• Gaynor Lowndes

ATSI People

Caring For ATSI People

​ATSI stands for Aborignal and Torres Strait Islander 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

ATSI community controlled health organizations and palliative care services can work together to meet the needs of our ATSI clients whilst respecting their  culture. Palliative care is available to support ATSI people with an illness that is likely to shorten their life.



Ceremonial Life

Ceremonies play an important part in ATSI life.Small ceremonies or rituals are still practiced in some remote parts of Australia, such as in Arnhem Land and Central Australia, in order to ensure a supply of plant and animal foods. These take the form of chanting, singing, dancing or rituals to invoke the Ancestral


Beings to ensure a good supply of food or rain.Men are decorated for the ceremony, holding an object representing an important totem. ​ 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.



Funeral Ceremonies

Another important time for ceremonies is on the death of a person, when people often paint themselves white, cut their own bodies to show their remorse for the loss of their loved one and conduct a series of rituals, songs and dances to ensure the person’s spirit leaves the area and returns to its birth place, from


where it can later be reborn. 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. 


There is plenty of information on the internet to assist you with understanding your ATSI clients. Useful sites for further information:http://www.community.nsw.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0017/321308/working_with_aboriginal.pdf http://www.workingwithatsi.info/content/pi_family.htm http://www.workingwithatsi.info/content/pi_image.htm

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