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Today is tomorrow’s history – be brave, so we can envisage Australia in 2037 like this

It’s 2037 and Janine Mohamed‘s grandchildren are learning about the tremendous achievements of Australia’s first Indigenous Prime Minister, Mr Adam Goodes….

Twenty years from now it’s a country that has closed the gap in health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and non-Indigenous Australians, where cultural safety doesn’t begin in the health system but in our homes and schools and public discourse, and where recognition of the urgency of climate change has prompted a profound sea change around the world in the way we live and do business.

FutureIt’s no wonder this speech from Mohamed – CEO of the Congress of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Nurses and Midwives (CATSINaM) – sparked such a big response on Saturday at the National Rural Health Conference in Cairns.

She imagined a strong, positive, future for Australia 20 years from now – and what it might take to get us there.

You can read her speech in full below, or watch it via the video link at the bottom of the post. See below too for some of the Twitter responses to her call for action for us to be brave and to make some great history.

Journalist Melissa Sweet is covering #ruralhealthconf covering for the Croakey Conference News Service. You can bookmark Croakey’s coverage here.

Thanks to Janine Mohamed and CATSINaM for making her speech and slides available for this post.


Janine Mohamed: speech to the National Rural Health Conference

Good morning ladies and gentlemen, Elders, dignitaries and colleagues.

janineI would like to begin by paying my respects to the Traditional Custodians of this land, the Yirrganydji Gimyayg Yidinji people, and to Elders past and present, and future generations.

Thank you for your very warm welcome and for the invitation to talk to you today.

About two years ago I had the privilege of meeting Professor Moana Jackson, from Aeoteroa. He is truly an inspirational Maori leader, who challenged us at CATSINaM to ‘see beyond the mountain’, to vision our future at all costs, and to be brave because that is the way of our people.

He also reminded us that we are storytellers – Moana has inspired me to share our hopes for the future with you today.

So….hang on to your seats – we are going to be doing some time travel together!

Becoming advocates and agents of change

slide young JanineWhen I was a young girl I realised I wanted to become a nurse, after seeing my family members suffer traumatic experiences at the hands of the health system.

While I have worked in many different roles across the health system – clinically, in program development and delivery, academia and in policy –I am now very pleased to be leading the Congress of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Nurses and Midwives, or CATSINaM since 2013.

I am proud to be an advocate for the unique and powerful roles that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander nurses have in the health system and their communities, as agents of change.

slide nurseI like to begin my speeches by acknowledging May Yarrowick, who trained as an obstetric nurse in Sydney in 1903. She may well be our first Indigenous nurse qualified in Western nursing.

Let’s take a few moments to reflect upon the challenges that May must have overcome to train and work as a nurse in those times. Remember, this was just a few years after the new federation of Australia passed the Immigration Restriction Act of 1901.

slide segregationThis legislation enshrined the White Australia policy, embedding dominant culture worldviews and priorities into the very birth of the federation, and of course the exclusion of us from Australia’s birth certificate.

Some might say that to this day Australia has not yet grown up – or out of those views.

Too often, the limitations of these dominant culture worldviews stop non-Indigenous people from recognising the incredible strengths of our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and cultures.

Imagine this is now 2037….

Now, I’d like to invite you to cast your minds forward.

Imagine that we have travelled forward in time from May Yarrowick and 1903, all the way to 2037 – 20 years in the future from the time of this conference here in beautiful Cairns.

How old are you in 2037?

slide black bettyI am 62. – I think I look like I belong on the set of the Golden Girls – the Black Betty White. But I am not yet retired. Now that we all are living longer, the retirement age is now 70.

I am happy to still be working. In fact, I am happy to still be alive and in relatively good health.

When I think back to 2017, I remember that I was not at all sure this would be the case. In my early 40s I developed a chronic disease and worried about what it might mean for my future health. But my worries proved unfounded. As I grew older, I remained strong and well.

When I think back over the last few decades, I realise that what helped to keep me feeling good was the strength of my identity, my connection to community and country, and my mentors.

The health literacy that I developed through my nursing career also helped – just one of many ways that developing an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health workforce helps to improve the health of our people.

At 62, I must admit that I am feeling pretty good about myself. My life has had – and continues to have – purpose and meaning, thanks to my passion for improving the health of my people.

So much of my work has been about re-writing national narratives that were once so detrimental to our well-being but are now a source of pride and strength in our identities as members of the world’s oldest living cultures.

familyOne of the reasons I’m so happy is that I am now watching my grandchildren thrive.

I am seeing that their experiences at school and university are so different from my days , and even from those of my children – their parents.

My grandchildren are reading histories and textbooks that have been written by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

My grannies are learning from Indigenous teachers and lecturers and television presenters. And they are proud and strong in their identities because of how and what they are learning.

It is such a far cry from when I was at school and university. Then our romanticised and exotic histories were being told by non-Indigenous people, who too often saw us through the overlapping lenses of deficit, unconscious bias and racism.

goodes pmMy grandchildren are learning about the tremendous achievements of our first Indigenous Prime Minister, Mr Adam Goodes.

From their classrooms, they scan in to hear the discussions from the First Nations Parliament.

Self-determination is not an aspiration or even a dream for my great grandchildren. It is their daily reality.

They grow up conscious of whose country they are on

In school, they learn about our many Indigenous health heroes — about people like Professor Tom Calma and Aunty Pat Anderson, & Aunty Gracelyn Smallwood…….

It is not only my grandchildren who are learning about the strengths and proud history of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples  – so are their non-Indigenous classmates.

Together, they are learning a shared, true history of this place we call Australia.

My grandchildren and their non-Indigenous friends share in learning local language and they learn together about the importance of respecting and caring for country. They grow up knowing about whose country they were born on – because this is written on their birth certificates and is part of their identities from the day they are born.

slide signpostsThey grow up knowing to always be conscious of whose country they are on – the signs, GPS reminders and names on our maps and roads also remind them of this.

Thanks to the many outcomes of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, when they go on fun school excursions, they visit fun exhibitions that are informed by our Indigenous knowledges and cultures.

They visit memorials that honour our First Nations people, including our brave Warriors and protectors of country such as Pemulway.

When they go on school excursions, the signage on the streets and highways is not only in English, but also honours the language and naming of the local First Nations peoples.

They grow up with intergenerational hope, not trauma

twitter racismMy grandchildren are growing up in a society that values them and their heritage. They are growing up with intergenerational hope, rather than intergenerational trauma.

They are relative strangers to the experiences of racism that were part of the daily experience of their ancestors over so many generations — including for me, my parents and my children.

The health professionals of the future are learning, from their earliest days, when they first set step into early childhood learning and development centres, about cultural safety. Not that they call it that any more.

Cultural safety has become so embedded into all systems that it has become the norm – rather than something exceptional that people have to learn when they start training to be a nurse or a doctor.

In 2037, cultural safety doesn’t begin in the health system; it begins in our homes and schools. It is evident in our private conversations, and our public debate and discourse.

In 2037, there is no longer a disconnect between public and political discourse – and the language used in the education and training of health professionals.

Politicians of ALL persuasions now understand – just as well as do ALL health professionals – that racism is an attack on people’s health and well-being, and our capacity to live productive, self-determining lives.

slide health careIn 2037, cultural safety has become a societal norm. The cultures, knowledges and practices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are central to the national narrative; they are valued and respected.

We have fixed the “racism problem”. Embedding cultural safety into all aspects of society has helped us to transform Eurocentric systems and worldviews.

In 2037, I no longer feel the need to put on my heavy “armour” when I venture outside of my home. It’s a far cry from 20 years ago, when this armour was part of my defence system against the everyday insults of unconscious bias born of racism. Experiences such as deflecting or swallowing hard when I hear:

  • ‘You’ve done well for yourself’
  • ‘Aboriginal people get so much given to them’
  • ‘You’re too pretty to be Aboriginal’
  • ‘Yes, but you’re not like the rest of them, you’re different’
  • or ‘You’re not a real Aboriginal, you’re a half caste’
  • being asked to see my receipt at Woolworths self-serve because ‘they’ve had problems with my sort of people’.

In 2037, I know that when non-Indigenous people see me in the street or at work, their first reaction will not be of prejudice or fear, but of gratitude and pride.

This reflects their understanding of the profound value that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and cultures bring to Australian society.

We have closed the gap in health outcomes

In 2037, when my grandchildren get sick or need to go to the hospital, I no longer even think to worry about whether their care and treatment will be respectful.

No longer do my people leave seeing a doctor or visiting a hospital to the last possible moment because of the fear of being humiliated or traumatised.

The real-time reporting of national safety and quality healthcare data shows that cultural safety is now so embedded across all health systems that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander patients are as likely as any other Australians to have proper access to respectful and appropriate care.

The Health Barometer – which was established some years ago to measure our health outcomes, race relations and the cultural safety of health services, programs and policies – has become redundant.

The dual governance boards which Local Area Health Networks established to eradicate racism at the organisational and direct service delivery level are also no longer needed.