An exploration of the influence of engagement with commemoration on the social and emotional wellbeing of Aboriginal people in South West Queensland, Australia

PhD Thesis


Forbes, Megan Jane. 2020. An exploration of the influence of engagement with commemoration on the social and emotional wellbeing of Aboriginal people in South West Queensland, Australia. PhD Thesis Doctor of Philosophy. University of Southern Queensland. https://doi.org/10.26192/ERES-WK16
Title

An exploration of the influence of engagement with commemoration on the social and emotional wellbeing of Aboriginal people in South West Queensland, Australia

TypePhD Thesis
Authors
AuthorForbes, Megan Jane
SupervisorPalmer, Jane
Burton, Lorelle
Pocock, Celmara
Danaher, Patrick
Institution of OriginUniversity of Southern Queensland
Qualification NameDoctor of Philosophy
Number of Pages223
Year2020
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)https://doi.org/10.26192/ERES-WK16
Abstract

Following colonisation, Indigenous people across Australia continue to experience lower levels of social and emotional wellbeing (SEWB) than their non-Indigenous counterparts, with many continuing to occupy a marginalised space and identity that are often experienced as sharing little with Australian national identity. However, sharing Indigenous Australians’ experiences with non-Indigenous Australians is increasingly recognised as having the potential to promote a process of education, increased understanding, and healing. Internationally, many communities marginalised by conflict and violence have engaged in commemoration of their experiences to honour those who suffered and were lost, to create warnings and pass their narratives on to future generations, and to promote understanding and reconciliation with historical perpetrators. In Australia, however, official commemorative sites and events continue to represent disproportionately non-Indigenous experiences and narratives so that many non-Indigenous Australians continue to have minimal understanding of Indigenous peoples’ experiences.

The purpose of this study was to examine whether engagement with commemoration had an influence on the SEWB of Aboriginal people in South West Queensland. SEWB is a multidimensional concept with a distinctive development in the field of Indigenous psychology. Further, SEWB is preferred by many Indigenous Australians to 'mental health', owing in part to the stigma associated with mental ill-health, and also because SEWB is better aligned with their own holistic conceptualisations of health and community. However, since conceptions of SEWB may differ by region, I first sought to understand what SEWB meant to Aboriginal people in South West Queensland. Therefore my first research question was: 'What does social and emotional wellbeing mean to Aboriginal people in South West Queensland?'. Following this, I sought to understand the commemoration experiences of Aboriginal people across that region. Therefore my second research question was: 'How do Aboriginal people in South West Queensland describe their experiences of engagement with commemoration?'. Once I had conducted these two in-depth explorations, it was possible to explore the influence of engagement with commemoration on the SEWB of Aboriginal people in South West Queensland. Therefore my third research question was: 'How does engagement with commemoration influence the social and emotional wellbeing of Aboriginal people in South West Queensland?'.

This study was informed by three theories: terror management theory, continuing bonds theory, and community learning theory. Each of the three research questions was examined through the lenses of the four dimensions of the conceptual framework. These were cultural identity, informed by terror management theory; grief and loss, informed by continuing bonds theory; and social cohesion and political strategy, each of which was informed by community learning theory. Since I was a non-Indigenous researcher engaged in a research partnership with Indigenous communities, I approached this research from a constructivist perspective while informing the research design with an Indigenous paradigm for research. The qualitative research methods employed were participant observation and yarning, an Indigenous research method, for interviews.

Significant contributions to knowledge entailed contributions to theoretical knowledge, methodological knowledge, and policy and practice knowledge. Contributions to theoretical knowledge included an examination of the interplay between SEWB and engagement with collective memory through commemoration through the four dimensions of the study’s conceptual framework. Contributions to methodological knowledge included the development of an approach to this research that acknowledged my Western worldview while honouring the Indigenous worldviews of the people who had partnered in this research. Contributions to policy and practice knowledge included demonstrating that supporting commemoration of Aboriginal experiences does influence SEWB through strengthened social cohesion, cultural identity, continuing bonds in the face of ongoing and pervasive grief and loss, and political strategy. Further, commemoration provides pathways for Aboriginal people to gain respect and acknowledgement for their culture and experiences, argued to be potentially one of the most important health gaps that Australia needs to close.

KeywordsSocial and emotional wellbeing, SEWB, Commemoration, Aboriginal, Indigenous, Terror management theory, Continuing bonds theory, Community learning theory, Collective memory, Queensland, Australia, Colonisation, Cultural identity, Grief and loss, Social cohesion, Political strategy, Activism
ANZSRC Field of Research 2020450416. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander psychology
Byline AffiliationsSchool of Humanities and Communication
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https://research.usq.edu.au/item/q657q/an-exploration-of-the-influence-of-engagement-with-commemoration-on-the-social-and-emotional-wellbeing-of-aboriginal-people-in-south-west-queensland-australia

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