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Illness Is a Weapon

Indigenous Identity and Enduring Afflictions

Eirik Saethre

Publication Year: 2013

Illness Is a Weapon presents an engaging portrayal of the everyday experience of disease in a remote Australian Aboriginal community. While chronic Aboriginal ill health has become an important national issue in Australia, Saethre breaks new ground by locating sickness within the daily lives of Indigenous people. Drawing on more than a decade of ethnographic research in the Northern Territory, Saethre explores the factors structuring ill health, the tactics individuals use to negotiate these realities, and the ways in which disease and medical narratives are employed to construct, manage, and challenge social relations. Reframing current debates, this book argues that disease and suffering have become powerful expressions of Indigenous identity. Through dialogues and interactions, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people engage in a reciprocal discussion about the past, present, and future of indigeneity.

Rarely is disease and suffering understood as a form of protest, and in Illness Is a Weapon, Saethre confronts the stark reality of the current contest between all parties in this struggle. As Saethre explains, "Cursing at nurses, refusing to take medication, and accepting acute illness as unremarkable is simultaneously an act of defiance and a rejection of vulnerability."

Published by: Vanderbilt University Press


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pp. 1-3

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 4-7

Table of Contents

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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-x

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1. Everyday Illness

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pp. 1-31

In Australia’s outback, disease and suffering have become a part of the everyday lives of Aboriginal people. On a recent visit to Lajamanu, a Warlpiri community in the Northern Territory, I was reminded that illness is ubiquitous and often taken for granted. For residents such as Martin, sicknesses, fevers, aches, and pains are now an accepted feature of their existence.1 When we first met in 1997, Martin was working regularly, but after several years of ill health, he became unemployed and re-...

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2. Food, Meaning, and Economy

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pp. 32-58

Worldwide, Indigenous people are disproportionately affected by chronic illnesses such as diabetes mellitus, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and renal failure. For Indigenous communities, these ailments are relatively new. It was not until the mid-twentieth century that epidemiological research began documenting a steep rise...

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3. Contemporary Cosmologies

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pp. 59-81

In the brief respite between the disruption of Christmas, when the shop and only source of food in the community could be closed for as many as five days, and the upcoming initiation ceremonies, many people tried to relax.1 George had arrived at my home, accompanied by his self-proclaimed tribe of family members, to unwind and escape the...

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4. Medical Systems and Illness Experience

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pp. 82-99

Despite the almost ubiquitous presence of biomedicine around the globe, a great deal of treatment occurs outside of clinical confines. Indigenous practices are invariably contrasted with those of biomedicine. In the extensive literature that exists, the former is characterized as traditional and grounded in cultural beliefs, while the latter...

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5. Noncompliance

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pp. 100-119

Pharmaceuticals have increasingly become one of the most effective tools to battle disease. However, for many people living in the developing world, the availability of drugs is limited. Although treatments exist for diseases such as HIV and tuberculosis, their high cost restricts use. The World Health Organization (2004) estimates that over...

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6. Imposed Empowerment

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pp. 120-148

Despite the existence of comprehensive health care facilities throughout economically developed nations, Indigenous residents continue to suffer from poorer health than non-Indigenous residents. The sporadic and unsuccessful utilization of clinics and hospitals is often attributed to cultural difference and marginality. Because many...

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7. Closing the Gap

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pp. 149-176

Isn’t anyone doing anything to help?” I am often asked this question when discussing the pervasive ill health of Lajamanu. I invariably reply that improving Indigenous health is a national priority in Australia. As a result, a great deal of money is dedicated to increasing health education, upgrading facilities, and ensuring the provision of care. Over half of...


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pp. 177-178


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pp. 179-184


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pp. 185-204


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pp. 205-213

E-ISBN-13: 9780826519221
Print-ISBN-13: 9780826519207
Print-ISBN-10: 0826519202

Page Count: 224
Publication Year: 2013