The Challenge

Cultural Understanding

"Culture is not a ‘perk’ for an Aboriginal child – it is a life-line" - Andrew Jackomos, Victorian Commissioner for Aboriginal Children and Young People.

Key Facts


60 Aboriginal languages considered 'alive' and in use as a first tongue today.


Less than half of Indigenous children aged 4-14 years identify with a clan, tribal or language group.


The United Nations states that in relation to human rights connected to education; “Indigenous children shall not be denied the right to enjoy their own culture, to profess and practise their own religion, or to use their own language.”

Due to many factors Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people may hold limited knowledge of their Indigenous identity and heritage. In many instances they may be separated from their traditional community, land, cultural responsibilities and families. Multi-generational instances of trauma whereby families, cultural practices, systems of lore, relationship structures and languages were systematically impacted resulted in devastating effects on the psyche, welfare, land and spirituality of Indigenous Australians. These practices and their effects leave a significant gap in the sense of identity amongst Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in contemporary Australia and the struggle to redeem these necessary aspects of identity continue to be sought by all generations.

In its living form, Indigenous culture is one of the most respectful and mesmerising cultures, and to accept it’s full meaning means more than to simply dance, play the didgeridoo or speak in language.” – Tagalak Woman Denise Bowden.

As a result of the effects of dispossession coupled with the need to reassert cultural identity, there is undoubtedly a need to tailor specific programs to the needs of Indigenous communities. Despite this however, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people importantly need the power to make their own decisions and have ownership of the outcomes. The benefits of creating programs that are customised to cultural needs and move away from one-size-fits-all approaches that have historically failed many Indigenous young people are effective when meeting community-specific needs.

NASCA’s Response

Education and Cultural Obligations

NASCA knows that cultural obligations and community deaths or ‘Sorry Business’ may affect school attendance rates at certain times of the year.   We acknowledge the value of these rituals in the healing of and cultural identity of communities.

As an organisation we acknowledge the value of bilingual education to children in communities whereby English may not be the first language and we also acknowledge the strong connection between language and connection to ones culture and esteem.

NASCA strongly believes the strength within Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures counteracts the ‘deficits’ that are often used to explain ‘Indigenous disadvantage’ and this includes education.


Having a genuine passion for and understanding of the value of and healing power of culture for young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders also underpins our work as it relates to health and employment strategies. Having cultural awareness around the more effective means of creating outcomes across education, health and employment is part of how we work in communities. We acknowledge that the inherent strengths in cultural practices and knowing ones culture needs to be intertwined within strategies as they relate to best practice models when creating measurable outcomes for young Indigenous Australians.

Gender inclusive approaches

In addition to education, employment and substance abuse issues, young Indigenous women face additional barriers to success such as violence, sexual health issues and young and/or single parenthood. Rates of incarceration for Indigenous women have risen substantially in recent years, and Indigenous women are currently the fastest growing prison population in Australia.

The median income for Aboriginal women is $278 per week, which is less than those of Aboriginal men and is also a mere 70% of the wage considered to be the bare minimum to live on or the ‘poverty line’


Since 2000 the rate of female Indigenous imprisonment has also increased by 73.7 percent compared to a 38.6 percent increase for Indigenous males, which is also alarming.

Some programs for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people are gender exclusive. Young Indigenous women can miss out on these gendered programs or be grouped into programs designed for Indigenous young men, or into mainstream girls programs.

Improving social indicators for young Indigenous women through education is particularly relevant considering the influencing role women play as mothers (often as ‘young mothers’) and caregivers.


Creating Aboriginal-led programs

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people tend to drop out of mainstream programs or may see them as imposing. Aboriginal led programs are important because they can adapt to the needs of the community and are based on Indigenous knowledge and terms of reference, particularly if they engage Indigenous mentors and role models.

Aboriginal led programs also play an important role in meeting targets through decision making, and empowering Aboriginal peoples to tackle their own social issues. Programs tend to be more successful where there is community leadership.