How does Western culture impact how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people engage with services?

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The Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islanders of Australia have had to adapt to Western culture, especially in language and lifestyle. This has caused significant cultural loss as well as struggles to conform to Western practices and attain needed services.

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Whenever cultures meet, there must be adaptations on both sides. However, the ruling culture, which in Australia is the Western culture with its systems and structures, changes less than the native cultures. The Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islanders of Australia have encountered many challenges during their years of adaptation,...

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as they have struggled to adjust to Western culture.

For one thing, Australian officials have insisted upon all Australians learning and using English. In fact, at one point, the Australian government even banned native languages, and many languages have died out as a result. Parents no longer taught their children their ancestral tongues for fear that such knowledge would hold them back, and children certainly did not learn such languages in schools, where only English was allowed. This has resulted in significant cultural loss for the native peoples of Australia.

Further, many Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islanders have moved from their homelands into cities where they can find work. In doing so, they often integrate into Western culture to a large extent, leaving their traditional customs behind or at least not practicing them as part of their daily lives. Again, this leads to cultural loss.

As far as engaging with services offered by the Western-led government, again, Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders must adapt. They must, of course, speak English to even access such services, and they need to adopt Western categories and ways of thinking in order to fill out forms, interact with the bureaucracy, and receive aid. Of course, perhaps they would not need such government services if their traditional ways of hunting, gathering, and farming had not been disrupted in the drive to become more Western.

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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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