Pat Dudgeon, Abigail Bray, Dawn Darlaston-Jones and Roz Walker



This is a discussion paper and literature review that defines and provides examples of Indigenous Social and Emotional Wellbeing and Indigenous research paradigms and methods, with a focus on action research. Three Indigenous mental health and wellbeing projects are explored: the Kimberley Empowerment, Leadership and Healing Project (KELHP), the National Empowerment Project (NEP) and the Cultural, Social and Emotional Wellbeing (CSEWB) Program.


Key findings

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander social and emotional wellbeing is influenced by social and historical factors, namely the “legacy of complex forms of trauma and dispossession inflicted by a genocidal settler culture”
  • The social and emotional wellbeing framework depicts seven interrelated domains that describe cultural connections wholistically and the importance of working across these domains to enhance wellbeing for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders
  • Such a model ensures that when working with individuals and families we are also having regard for the setting, community contexts and societal structures and policies that affect their lives. It is based on Indigenous ways of doing, being and knowing that have enabled community survival
  • Aboriginal Participatory Action Research (APAR) (an extension and Indigenisation of conventional participatory action research) has been successfully applied to elevate Indigenous voice and self-determination by generating knowledge by and for Indigenous people, families and communities

  Messages for practice

  • Indigenous Knowledge systems and research practices, such as Aboriginal Participatory Action Research, support critical reflection and Indigenous-led strategies and solutions, which are essential to Indigenous social and emotional wellbeing
  • We can decolonise research by applying APAR and ensuring research is locally based – connected to a particular place(s) and the experiences of people living in those places.
  • The main elements of APAR include involving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community-based researchers, respecting Indigenous people as experts, establishing local Indigenous community reference groups, generating localised knowledge and community participation, implementing the guiding principles of social and emotional wellbeing and four overlapping elements of APAR: Indigenous ways of knowing, being, doing as a methodology.