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FOCUS GROUP RESEARCH: PROPENSITY TO IDENTIFY IN ADMINISTRATIVE DATA COLLECTIONS
Factors discouraging identification
Conversely, reasons for not identifying as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander in these contexts included:
Participants spoke of procedural issues such as incorrect or inappropriate terminology, including the use of the word ‘Indigenous’ or the use of a single, combined ‘Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander’ response, as factors leading to differential identification.
Participants also expressed the importance of understanding the reason for collection of data on Indigenous status. If organisations appear to be collecting the information for their own benefit only, participants suggested they may be less likely to identify. Literacy and language issues were also raised, with particular reference to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who may have travelled from remote areas to access services, and may need additional assistance with reading forms or with understanding questions in English.
Participants gave examples of situations in which identifying as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander had led to negative, or ‘double-edged’ consequences; these included employment and education contexts. Participants also discussed being conscious of the potential consequences of identification when answering questions about their Indigenous status. For example, older participants discussed experiences related to the Stolen Generation and their subsequent distrust of government organisations.
Participants also described situations in which their Indigenous status had been ‘assumed’ by data collectors and they had not been given an opportunity to disclose (or withhold) this information.
Participants expressed concerns about confidentiality and privacy, and discussed discomfort with the amount of information requested by some organisations. Related to this, the need for clear information about the reasons for collecting Indigenous status data was raised. Respondents suggested that, where the need for the information is clear, identification is a more straightforward issue.
Documentation and ‘proof’ of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander heritage was also discussed. Difficulties with obtaining ‘Confirmation of Aboriginality’[footnote 1] certificates were raised, particularly for people who had been removed from their families. Fostering, adoption and the death of family knowledge holders were also mentioned as reasons why some people are unable to obtain documentation confirming their Indigenous status. Internal politics within communities and groups can also contribute to difficulties with documentation.
Participants discussed ‘respondent fatigue’ (resulting from past experiences of being asked to disclose their Indigenous status) leading to inconsistent identification. Where respondents had been asked about their Indigenous status, or had been asked to justify their response to questions about their Indigenous status, they reported becoming frustrated and ceasing to identify as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander in some contexts.
A range of social factors contributing to decisions about identification were also mentioned. Experiences of racism and discrimination, peer pressure (particularly in discouraging identification among young people), embarrassment and shame in the context of data collection, and the extent to which an individual identifies with Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander culture were discussed.
Participants indicated that if they felt that discrimination and stereotyping would result from their choice to identify, they were less likely to do so. Employment and housing contexts were offered as an example of participants choosing not to disclose their Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander heritage due to fear of discrimination.
When discussing the issue of stereotyping, the portrayal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the media was raised. Participants spoke about at times feeling ‘second class’ as a result of negative portrayals of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Some participants also indicated that Aboriginal culture is not understood or respected. This may or may not be consistent with the views of Torres Strait Islander peoples.
In some cases, particularly for young people, the perception that extra benefits are available to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people can be a disincentive to identifying. The desire to be accepted in new environments (where young people have moved to a new location for work or study) was also raised as a reason for some young people not identifying.
Participants identified other factors identified as potential causes of differential or non-identification, including:
It should be noted that some of the factors identified above refer specifically to the Aboriginal culture and may or may not reflect the views of Torres Strait Islander people.
Generational differences in attitudes to identification were discussed; the range of comments made across the focus groups indicated that age is a key factor in identification issues. Pride in one’s culture and confidence to disclose your descent was noted to ‘come with age’ and may result in an individual’s propensity to identify changing over time. Participants acknowledged the issues facing young people, who were thought to be less confident and more subject to peer pressure. It was suggested that as a result of these factors, young people may not consistently disclose their Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander origin.
1. As outlined by the Australian Public Service Commission (APSC) a ‘Confirmation of Aboriginality’ can be in the form of: