How could one’s own culture, including those of Western systems and structures, impact Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and how they engage with services?

The Torres Strait islanders have been heavily impacted by exposure to Western culture, and this exposure has led to new religious practices and the proliferation of English. This has resulted in the loss of certain cultural traits as the Islanders conform to the dominant culture of Australia in order to engage with services.

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Like with Indigenous populations everywhere, contact with other cultures has left an impact on the aboriginal peoples of the Torres Strait. The dominant culture of Australia, Western culture, has left an indelible mark on all societies in the country. It has shifted the way the Torres Strait Islanders conduct their way of life in uncountable ways.

Perhaps the most tangible impacts of Western culture on the Torres Strait Islanders relate to religion and language. The practice of Christianity has almost entirely supplanted previous religious customs and practices. English has also come to be spoken throughout the population, and many younger islanders no longer speak their ancestral tongue.

These and other cultural changes have influenced the ways that Torres Strait Islanders engage with services offered by the Australian government. Until 1994, regional affairs were governed by locally elected councils based on traditional hierarchies. Today, however, the official Australian governmental body, the Torres Strait Regional Authority, oversees local issues. Engaging with this and other official services requires a certain competency in Western-style bureaucracy as well as the ability to speak and read English.

In some instances, the Torres Strait Islanders have been able to petition the government to allow for the preservation of certain practices that may not have been permitted otherwise. For instance, some Torres Strait Island societies allow children to be adopted by other members of the community, even if their parents are alive and able to care for them. This was not legal until the government of Queensland passed a new law allowing for it in 2020.

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