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Barlo, S 2016, 'Can the impacts of colonisation on the dignity of Aboriginal men be reversed?', PhD thesis, Southern Cross University, Lismore, NSW.

Copyright Stuart Barlo 2016


Over the last 10 years there has been a cry from the Indigenous leaders within Australia. One of those Indigenous leaders is Tom Calma, the former Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commissioner, who consistently ended each of his addresses with: “Australia needs to restore the human dignity to the Aboriginal people” (Calma, 2006, 2008a, 2008b, 2009, 2012). In keeping with this outcry, this research examines the impact of colonisation on the dignity of Aboriginal men, and the importance of Aboriginal culture to the restoration and maintenance of that dignity.

At the time of colonisation, Aboriginal men were regularly involved in all aspects of community life through their roles and responsibilities that were part of the cultural norms. Since the colonisation process began in Australia in 1788, these roles and responsibilities have been devalued, deconstructed and in many cases deemed irrelevant.

The policies of the current and recent governments create further impetus for the need for this research as they demonstrate blatant disregard for the social and emotional wellbeing of Aboriginal men. An example was the Commonwealth Government’s 2007 enactment of the Northern Territory Emergency Response policy. This policy had an immediate impact on the dignity of the Aboriginal men of the Northern Territory.

A study of the literature revealed four concepts of dignity – merit, moral stature, identity and human right – and that each of these concepts have a set of locus of control that involve either external or internal influences. These factors influence the restoration of dignity among Aboriginal men. An understanding of these concepts was important in analysing the yarning sessions with Aboriginal participants that were conducted as part of this research project. The methodology and research method utilised in this project are based on a method of imparting knowledge referred to by Australian Aboriginal Elders as ‘yarning’. This method incorporates a yarning space that is protected by seven principles and six protocols and this thesis explains how those 13 items protect the participants and their stories. Each participant in the study comes with his family history, life stories and experiences that combine together to form his narratives. From within the yarning space an environment is created that allows the opportunity for the flow of healing, connections, strength, truth, understanding, knowledge, wisdom and relationships.

A similar style of knowledge transference is widely used among the First Nation groups in Canada and is known as ‘talking circles’. To provide the research with a comparative aspect, a number of First Nations men were asked to participate in this study. These data were used in formulating the conclusions.

The results of this project emphasised the importance of the Elders’ belief that the restoration of dignity for Aboriginal men is strongly linked to culture and its foundational principles. Further research is required to identify possible programs and processes to restore Aboriginal men’s dignity that include these principles.

The development of an enhanced methodology created methods that are culturally competent, with core values of respect and honour and the aim of providing a culturally safe environment. As a method of presenting this thesis in a culturally appropriate manner, 17 original art works have been included throughout the document. These will be published and presented to each of the participants as a gift.