(Introduction by Croakey)
When Dr Lowitja O’Donoghue AC CBE DSG agreed to give her name to Australia’s National Institute for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Research, the gift came with strict conditions.
A landmark history of the Lowitja Institute notes that O’Donoghue “told us to be a courageous organisation committed to social justice and equity for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, to match words to action, to achieve real tangible and immediate outcomes”.
The history, Changing the Narrative in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Research: Four Cooperative Research Centres and the Lowitja Institute: The story so far, was launched at Parliament House in Canberra today on International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples.
It gives some insights into the courage and determination that has been required to centre Aboriginal and Torres Stait Islander peoples’ knowledges and priorities, and to challenge mainstream research practices.
Compiled by AIATSIS and others, the report canvasses the work and contributions of the Cooperative Research Centre for Aboriginal and Tropical Health (CRCATH) (1997–2003), the CRC for Aboriginal Health (CRCAH) (2003–09), the CRC for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health (CRCATSIH) (2010–14), and the Lowitja Institute for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Research CRC (Lowitja Institute CRC) (2014–19), as well as the Lowitja Institute, which launched in January 2010 as an organisation separate from the CRC structure.
It notes that the Lowitja Institute journey began long before the first CRC was established in Darwin in 1997, that its roots lay in calls by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people over many decades for real change in their health and health delivery for their communities. The report says:
Paramount to that was the need for a new research paradigm, amid a growing sense and concern that research into the alarming evidence of health disparity for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples was descriptive and too often serving the priorities of researchers and non-Indigenous people.
In other words, for too long research had been done on Aboriginal communities not by or with Aboriginal communities. At the time, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people argued they had been ‘researched to death’ with little benefit.”
The report pays tribute to the work of many people and organisations over the past 20 years, especially Dr Lowitja O’Donoghue, inaugural Chairperson of the CRCATH and patron of the Institute.
Our thanks to the Lowitja Institute for permission to cross-publish below her foreword to the new publication.
Lowitja O’Donoghue writes:
It has been 20 years since I was asked to be the inaugural Chairperson of the Cooperative Research Centre for Aboriginal and Tropical Health.
One of my fundamental objectives as a Chairperson was to work towards reconciliation between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and Western perspectives of health and wellbeing and encourage a different way of doing research.
That meant bringing the academics and the researchers together with those who are qualified to know what’s needed on the ground. I wanted practical people to investigate the changes that need to be made in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities to bring about the change we all want to see for our peoples.
We also needed to train our people sufficiently for the communities to manage their own programs, for the non-Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to hand over and the communities to act on their own behalf.
That was the line of sight, if you like, that I saw as the Chairperson.
As a Patron, when I agreed in 2010 to have the Lowitja Institute named after me, I entrusted in the Institute my spirit and energy, my values and priorities.
I told them that I wanted them to be a courageous organisation committed to social justice and equity for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, to match words to action, to achieve real, tangible outcomes.
Also, to be known throughout Australia as a strong and sustainable organisation.
Looking at the work that it has done to date, I can say that I am very proud of the organisation, its leaders, researchers, partners and participants, members and supporters, staff, our champions and friends.
I thank you for all your hard work.
Not that that is any reason for you to relax.
The future is in your hands, and we still have a big job to do.
Your job is to work ceaselessly, with confidence in who we are, with our knowledge timeless and modern, our endless strength and resilience, our capacity for hard work, our wise heads, our wonderful talented young.
We have outstanding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leadership and organisations in this country. They are more than capable to guide the decisions that need to be made in a way that is true to our cultures and that will therefore have the right outcomes.
In order to empower our capabilities, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people must be at the centre of the decisions and properly resourced.
We must work with government to get the job done; we want our non-Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander friends and colleagues to work with us. But it is important that we know when to step up and they know when to step aside.
I entrust you all to deliver on this agenda.
Dr Lowitja O’Donoghue AC CBE DSG
Tweets and photos from launch
The report cites a 1991 article from the Aboriginal and Islander Health Worker Journal, by Ken Wyatt: The Rights of Aboriginal Communities and the Obligations of Health Researchers – from before he became Australia’s first Aboriginal member of the House of Representatives, Minister for Indigenous Health and Minister for Aged Care. (Wyatt’s tweet below features Pat Anderson AO, whose longstanding contributions feature in the report).
The report cites CEO Romlie Mokak: “The Lowitja Institute believes there is no point in doing research into Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health unless it involves our people at every step along the way, and that we have a voice throughout the process. At the heart of health research ethics is listening. This ‘ground-up’ approach has been the underlying philosophy that has driven us from the very start.”