A collaborative new study exploring the contemporary role of Elders in Indigenous communities has found greater support is needed to strengthen the role of Elders, especially in relation to issues tied to the stolen generation, the loss of traditional knowledge and low indigenous life expectancy.

As this week’s NAIDOC celebrations focus on the importance, resilience and richness of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages, the recognition and understanding of the role of Elders in preserving traditional knowledge in Indigenous communities is increasingly seen as highly significant.

Led by Dr Lucy Busija from ACU's Institute for Health and Ageing in partnership with a regional Indigenous community in Queensland, the local ACCHO (Carbal Aboriginal Medical Service), and the University of Queensland Rural Clinical School, the research is the first systematic study exploring community wellbeing and the contemporary role of Indigenous Elders.

According to members of the Indigenous community, the main components of Eldership include providing support, being involved in the community, teaching and passing down knowledge, being respectful and sharing experiences.

Dr Lucy Busija said the research helped shine a light on the different components of Eldership and the vital role Elders played in addressing an array of issues affecting Indigenous Australians.

“Our study reveals Elders not only play an integral part in preserving traditional knowledge, they are also pivotal in helping tackle broader community issues such as health, education, unemployment, racism and oppression. By empowering Elders with the support necessary to address issues in their communities, we can make a positive step in helping close the gap and transferring sacred spiritual knowledge,” she said.

Suggestions for improving community involvement also arose, with strong recommendations for a designated place or ‘shed’ where people could come together for activities, groups and food to increase involvement of the Elders with the youth.

Indigenous community leader Dr Maree Toombs, Director of Indigenous Health at the University of Queensland, said insights from the research would be used to enhance the role of Elders within the local Indigenous community.

“The research paints a more detailed picture about the perceptions of Elders within the community and how we can increase the transfer of knowledge, culture, and language,” she said.

Other issues that arose from interviews and focus groups included the lack of Elder representation within the government, low Indigenous life expectancy and poor health, unemployment, lack of a cultural space/place for teachings, changing discipline among youth compared to when the Elders were young, and education.

Learn more about the study