Marie McInerney writes:
Representation: politics, policy and education was the theme for #IHMayDay17, the fourth annual Indigenous health Twitter festival, held on May 17 and co-hosted on Ngunnawal country by the University of Canberra, in conjunction with Croakey.
Its conversations and calls for action pointed governments, educational and training institutions and the health and community sectors to solutions and barriers for improving the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
Its messages resonated even more strongly alongside the landmark Uluru Statement from the Heart issued since by the First Nations National Constitutional Convention, based on truth telling, treaty and a voice to Parliament.
#IHMayDay17 was led by James Cook University academic Dr Lynore Geia, a Bwgcolman woman from Palm Island, and supported by public health researcher and Croakey contributing editor Summer May Finlay, and Professor Peter Radoll, Dean of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Leadership and Strategy at the University of Canberra.
It trended nationally all day, generating 72.5 million Twitter impressions and involving nearly 1,800 participants.
Guest tweeters included Labor frontbencher Linda Burney and best-selling author Dr Anita Heiss, as well as leading Indigenous researchers, educators, policy makers, workforce groups, and emerging talents, including students from the University of Canberra and new health workforce entrants.
They led discussions from 6am to 10pm on the need and capacity for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander self-determination and representation across the board – from politics and policy through to services, workforce, curriculum, literature and Australia’s own “song book”.
Reflecting in this video interview at the end of a long day, Radoll said it had not only been fun but a revelation on many issues in Indigenous health, including discovering more about who were the digital influencers.
“I’ve learnt a lot today,” he said as the 16-hour event came to a close.
Finlay said she had been once again amazed by the generosity of the guest tweeters in the biggest #IHMayDay program to date (complete with concurrent sessions), who not only engaged with passion in their own sessions but through the rest of the program as well.
And she delighted in the way the University of Canberra’s refectory was set up for the event – “even the chairs privileged black over white”.
“Twitterstorm” of Indigenous strength, resilience and sophistication
The day began with a traditional ‘call out’ to country from Geia (see tweets below) and a chilly dawn interview with the Queanbeyan Deadly Runners (see all #IHMayDay17 video interviews in this separate post).
Key to the conduct and spirit of the day is that non-Indigenous people and organisations are urged to participate by retweeting and listening, not to use it for their own agenda or to dominate discussions.
As Geia wrote in Guardian Australia while guest-tweeting for @IndigenousX:
The Twitter storm that surrounds #IHMayDay is one day of the year where Indigenous voices are privileged, and the twitterverse provides a window to observe and engage in Indigenous representation. Here followers will read of Indigenous strength, resilience and sophistication. It is a showcase of the ongoing survival of our culture and knowledge systems in contemporary Australia.
It aims, she said, to turn around the dominant socio-political narrative in Australia that has “shaped the representation of Indigenous people and impacted on the way we interact with the colonial-settler world, and also how we interact with each other.”
Reflecting this week on #IHMayDay17, Geia said that the Uluru statement is “all about a strong representative voice” for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
“Through IHMayDay17, we’ve been demonstrating that in action,” she said.
See below for snapshots of the discussions and some of the Twitter action. Or you can follow the whole discussion via the 30 pages of Symplur transcript – makes for great reading.
Bringing talent, expertise and lived experience
Prominent federal Labor frontbencher Linda Burney, the first Indigenous woman elected to the House of Representatives, told #IHMayDay17 participants that she didn’t vote in an Australian election until she was 27.
Until 1984, voting was compulsory for everyone except Indigenous people – an exclusion she took to mean ” that we didn’t have to vote because we were not as important as everyone else”, she said.
She realised one day that not participating in the system was “counterproductive” and she went on to become a New South Wales Labor Minister before heading to Canberra to make representation history. She said:
I hate to think of the talent we missed out on because people felt the same way I did.”
Burney said another challenge facing young Aboriginal young people who want to engage in the political system is they are often made to feel they can only speak on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander issues.
She turned down the opportunity to be Aboriginal Affairs Minister in New South Wales for that reason, opting to lead mainstream portfolios. “I wanted to be (a) proud Aboriginal person who was also a Minister”.
But Burney said the need for Aboriginal voices in Parliament to also speak for their non-Aboriginal constituents meant it is vital for Indigenous advocacy/representative bodies to stay strong.
It was “a tragedy and scandal” that the National Congress of Australia’s First People’s had been defunded by the Abbott Government: “a deliberate attempt to silence our voices,” she said.
Personal revelations like Burney’s are a big part of the power of #IHMayDay, when conversations across the country draw out the insights both of political, policy and practice expertise on Indigenous health as well as the lived experience informing it.
Professor Peter Radoll, a Dean at the University of Canberra, also talked about how “unworthy” he had felt as a young man, stepping onto a university campus for the first time.
He wasn’t alone: leading Aboriginal educator Sharon Davis said she had given up the first time she went to uni. “City uni was too big, too scary, too ‘not me’,” she said. “Going back to uni in Broome made the world of difference for me.”
Radoll said failure to meet the needs of Indigenous tertiary students continues, with only 47 percent of those who start a degree completing it – compared to about 75 percent of non-Indigenous students.
But he said the University of Canberra is looking to address that and other issues in its new and first ever Indigenous Strategic Plan, which aims by 2021 to:
- increase Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander undergraduate completion rates in line with its broader student community
- achieve parity in employment
- have Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Higher Degree by Research (HDR) candidates and academics in all faculties and institutes.
Radoll agreed more needed to be done to ensure staff were trained to handle the racism or lack of cultural competence that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students experienced in classrooms and on campuses, and that growing casualisation of university staff was making that harder.
Radoll also believes a national Indigenous mentoring service “would make a real difference” to Indigenous student completions, and that universities need to partner with peak Indigenous bodies: “that way we can both benefit from research and engagement,” he said.
Strong calls to action
There were many more calls to action from guest tweeters through the day, not least from the Congress of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Nurses and Midwives (CATSINaM).
In a power-packed hour of tweeting, CATSINaM urged a stronger emphasis on the Indigenous health workforce and on developing a culturally safe non-Indigenous workforce.
It called for:
- a National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Authority to lead development of national Aboriginal health policy and be “the watchdog for all expenditure on Aboriginal health and matters impacting on Aboriginal health”
- a ‘Leaders in Indigenous Nursing and Midwifery Education Network’, through which universities and health services can develop and share good practice in culturally safe health care
- embedding of Cultural Safety into Health Practitioners legislation
- a dedicated National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Nursing Workforce Strategy to fast track workforce increases
- and continued funding for CATSINaM past June 30, 2018.
CATSINaM said significant growth in the numbers of Indigenous nurses and midwives was still needed, despite a 35 per cent increase over the past five years.
“There has been growth, but not enough,” it tweeted. “We need 300-400% increase to achieve population parity, and a 600-800% increase to address (the) Indigenous burden of disease.”
It was a call echoed throughout the day on the need for greater Indigenous health workforce numbers, cultural competence, and stronger community control.
Lamenting the latest “missed opportunity” for Indigenous health in the recent Federal Budget, NACCHO chair Matthew Cooke said Aboriginal community controlled health organisations are a “key expression of self-determination”.
But – as he also told the recent Labor Health Policy Summit – they must be represented and involved at every level of decision making and governance, particularly with Primary Health Networks.
“Writing our own stories”
Jessie Lloyd leads the renowned Mission Songs Project that aims to revive and present rare and almost forgotten songs by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, often written and sung on the Christian missions, native settlements and fringes of townships to which they were sent.
“Project aims to put the Indigenous story into the Australian songbook,” she told #IHMayDay17. “The power of music defies policy, race or religion.”
The project was helping her own healing from the effects of policy on family over generations, she said, calling on Australia to “have a #familymeeting and talk about the past”. Music can start that conversation, she said.
Visual art took centre stage too at #IHMayDay17 with 16-year-old Wiradjuri student Temeka Merritt awarded the IHMayDay Design Prize, sponsored by the University of Canberra’s Faculty of Arts and Design, for her artwork, “My family story”.
Another guest tweeter, best-selling Indigenous author and Wiradjuri woman, Dr Anita Heiss, also stressed the importance of representation in the arts, saying all of her books and characters are an attempt to break down stereotypes, including to show “educated, sassy, intelligent Aboriginal women with commitment 2 community and professional goals”.
Heiss is also a Lifetime Ambassador of the Indigenous Literacy Fund “because I want our mob to be able to read about health, medication labels etc”.
Self care and care for community
Heiss also talked about the importance of self care, saying she was recently diagnosed with adrenal fatigue. She’s now focused on sleep, healthy eating, running (she recently completed a half marathon in New York) and relieving herself of anxiety.
Health of oneself and the community was also big focus for Daniel James, a Yorta Yorta man with ties to Gunai-Kurnai, who told #IHMayDay17 participants his 42-year-old sister had been “lucky to survive” a heart attack just a few weeks before.
James talked about the toll on Indigenous people working in the health and social policy space, who have “put other people’s health at the expense of their own”. Like for so many, Aboriginal health for him is “a calling, not a career,” he said.
“As a result, we’ve lost too many, too early,” he said. “People have literally died for the cause.”
With that in mind, he urged non-Indigenous organisations, decision makers, management and politicians to “understand why we get a bit uppity sometimes” and comply with some “very basic, easy to do principles” that are non-negotiable for “fixing” Indigenous health:
With us, not for us are the 1, 2 and 3 principles that you implement to improve Aboriginal health outcomes. Do those & repeat. #IHMayDay17. #IHMayDay17
Another guiding principle: Less yapping, more listening. #IHMayDay17
Understand if you work in a program or policy area that gets results, it’s not your victory, it’s the community’s #IHMayDay17
If community owns a program, is the driving force behind it, its success in its heart, then the chance of success improve. #IHMayDay17
You think you’ve got skin in the game because there’s a flag at reception. #IHMayDay17 pic.twitter.com/apkOMQi5dN
— Daniel James (@MrDTJames) May 17, 2017
And his advice to non-Indigenous people not working in the health system?
Familiarise yourself with the social determinants of health and think how you impact on those day to day.
Others had similar advice.
And there were timely reminders – in the lead up to the 20th anniversary of the Bringing Them Home report – that many solutions have already been identified and trialled but government does not meet its obligations in return.
Call out to country
As she has in previous events, Lynore Geia opened #IHMayDay17 with a powerful call out to country, prompting responses from across Australia – and the globe.
Clipping #IHMayDay17 conversations
Taking back the power
Ending racism and getting a seat at the table
Delivering workforce parity
Every community is different