Caring for ATSI People
ATSI is a term that defines a person who is of ATSI descent, who identifies as indigenous and is accepted by the indigenous community. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have distinct identities, histories and cultural traditions.They are culturally and genetically Melanesian people, as are the people of Papua New Guinea. ATSI people, have been administered by a system of elected councils.
ATSI culture includes a number of practices and ceremonies centered on their beliefs about their ancestors and the land.
ATSI Attitudes and Behaviors
- ATSI people speak different languages and have different values, but they do have some things in common.
- Some people may be shy and uncomfortable asking or answering questions, or asserting themselves.
- Some ATSI people may not speak, read or write English very well.
- Many ATSI people will not tell you if they do not understand what you are saying and will not ask questions.
- ATSI people have very different spiritual beliefs to mainstream religions
- ATSI people are not permitted to mention the name of a deceased person
- ATSI people are generally not used to having non ATSI visitors in their homes and may still have strong fears of outside visitors because of the long history of the stolen generation.
Working with ATSI Clients
Helpful tips for caring for ATSI clients
- Non-verbal communication - In some ATSI cultures it is disrespectful to look into a person’s eyes as the eyes are the window to the soul. An ATSI client who avoids looking into your eyes may be showing you respect – not that they are not interested in what you are saying.They may use a soft voice which will be signaling respect. In return, use a soft tone back to them.
- Be patient - Sometimes an ATSI client will respond to your question with what seems a long-winded story, the reply may contain both the information you want and also an indication of their feelings so listen carefully. Allow time for silence whilst they process what you are saying.
- Be a good listener - it is important that clients hear your opinions, you may anticipate that they will also expect you to hear theirs.
- Treat the client, not the illness - Try to learn about the whole person, ATSI people view health in terms of overall balance so it is important that you assess more than just the physical symptoms.
- Avoid generalizations and make no assumptions about your clients–You need to observe and ask what’s best for them, so you can provide the most appropriate services.
- Always feedback to your coordinator any concerns or information that may be of value for other ATSI care workers.
“ ATSI clients expect health care professionals to respect them and their beliefs “
ATSI Culture , Practices and Ceremonials
Palliative care is available to support ATSI people with an illness that is likely to shorten their life.
The most important ceremonies are connected with the initiation of boys and girls into adulthood. Such ceremonies sometimes last for weeks, with nightly singing and dancing, story telling, and the display of body decoration and ceremonial objects. During these ceremonies, the songs and stories connected to each of the Ancestral Beings are told.
Burial practices vary throughout Australia, people being buried in parts of southern and central Australia, but having quite a different burial in the north. Across much of northern Australia, a person’s burial has two stages, each accompanied by ritual and ceremony.
Useful sites for further information: