemporary theories on social evolution and interpretations of the origins of art and ceremonial.

20 Spencer was a well respected teacher and lecturer, an entrepreneur for national science, one of Victoria's first conservationists (Wilson's Promontory National Park is his monument) and an advocate for Australian artists. Spencer was a well respected teacher and lecturer, an entrepreneur for national science, one of Victoria's first conservationists (Wilson's Promontory National Park is his monument) and an advocate for Australian artists. Spencer drew upon the assumptions and models of biological evolution and applied them to Aboriginal institutions, beliefs and technology in a mechanistic manner. Although a kindly humanitarian in practice, in theory he saw Aborigines simply as dehumanised 'survivals' from an early stage of social development. Spencer drew upon the assumptions and models of biological evolution and applied them to Aboriginal institutions, beliefs and technology in a mechanistic manner. Although a kindly humanitarian in practice, in theory he saw Aborigines simply as dehumanised 'survivals' from an early stage of social development.

21 King Charley Irrapmwe, an Aboriginal elder, also known as Ntjalka or 'King Charley of Alice Springs'. Irrapmwe, an Aboriginal elder, also known as Ntjalka or 'King Charley of Alice Springs'. The leading elder in the local group in Alice Springs in 1899 when Spencer and Frank Gillen, the local postmaster and magistrate, published ‘The Native Tribes of Central Australia.’ The leading elder in the local group in Alice Springs in 1899 when Spencer and Frank Gillen, the local postmaster and magistrate, published ‘The Native Tribes of Central Australia.’ Irrapmwe facilitated the ethnographic work of Spencer and Gillen Irrapmwe facilitated the ethnographic work of Spencer and Gillen

22 ‘Two Laws’ video

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24   During his time Spencer was seen as a radical who was once accused of making ‘Aborigines too human’ Does he come across this way in the video? What does this tell us about the portrayal of past researchers?   Is this video is a role reversal? (i.e. Irrapmwe as expert and Spencer as ignorant) If so, what purpose does it serve?   The creator of this video has called it a ‘conversation about the weight of history’ What could this term mean in relation to Indigenous health research? Past vs. present health research

25   We can think of this video as emblematic of the self- determination project   How would it be different if it was made in the 1950s? (emphasis on sameness rather than different races) Past vs. present health research

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27   We can think of this video as emblematic of the self- determination project   How would it be different if it was made in the 1950s? (emphasis on sameness rather than different races) Past vs. present health research

28 Our people have…accepted the modern system of government which has taken the place of our prehistoric methods and have conformed to the same reasonably well when the treatment accorded them is fully considered. We are, therefore, striving to obtain full recognition of our citizen rights on terms of absolute equality with all other people in our own land. (Attwood and Markus 1999:68)


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