Disability and Indigeneity

Led by Dr John Gilroy, ARC Indigenous Research Fellow (DAATSIA)

What is colonisation and colonialism in the context of disability research, policy and advocacy?

‘Colonisation’ is the process of one nation (such as Britain) forcibly encroaching and taking control over geographic regions that are not traditionally owned by them (such as the Indigenous peoples’ lands in Australia). The invading nation(s) establishes colonies to enforce power and control over those lands to serve the interest of the invading nation’s ruling population. ‘Colonialism’ is the collection of philosophies, beliefs and ideologies that underpin and provide justification for the acts of colonisation.

There is a general lack of awareness of how disability research, and the resultant data and conclusions, serves the interests of the ruling population. Far too often, researchers have undertaken research ‘on’ Indigenous peoples as opposed to ‘with’ indigenous peoples, breaching Indigenous cultural protocols.

Gilroy et al. state that:
There are volumes of knowledge, a whole epistemological library in fact, on Indigenous people with a disability. This knowledge is not owned by Indigenous people, rather this library operates as a resource for non-Indigenous researchers and government decision makers to legitimate themselves as the controllers and bearers of the ‘truth’ on disability. (Gilroy et al. 2012: 116)

A consequence of research that is not driven by Indigenous communities is that it can lead to inaccurate findings and result in destructive rather than constructive policy initiatives. Many current practices of disability research and practice that would seem to be evidence based continue to further alienate and disenfranchise Indigenous people with disabilities.

Decolonisation of research, policy and advocacy

The Indigeneity and Disability stream aims to further advance decolonised evidenced based policy and advocacy. Decolonisation, in this context, sets about systematically critiquing and understanding the process and operations of colonialism (and colonisation) in Australian disability research, policy and advocacy. Decolonisation is a process that challenges the existing privileged position of Western ways of knowing from the position of Indigenous peoples. This approach requires us to deconstruct the present and past research methodologies to reconstruct new methodologies of research with Indigenous peoples with disabilities, their families’ and communities. This form of scholarly advocacy stems from the knowledge that European imperialism has also colonised the thought processes of Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples.

The Indigeneity and Disability workstream will involve a multidisciplinary approach, building partnerships with scholars in critical disability studies, decolonisation and southern theorists. This stream will work with other CDRP workstreams, for example the NDIS stream, to ensure the outcomes of Indigeniety and Disability are immediately relevant and are likely to be translated into practice.

Relevant Publications

The needs of Carers of Aboriginal children and young people in foster care in Australia: A Systematic Literature Review July 2018

Recent research into the pressures on the out-of-home care (OOHC) system concluded that there was a limited amount of research driven by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community itself, which indicates that Indigenous voices are not being adequately captured. This silencing means that the views of carers and departmental Government officers on the key barriers to placement stability for foster carers of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are not fully represented.

For more information see the report here

Twelve factors that can influence the participation of Aboriginal people in disability services

Twelve factors that can influence the participation of Aboriginal people in disability services

There is limited understanding of the views of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal workers about the factors that influence the participation of Aboriginal people in disability services. This inquiry identified and explored the factors that influence the participation of Aboriginal people in disability services, as described from the experiences of a sample of paid non-government disability service workers in New South Wales, Australia.

Publications and Enquiries

For publications and other information about Dr John Gilroy, please see the academic profile here

Dr Gilroy also welcomes enquiries to his e-mail address john.gilroy@sydney.edu.au