This paper is exploratory. It examines the analytic usefulness and practical implications of the concepts of ‘exclusion’ and ‘inclusion’ in a cross-cultural context. The focus is on the socioeconomic wellbeing of Indigenous children, in the context of the families and households in which they live. First, the current dimensions and trends of Indigenous children’s socioeconomic status are analysed using key indicators from the 2001 Census. Interpretive depth is given to that quantitative analysis by reference to the long-term ethnographic fieldwork and survey research conducted by the authors with Indigenous families in different communities. The paper demonstrates that, in terms of a ‘deficit model’ which emphasises exclusion, Indigenous children continue to be among the most socioeconomically disadvantaged children in Australia.
The paper then proceeds to consider an alternative perspective which focuses on an ‘asset model’, emphasising Indigenous children’s inclusion and participation within their own culturally-based family, social and economic systems. Again, reference is made to qualitative and survey information.
The paper concludes by exploring the implications for children of exclusion from one sphere of life (i.e. the mainstream economy), for their inclusion in the other (i.e. the Indigenous sphere). It suggests, perhaps somewhat provocatively, that contrary to commonly held assumptions which emphasise assimilatory outcomes, exclusion from mainstream economic participation may be actively undermining Indigenous families’ own capacity to reproduce culturally valued relationships and roles. If that is the case, then key aspects of Indigenous cultural wellbeing and social reproduction may be directly linked to breaking the cycle of inter-generational welfare dependency and economic exclusion that is being transmitted to Indigenous children.