First NameVinita
Last Name Godinho
Supervisor NameProf. Supriya Singh
UniversityRMIT University
KeywordsIndigenous Money Management, Financial Capability, Financial Well-Being, Indigenous Financial Inclusion, Indigenous Research Methodology
Publication DateJuly 5, 2015

Money, Financial Capability and Well-being in Indigenous Australia 2014


My thesis explores the historical, cultural and familial context of money as it flows through Indigenous households in remote, regional and urban Australia (‘Indigenous money’), and considers how this influences Indigenous views on financial capability and well-being. Indigenous people are over-represented amongst the three million adult Australians who are financially excluded, and those with lowest financial capability. They are also the only community group associated with financial exclusion irrespective of where they live.

Existing studies consistently find a gap in Indigenous inclusion vis-à-vis mainstream Australia, yet offer limited explanation of why this gap persists. Indigenous cultural norms are often identified as a barrier to enhancing financial inclusion and capability, yet few studies focus on how Indigenous people themselves understand and want to use money. National efforts to promote financial literacy are targeting the young through the formal education system, yet elders are the traditional custodians of Indigenous knowledge.

Using an Indigenous research paradigm which privileges the Indigenous perspective, I have examined the cultural shaping of money in Indigenous communities in remote, regional and urban Australia, based on Viviana Zelizer’s theory of the social shaping of money. I find that ‘Indigenous money’ for the participants of my study, is culturally distinctive from middle-income, ‘Anglo-Celtic’ understandings of money, which underlie Australian financial and banking policy. This understanding influences the participants’ world-view of financial capability and well-being.

In the communities studied, participants see money as imposed from outside their culture, yet have adapted it into their everyday lives in culturally distinctive ways. Elders describe the difficulty of having to learn and abide by the rules of two worlds (i.e. Indigenous and non-Indigenous) including those that revolve around money. In remote locations money is seen as disconnected from traditional Indigenous knowledge and law. In regional and urban areas, money is inextricably linked to a wider, ongoing challenge to re-conceptualise Indigenous cultural identity and roles, vis-à-vis mainstream, non-Indigenous Australia.

Irrespective of location, ‘Indigenous money’ flows between related households, rather than being bounded within a nuclear family household. Participants say they prioritize sharing money over saving it, as compared to non-Indigenous people. Daily financial decisions require participants to manage money whilst maintaining relationships and fulfilling obligations. However, the desire to control one’s own money in a sharing culture can increase the stress associated with money.

Elders, particularly in remote communities, want to feel more in control of money. They want to know more about money and connect it with cultural knowledge of managing valued resources, so that they can role model how younger generations should use it wisely. A limited ability to know and grow money restricts its usage to a means of survival. A culturally distinctive style of ‘chuck-in’ household money management has emerged, which combines individual money with shared use. Many participants manage their finances in ways that incur higher costs yet earn lower returns, particularly in remote communities with limited financial and digital infrastructure.

‘Indigenous money’ contributes to participants’ well-being when they are able to use it for caring, and facilitate not just individual but also family and community goals. Well-being is compromised by feelings of stress and guilt associated with financial choices which clash with cultural norms and identity. Whilst acknowledging the need to provide financial education for the young, participants identify elders as the ones who should lead Indigenous people in using money the right way to achieve their own goals, whilst retaining their cultural identity. Efforts to enhance financial capability which build on Indigenous cultural knowledge, shared values and norms are more likely to motivate participants to engage with money matters.

I conclude that historical, cultural and familial factors influence the participants’ understanding of ‘Indigenous money’, and their world-view of financial capability and well-being. Though context matters, the understanding of ‘Indigenous money’ remains culturally distinctive vis-à-vis ’Anglo-Celtic money’, for participants in remote, regional and urban locations. Money is disconnected from many important elements of participants’ social and cultural world-view, including traditional knowledge, cultural values and norms, and their sense of cultural identity. This feeling of disconnect may be at the heart of why Indigenous people have greater difficulty in accessing banking and developing financial skills, and are more likely to be excluded, irrespective of location. Building the financial capability of elders alongside current efforts targeting the young, could strengthen their traditional role as trusted
custodians of knowledge, enabling them to lead efforts to use money the right way.

My thesis contributes to knowledge by exploring the participants’ world-view of money, how they manage and control it in their daily lives, how they want to use it in future, as well as its role in their well-being. This study contributes to theory by describing the sociology of a culturally distinctive ‘Indigenous money’, in particular how social relationships and cultural norms are inextricably linked with participants’ understandings of money. It also contributes to emerging debate about Indigenous research paradigms and methodologies.

This research also has implications for policymakers, as connecting their efforts to enhance Indigenous financial well-being with knowledge about the cultural shaping of ‘Indigenous money’ could allow them to use culture as an enabler, rather than a barrier, to greater financial inclusion. Culture is an enduring strength for participants of this study – policymakers could build on these findings to adopt a strengths-based approach to expand Indigenous freedoms to achieve the financial lives that they value.

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