DEFINITION OF VARIABLE
In 1978, Federal Cabinet adopted a 3 part definition, widely accepted as the ''Commonwealth Definition', which states that: 'An Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander is a person of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander descent who identifies as an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander and is accepted as such by the community in which he or she lives' [Endnote 1].
The three components of the Commonwealth definition are:
3. community acceptance.
The ABS Standard Indigenous Question is based upon the Commonwealth working definition but does not include the third element of the Commonwealth definition, namely that ‘an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander is a person who is accepted as such by the community in which he or she lives’. Collecting information on the basis of community acceptance is often impractical in a survey or administrative data collection setting and can lead to inaccuracies. For these reasons, it is not included in the ABS Standard [Endnote 2]. The definition of Indigenous Status is therefore operationalised as whether or not a person identifies as being of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander origin'.
The term 'origin', when used in the context of the operational definition, is considered to relate to a persons Australian Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander descent and for some, but not all, their cultural identity.
The standard term for this variable is 'Indigenous Status.' ‘Indigenous status’ is an acceptable term for use in data collection only, and only in terms of identifying a characteristic of a person. A person's Indigenous status is determined by their response to the ABS Standard Indigenous Question: "Are you of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander origin?" for which categories are:
Yes, Torres Strait Islander
This question also allows respondents to report that they are both 'Aboriginal' and 'Torres Strait Islander' if that is how they identify.
The term 'Indigenous' is not a specific descriptor. Some Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people feel the term diminishes their identity and/or fails to recognise the cultural diversity that exists within the collective population. Use of ‘Indigenous’ should therefore be avoided. The best collective descriptors are ‘Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people[s]’ or 'the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population'.
Abbreviated forms of 'Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander' and ‘Torres Strait Islander’ when referring to people are offensive and should not be used. For example, A&TSI, ATSI, ATSIs, ATSI people, Islanders, TSIs and TI abbreviations are considered offensive. However, where it forms part of an acronym to describe such entities as organisations or groups, abbreviations are acceptable.
The terms 'Aboriginal[s]' and 'Torres Strait Islander[s]' should always be capitalised. The term 'aboriginal[s]' does not need capitalisation when used in a general sense to refer to the original inhabitants of other countries.
1. Department of Aboriginal Affairs, 1981. Report on a review of the administration of the working definition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia. Department of the Parliamentary Library, 2003. Defining Aboriginality in Australia, Canberra. Commonwealth of Australia.
2. Petry, B, and Potts, E, 2014. 'Measuring indigenous populations across nations: Challenges for methodological alignment'. Statistical Journal of the IAOS. V30, pp. 55-63.