Negotiating the right path: Working together to effect change in healthcare service provision to Aboriginal peoples


  • Michael Wright Curtin University
  • Margaret O'Connell Telethon Kids Institute, University of Western Australia


worldviews, Nyoongar culture, Nyoongar worldview, mental health and wellbeing, shared understanding, dialogue, engagement, systems change, community based participatory research, Indigenous research


Purpose of the paper: The purpose of this paper is to outline the centrality of a Nyoongar worldview to an engagement framework designed with the Nyoongar community to enable the community to work meaningfully with service providers in the mental health and drug and alcohol sectors to bring about systems change. This paper follows on from a previous paper by the author (Wright 2011) in which the principles and methods of both Indigenous research and participatory action research are explored in relation to each other as a way of mitigating the delegitimising effects of colonisation.

Design/Method/Approach: This paper presents a discussion about the ontological elements expressed through various cultural lenses, as a way to unpack the need to decolonise the dominant westernised worldviews that perpetuate ways of being, knowing and doing and preserve the ‘status quo’. Through CBPR methods coupled with an Indigenous research methodology, we share findings from our collaborations with Nyoongar Elders and service providers participating in the Looking Forward Aboriginal Mental Health Project.

Findings: The recognition and acknowledgment of a Nyoongar worldview is the first step to working together, and provides the centre point for the development of a culturally safe model for engagement. Privileging a Nyoongar worldview disrupts the dominant western paradigm so that service providers and the Nyoongar community can meaningfully work together to change the way services are provided to Nyoongar people experiencing mental health and drug and alcohol concerns, and indeed offer a way forward in working with other Aboriginal communities.

Significance/Value: This paper presents a new paradigm on ways to engage and consult with Aboriginal peoples based on a decolonising approach where relationships form the basis for working together. The findings of the Looking Forward Project demonstrate that incorporating a Nyoongar worldview shifts the balance of power when research projects include the community in the scoping and design of the research itself. This work paves the way for culturally specific aspects of co-production both in terms of service delivery and governance and in terms of research approaches.

Type: Research paper


Wright 2011, Research as Intervention: Engaging silenced voices, Action Learning, Action Research Journal, Vol 17(2), 25-46.

Author Biographies

Michael Wright, Curtin University

Michael is a Yuat Nyoongar man, from Western Australia. His mother’s and grandmother’s boodja (country) is just north of Perth in a region known as the Victoria Plains, which includes the townships of Mogumber and New Norcia. He has worked across the spectrum of health as a practitioner, policy officer and researcher and has extensive experience in Aboriginal health and mental health. Michael is Chief Investigator on the Looking Forward Aboriginal Mental Health Project which began in 2011. The Project follows on from his PhD work investigating caregiving experiences of Aboriginal families living with serious mental illness. He is a Research Fellow at the National Drug Research Institute, Curtin University.

Margaret O'Connell, Telethon Kids Institute, University of Western Australia

Margaret is of Celtic Australian descent, born in Perth and raised in the southwest of WA. She works as a Senior Research Officer on the Looking Forward Project and is based at the Telethon Kids Institute, University of Western Australia. Margaret is an educational designer and action researcher who has worked in the community, TAFE and tertiary education sectors for the past decade. Margaret has a Master of Education and has experience in project management, strategic development, and training and professional development, particularly in online teaching and learning, and has a particular interest in the development of reflective practices, action inquiry, and community-based participatory research methodologies.