Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and cultures hold a unique and important place in the Canberra community and Australian society. 

However, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people face systemic disadvantage, discrimination and continue to be affected by actions of the past, including colonisation and the Stolen Generations. There are clear disparities across all indicators of health and quality of life between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and non-Indigenous Australians.

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population has a median age of 20 years, which means that 50% of the population is aged below 20 years.[1] People who work with young people have the unique opportunity to acknowledge the disadvantage and discrimination faced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people and take steps to addressing this by working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people and their communities. This requires workers to have an understanding of an individual’s personal and cultural history and a willingness to work flexibly and holistically.

This Ways of Working has been developed in collaboration with Gugan Gulwan Youth Aboriginal Corporation and incorporates some of the findings presented by the Institute for Child Protection Studies at the ‘Listening and Responding to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people: Learning’s from the Out of Home Care Forum’.

The following tips and principles provide some first steps to assist you to make your practice and service more culturally appropriate and accessible to diverse needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people:

  • It is OK to ask someone if they’re Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander. Young Aboriginal people in Canberra often come from all over the country, and will have a variety of beliefs and traditions. Young Torres Strait Islander people can also come from different areas in the Torres Strait Islands.
  • Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, like non – Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, are not homogenous (the same).
  • Be careful not to make assumptions or stereotype the young person. Different young people will be in touch with their culture in different ways – some may know a lot and some may know a little.
  • Young people may choose to access a variety of services and they should be told about the choices that are available to them. Young people are individuals with individual needs. For example, one young person may want to access an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander specific service whereas another may not. People who work with young people need to be understanding and supportive of individual young people’s choices.
  • All services should be accessible to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people.  It is important not just to refer on. Remember, it is OK to call an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander service for advice.
  • Display and promote positive messages. You could put up posters, paintings and get a map of Aboriginal Australia in your service. You could also subscribe and read Deadly Vibe[1] and the Koori Mail.[2]
  • Many Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander services in the ACT have a huge demand placed on them, so it may take time to build relationships with Indigenous services.
  • Young people want to participate in regards to decisions about culture and the way they connect with their community. They want to be given a voice and to be able to talk about concerns. When you ask a young person for their opinion, be sure to follow it up afterwards and communicate it back to them.

It must be understood and respected for the protocol, that an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person cannot generally speak about or on behalf of another person’s country, unless given permission by the custodians or traditional landowner to do so.


[1] Deadlyvibe  can be accessed at http://deadlys.vibe.com.au/vibe.asp?pageID=1871.

[2] Koorimail can be accessed at www.koorimail.com.

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