Introduction by Croakey: As the Senate begins debating the Indigenous Voice to Parliament Bill this week, clearing the way for a referendum, an important conference is taking place on the lands of the Gimuy Walubara Yidinji and Yirrganydji peoples, in Cairns.
The Lowitja Institute’s Third International Health and Wellbeing Conference, which begins on Wednesday 14 June, has been a sold-out event for weeks.
In the article below, Gumbaynggirr nyami woman and PhD candidate, Amba-Rose Atkinson, highlights some of the themes that underpin in the 250-plus presentations that will take place during the three-day conference, and explores the reasons why mob from Australia and abroad are converging on the North Queensland city to share, learn, connect, celebrate and more.
Amba-Rose Atkinson writes:
This week (June 14-16), around 1200 attendees will convene on the lands of the Gimuy Walubara Yidinji and Yirrganydji peoples in Cairns, Australia, for Lowitja Institute’s Third International Indigenous Health and Wellbeing Conference.
The conference brings together people from across the country and around the world, to share knowledge for the health and wellbeing of First Nations peoples and communities. Community leaders and representatives, researchers, health professionals and practitioners, policy makers, government representatives, and international First Nations leaders are expected to attend.
Proud Narrunga Kaurna woman, Adjunct Professor and CEO of the Lowitja Institute, Janine Mohamed, told Croakey, “we’ve been really overwhelmed by the interest in the conference – it’s been sold out for a month…It shows that there is such an appetite for sharing innovative ideas and transformational community-led research that is grounded in our ways of knowing, being and doing – knowledge that disrupts Western research narratives.”
Celebrating a milestone event
The conference will be the first since the Lowitja Institute became community controlled in 2020, and the first since the founding of the Lowitja O’Donoghue Foundation last year to mark Dr Lowitja O’Donoghue’s 90th birthday.
“So it will also be a real celebration,” said Mohamed.
Becoming a community-controlled organisation is a significant milestone in the Lowitja Institute’s journey.
It ensures that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities are driving the research agenda and directly benefiting from it. It also supports knowledge exchange grounded in First Nations epistemologies and Indigenous research praxis, resulting in wide-ranging impacts on community wellbeing that extend far beyond the delivery of health care services.
The Lowitja O’Donoghue Foundation honours Aboriginal woman Dr Lowitja O’Donoghue, who has dedicated her life to the empowerment of First Nations peoples across the health and educational sectors, and advocated for political representation, land rights and reconciliation.
These areas are aptly woven into the conference themes of Truth, Rights, and Response. Sub-themes include sovereignty and self-determination; living a good life; data and technology; environment, Country, and belonging; workforce and leadership.
Shedding light on a critical juncture
These themes come at a critical point in the nation’s discussion of enshrining a Voice to Parliament, and underscore the interconnections between self-determination, rights to health and a healthy environment, and political agency.
With more than 340 presenters and 250 presentations (including 50 poster presentations), there is much anticipation around the depth of perspective, experience, and Knowledges lined up to speak.
As the conference is being held in the lead up to the upcoming Referendum on an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice to Parliament, there is expected to be much discussion generated on the Voice, Treaty, and Truth-telling.
For example, the opening keynote speakers consist of Alywarre human rights advocator and Uluru Dialogues co-chair, Pat Anderson AO; co-author of the Indigenous Voice Co-design Process report, Iman Distinguished Professor Marcia Langton; and Karen Diver, member of the Fond du Lac Band of the Minnesota Chippewa tribe and former appointee of President Obama as the Special Assistant to the President for Native American Affairs.
Day One: Truth
Each day centres on one of the core themes.
Truth, on day one (Wednesday 14th June) commences with a high calibre panel discussion led by Kaurna, Narungga, Ngadjuri and Ngarrindjeri Commissioner Dale Agius; Gangulu former Social Justice Commissioner Mick Gooda; Wurundjeri and Ngurai Illum Wurrung Yoorrook Justice Commissioner Sue-Anne Hunter; and Palawa Commissioner Maggie Walter.
A snapshot of the sessions includes:
- Telling the story for ‘Ngalmuka Healing & Country is Medicine Culturally Led Health and Wellbeing programs on Country, Andrea Andrews, et al (Banatjarl Strongbala Wimun Grup, Jawoyn Association).
- Two-Spirit/Indigenous LGBTQ+ celebration in Los Angeles (Tovaangar), Gabriel Estrada (California State University, Long Beach).
- ‘‘…pushing boundaries…pushing back or shoving sideways…” – Re-defining public health on Indigenous terms to better serve Indigenous public good, Natasha Lee (University of Queensland, Poche Centre for Indigenous Health).
Day Two: Rights
Day two (Thursday 15th June) focuses on Rights, with powerhouse keynote speakers including Munanjahli and South Sea Islander Professor, Chelsea Watego, Métis physician, Professor Janet Smylie, and Māori Professor, Papaarangi Reid, starting the day off.
Professor Reid told Croakey that what she was most looking forward to about the conference was “space” – “a space dedicated to celebrating and enquiring First Nations thoughts, theory, and truth”, and “to action black praxis”.
While she said it was important to focus on the serious topics at hand, Reid believed it was also important to make friends and celebrate First Nations fabulousness.
Sessions throughout day two include:
- Ooma La Michinn: Walking in Wellness with Métis Youth for Life Promotion, Michelle Padley (Métis Nation British Columbia).
- Bringing Back the Buffalo – the foundational aspect of traditional healing in Canada, Tessie Big Plume, Margo Dodginghorse, Sylvan Breaker, and Dalton Dodginghorse (Stoney Nakoda Tsuut’ina Tribal Council).
- Tiwi Women’s Action for Mums and Bubs (WoMB): Stories from an intergenerational women’s group to improve maternal and child health (MCH) through recognising culture and identity, Nalita Nungarrayi Turner (James Cook University) Christine Mankara and Maggie Kerinauia (Tiwi Island Training and Employment Board).
Day Three: Response
The third and final day (Friday 16 June) centres on Response.
The day launches with three keynote speakers renowned for their significant contributions to First Nations scholarship: Narungga, Kaurna and Ngarrindjeri Professor Lester-Irabinna Rigney; member of Beaver Lake Cree Nation, Dr Lisa Bearskin; and Māori Distinguished Professor, Linda Tuhiwai Smith. Sessions throughout the day three include:
- Building a strong community-led Aboriginal health research workforce across the Kimberly region of Western Australia, Elisha Rahimi, Shania Ah Chee and DeShaun Matsumoto (Kimberley Aboriginal Health Research Alliance).
- Mapping Aboriginal Infant Health Programs and Services in Victoria, Fiona Mitchell and Dr Jennifer Browne (Deakin University).
- Ko ngā mea iti te mea nui, Dr. Anneka Anderson (Te Kupenga Hauora Māori, University of Auckland).
The collective power of mob
Following on from the 2019 and 2016 Lowitja conferences, the third International Indigenous Health and Wellbeing Conference provides an opportunity for mob from across the country and the globe to come together and share learnings, connect through story, build upon relationships, and generate new ideas.
“As a collective of First Nations peoples,” Mohamed told Croakey, “we are a powerful force that can offer unique and informed perspectives on multidisciplinary topic areas including climate and health, justice, the economic determinants of our health, and much more.”
What are mob looking forward to?
The past few years made connecting at conferences and forming strong cross-disciplinary relationships harder, given the pandemic. With conference season in full swing, it seems mob are looking forward to being in the same place at the same time.
Quandamooka Associate Professor Veronica Matthews told Croakey “there is nothing better than coming together to meet and learn from deadly researchers, strengthen relationships, exchange ideas, and have a good time. White fella way calls this ‘networking’, and for us, relational process is foundational to our way of working, whether it be with research colleagues or community as participants. The international First Nations’ visitors makes the Lowitja Conference particularly special.”
What are mob hoping to get out of the conference?
Matthews, like many mob at the moment, drew attention to the Voice.
“I’m looking forward to listening and learning from Elders, leaders, all participants, their experiences/thoughts on truth and treaty processes,” she said.
“The conference themes of Truth, Rights and Response will focus our yarns on key aspects of the Uluru Statement and what it can potentially deliver to strengthen health and wellbeing. It’s important to carry these messages beyond the conference as we head toward the referendum vote.”
Matthews said that, as a primary healthcare systems researcher, she had come to understand the importance of bringing Country into health practice, and of strengthening the health workforce – two priority themes of the conference. “I hope to extend connections and gain broader understanding of work being done in these domains,” she said.
The third International Indigenous Health and Wellbeing Conference is set to generate inspiring discussions, highlight the importance of global First Nations solidarity and connectedness, and amplify the voices of mob working across sectors and spaces to improve the health and wellbeing of First Nations communities.
With the focus on Truth, Rights, and Response, it will be exciting to bear witness to the community-led research centering First Nations Knowledges, experiences, and voices.
Look out for the post-conference articles!
Arrival vibes on Twitter
A Gumbaynggirr nyami woman, Amba-Rose Atkinson is a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) Candidate at the Poche Centre for Indigenous Health Research and School of Public Health, Faculty of Medicine, the University of Queensland. Her PhD study looks at the relationship between Country, Climate, and First Nations Peoples’ Health; and how the knowledge systems of this relationship can and must be embedded in localised and place-based environmental, climate, and health solutions.
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