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Canadian and Australian Indigenous health leaders urge “the 97 percent” to step up

The need for non-Indigenous people to address racism and their contributions to the inequalities experienced by Indigenous people was highlighted at a high-level meeting in Canberra this week.

Another key theme from a Canadian-Australian Round-table on Indigenous Health and Wellbeing was the importance of providing young people with platforms and opportunities for having their voices heard.

As previously reported at Croakey, the Canadian High Commission, Australian Government, the Australian National University and the Lowitja Institute jointly convened the round-table meeting. It was also supported by the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO), and Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada.

Summer May Finlay, who covered the event for the Croakey Conference News Service, reports below that participants are keen to see the discussions continue and further such collaborations between Canada, Australia and First Nations.

Below Finlay’s article are a selection of tweets from the event and video interviews with some of participants. The program included the screening of a Canadian film, Fire Song, and a Faceless Dolls workshop held at Winnunga Nimmityjah Aboriginal Health Service, in remembrance of missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls in Canada.


Summer May Finlay writes:

I was blown away by the Canadian-Australian Indigenous Health and Wellness Round-table. The minds, the passion, dedication and courage of the organisers and attendees created a space for frank and productive conversations.

cenesetterAttendees included people from public services, Indigenous organisations, researchers and service delivery from both Canada and Australia. The intent was genuine and the desire for action palatable.

It was refreshing to see the faith that the High Commission of Canada had in the people attending.

At no time was a conversation deemed inappropriate or politically unpalatable. There were discussions about current racism and past racist policies, the role non-Indigenous people have to play in maintaining Indigenous disadvantage, institutional racism and the lack of youth voice in the round-table process. It was a brave approach and I believe was one the keys to its success.

Key themes to emerge from the discussions included:

  • The existing capacity among Indigenous people (ie, the need to move beyond a focus on “capacity-building”)
  • The need for a space to be created for youth so their voices can be heard
  • Truth telling as a vital component of reconciliation
  • A need to focus on the responsibilities of “the 97 percent” (non-Indigenous people), and their role in maintaining Indigenous disadvantage
  • The need for ongoing dialogue between the two countries.

The round-table discussions made clear that there is a wealth of capacity among Indigenous people, who need to be engaged as equal partners and leaders in all activities affecting Indigenous peoples in Canada and Australia.

The lack of trust that governments have in Indigenous people was discussed as one of the reasons that equal partnerships have not occurred.

Paul Maddison, the Canadian High Commissioner to Australia and one of the event’s organisers, asked: “How do we get our federal governments, our state and provincial governments to really and sincerely and genuinely seek to understand the cultural, the historical and traditional stories which really are at the heart of our Indigenous communities? To embrace the stories and seek to genuinely learn and ask, what is needed at the local level?”

By the second day, the message for governments was that they need to let Indigenous communities get back to the business of taking care of communities.

In Australia, we have been doing it for 60,000 years, and are the oldest living cultures in the world, we must have been doing something right. Let us continue doing what is right. This doesn’t mean there isn’t a space or role for non-Indigenous people. Our way forward includes working with non-Indigenous people; however, the solutions have to be led by us because we know our Culture.

Richard Weston, CEO of the Healing Foundation, spoke of the need for “locally designed, developed and delivered services and programs that work best”.

Screening Fire Song

actorYouth were a constant focus of discussions, particularly with the screening of Fire Song, which was a challenging movie to watch but raised important issues around suicide and LGBTQI people.

At times, I felt physically ill watching the film. The pain on the faces and in the bodies of young people trying to figure out where they fit is something all Indigenous people can relate to. When one of our people is hurting, all our people are hurting.

The issues facing young people and particularly LGBTQI people are hurting our future leaders, and we have seen in both Canada and Australia an increasing rate of youth suicide. I doubt there is an Indigenous person who has not in some way been touched personally by these issues. I, for one, have not escaped unscathed.

After the screening of Fire Song, a number of panel members discussed what the movie meant to them. Dr Vanessa Lee from the University of Sydney summed up the film:

It was about one man’s journey of dealing with grief amongst a community that were dealing with their own personal grief and trauma. As a two spirited or sexuality and gender diverse or LGBTIQ young man, his mechanism for coping was to stay focused on the bigger picture of his life that is towards going to college while the rest of life is happening around him.

Indigenous culture is represented through behaviours, traditional healing and spirituality, belonging, and connection to the land.

In between scenes the movie showed wild flowers and for anyone who has connections to country, they would understand that they represent the cycle of life and certain flowering plants are medicine or notifications as to when certain foods can be obtained.

The main themes were identity, culture, community and love.”

The movie reinforced that the youth are our future. We need to be supporting them to participate in issues that affect them. We need to engage our youth and allow them to have a voice.

The lead actor, Andrew J Martin, discussed how all you want as a young person is a voice. Young people don’t need people to speak for them, but to give them the space to speak for themselves.

fspanel

dameyonfs“The 97 per cent”

Another theme from the discussions was “the 97 percent”. There were numerous conversations about what non-Indigenous people can do to reduce some of the issues our peoples face, such as racism.

The sentiment in the room was that we, Indigenous peoples of the world, cannot tackle racism is the 97 percent are not willing to consider their role in maintaining racism.

What are the 97 percent doing to consider the way their privilege continues to maintain the power imbalance between Indigenous people in Canada and Australia? This point was made specifically about institutional racism and the insidious impact it has on Indigenous peoples.

As minority groups in our own country, there is only so much we can do to influence the attitudes, beliefs and actions of non-Indigenous people. Real change will only come when non-Indigenous people take stock of their contributions to Indigenous disadvantage.

What is also required of the 97 percent is a recognition of the true histories in our counties. One participant commented that in Australia, reconciliation is all about “the warm and fuzzies”, rather than looking to understand histories as told by Indigenous people.

97In Canada, there has been a process of truth telling. This process has not been designed to make the 97 percent feel guilty, as is often claimed in Australia, but rather as a way of understanding the pain of past policies and impact that they have had on people today.

A national narrative that looks to be honest about its country’s history is a practical step to achieving reconciliation.

The round-table raised some important issues and discussed ways forward. We cannot do this alone. One way forward is continuing the dialogue between the two countries. This suggestion was well received by the attendees and the organisers.

Based on the experience of this first collaboration, there is great potential in an ongoing relationship seeking to improve the health and wellness of Indigenous people in our respective counties.

Romlie Mokak, CEO of the Lowitja Institute said: “I see this round-table as a beginning.”

• Summer May Finlay is a Yorta Yorta woman, a public health practitioner and a PhD candidate.


From the Twittersphere

Welcome to Country and opening discussions

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The program, facilitated by Dr Gregory Phillips, included sessions giving an overview of international frameworks, cross-country comparisons of policy and health and social indicators, truth-telling, Indigenous knowledges and ethics, and on wellness, wellbeing and strength, services and systems and priorities for further work.

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