Statistical collections can improve the way they collect data about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples

December 17, 2019

A First Nations researcher says statistical collection of First Nations data should focus on cultural identity rather than continuing to use historical methods seeking to define the “origin” of people.

APPRISE researcher Kristy Crooks, a proud Aboriginal woman working at the Health Protection Unit for Hunter New England Population Health, says asking a question about identity during data collection would better reflect reality and enable more culturally appropriate disease control responses.

In a perspective piece published online In the journal Public Health and Research Practice,1 Ms Crooks and her co-authors point out that the Australian Bureau of Statistics still uses a Yes/No question about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander “origin” that is consistent with historical methods for data collection.

“On the other hand, a national surveillance system called FluTracking asks a question about identity rather than origins. The question they ask is: ‘Do you identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander?’” Ms Crooks says.

“We asked Aboriginal health professionals and academics in NSW and Queensland and found they preferred a question focused on identity because it has deeper meaning and better reflects people’s personal journeys and pride in their cultural identity.”

“Identity is so much more than just having an ancestral link, which is what the origin questions implies.”

The authors also suggest a method that would enable statistical collections to begin gathering data about “identity” while still ensuring the relevance of historical data collection around “origins”.

1. Kristy Crooks, Sandra Carlson, Craig Dalton. Defining, controlling and analysing Indigenous data: commitment to historical consistency or commitment to Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples? Public Health Research Practice. 2019;29(4):e.