The critical importance of tackling racism within health systems and more widely has been a recurring theme at the Australian Indigenous Doctors’ Association (AIDA) conference.
A panel discussion on cultural safety will feature on Friday at the conference, which marks the twentieth anniversary of the Association, and is being held in NSW’s Hunter Valley with the theme: Family, Unity, Success, 20 years strong.
Writer and author Karen Wyld, who is covering #AIDAConf2017 for the Croakey Conference News Service, reports below on discussions about the importance of love and culture for health and healing.
Beneath her story is a selection of tweets and selfies from the active conference tweeps, who kept the hashtag trending nationally for most of Thursday.
Karen Wyld writes:
Dr Kali Hayward, who has been re-elected AIDA president, welcomed delegates and acknowledged the Wonnarua, on whose lands the conference is being held.
She spoke of her own pathway into medicine, and the supportive role that AIDA played, and how proud she was to see the Association going from strength to strength over the past 20 years.
Hayward reminded delegates of the need to keep addressing racism within health systems, a theme also reflected in the keynote address, by guest speaker Associate Professor Papaarangi Reid.
Reid, Deputy Dean Maori (Tumuaku) at the University of Auckland, shared common experiences in Indigenous health from a New Zealand perspective.
She reminded delegates of colonisation and racism as the core roots of disease and health inequalities for Indigenous people, and critiqued how cultural awareness is being softened, to make it more palatable to non-Indigenous people.
She warned that the same fate could await cultural safety. Reid talked about how unconscious bias creates barriers to change and positions culture as a cause of health problems, rather than recognising it as a positive factor in addressing inequity.
She highlighted the importance of critical race consciousness in enabling change.
Reid said it could be dangerous to name racism, because you can be labelled as radical, but it’s important to acknowledge that racism harms Indigenous people, as do racism deniers.
Reid called for systemic racism within health to be named as a major barrier to improving Indigenous peoples’ health. Unconscious bias was part of the reason health systems continued to fail Indigenous people, she said.
It was time to rewrite the story, she said, to acknowledge “the health system does not protect Indigenous people from early death”.
She called for the teaching of anti-racism and described the backlash that occurred when white privilege is threatened as “whitelash”.
Decolonisation and breaking down racist systems starts with loving our people, she said, and urged that medical students be educated “about our humanity”.
Her presentation melds well with the supportive nature of AIDA to mentor and grow the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander medical workforce, and to encourage health training and service sectors to strengthen their cultural competency.
Janine Mohamed, CEO of the Congress of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Nurses and Midwives (CATSINaM), told Croakey that addressing unconscious bias was crucial.
It was important to continue honest discussions, rather than allowing cultural safety to be made palatable for non-Indigenous people, she said.
The theme of loving our own people also featured in a later presentation, by Dr Derek Chong, a Senior Psychiatry Registrar with the Institute for Urban Indigenous Health.
He opened his speech with an acknowledgement of the strong women who had addressed delegates during the day, and the strong Indigenous women that have been a big part of his life.
Chong talked about Australian colonial history by sharing his own family’s stories – including past Acts that controlled Indigenous peoples, massacres, the Stolen Generations, Indigenous men fighting wars in foreign countries, White Australia policy, violence, racism, and the rights movement.
All of these stories can cause flashbacks, as this history is recent, the trauma is still fresh, and the stories and trauma are passed on.
Remnant fear from past events can come out years later as flashbacks, or unconscious responses within parental and other relationships.
Chong spoke of how hyper-reactions are sometimes misinterpreted in Indigenous men, and seen as control issues or violence. Trauma then remains unacknowledged, and adds to the level of racism and unfair perceptions that Indigenous men face on a daily basis.
This was also an issue for Indigenous male doctors, he said, who could be judged by non-Indigenous strangers, and unfairly labelled.
He described working on MomenTIM, a mental health project for young Indigenous men that acknowledges intergenerational trauma, racism and bias, and helps young men to receive the supports and services they need.
Chong said social change comes from us all being proud of culture, of who we are, and not by hiding or excusing our Indigeneity.
Strength in culture, community, family is what achieves results. Like Reid, Chong said that change comes from loving our people and culture.
• Read the speech by AMA president Dr Michael Gannon: Turning Words into Action.
Tweet reports from these presentations
Voices of experience
Cultural and clinical workshops
Selfies and snaps
Trending nationally on Twitter
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