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World Indigenous Cancer Conference 2024: Sharing Our Way to support knowledge and action

Introduction by Croakey: “Indigenous Australians are 14 percent more likely to be diagnosed with cancer, and 20 percent less likely to survive at least five years after diagnosis compared with non-Indigenous Australians.”

These stark statistics were quoted by Professor Gail Garvey AM last week, in the leadup to the Third World Indigenous Cancer Conference (WICC), to be held in Naarm (Melbourne) from 18-20 March.

Garvey, who was WICC’s foundational convenor in 2016, added that “while significant progress has been made in cancer control across Australia in recent decades, the gap in outcomes between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians continues to widen”.

While there are differences between countries, disparities in cancer rates and outcomes are evident for First Nations Peoples around the world. The international gathering at the WICC this week will be a chance to exchange ideas, make connections and explore solutions across the globe, as well as to demonstrate the global collaborative strength and power of Indigenous peoples.

Danielle Manton will be in Naarm to report on the conference for the Croakey Conference News Service. She previews the conference below.

Read the pre-conference press release from the Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Alliance here.


Danielle Manton writes:

Naarm is preparing to welcome a gathering of global Indigenous experts in cancer clinical care, research, advocacy, and privileging community voices.

This gathering of #blakspertise has been long awaited, with the inaugural event occurring in Australia in 2016 (see Croakey’s coverage here), and the second in Calgary in 2019 – followed by an extended gap due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The world has changed dramatically in this time, including in regard to cancer care.

The World Indigenous Cancer Conference (WICC) will be hosted by the Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre Alliance (VCCC) in Partnership with the International Agency for Research on Cancer.

Associate Professor Kalinda Griffiths, VCCC Alliance Research and Education Lead for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health and National Convenor of WICC 2024, told Croakey that the most important part of the conference was, “ensuring that we centralise Indigenous voices across their respective nations to better support what it is that they need to improve cancer outcomes within our communities”.

Over three days, the plenary sessions will highlight global leadership in Indigenous cancer care, strategies, governance, advocacy and empowerment. Each day has a different theme that aligns with the overall conference theme of “Process. Progress. Power.”

A succession of presentations in five concurrent streams will follow the plenaries each morning and afternoon. All are packed with high-profile speakers from around the world, including presenters with lived experience (tip – study the program so you don’t miss a session), and include a dedicated yarning circle stream, each with a focus and a facilitator.

Griffiths emphasised the themes of process, progress and power as actions, saying, “I would like to see some agenda-setting, some priorities, and for people to be going back to their respective nations with greater capacity and support to address some of those things.”

Setting the agenda

Justine Clark, postdoctoral researcher in the Indigenous Genomics Team at Telethon Kids Institute, pointed to the pre-conference Youth and Elder forum that is occurring on Sunday 17 March.

She told Croakey, “The unique and exciting thing is seeing how the key themes from the Youth and Elder forum will flow through the whole three days. I am very honoured to be a part of setting the agenda for the future of Indigenous cancer care from an Indigenous youth perspective.”

Kalinda Griffiths described how the Youth and Elder forum holds a foundational role in the conference.

“It’s really important that when it comes to leading our own health that we are driving the way in which we do things our way,” she said. “To start off this conference, we have an Elders and youth forum and as part of that Elders and youth forum, we are bringing together that continuity of knowledge, handing across the knowledge from the Elders to the youth and bringing the youth to better understand how things can be done.”

What to look forward to?

Aunty Pam Pedersen, Yorta Yorta Elder, champion for justice, and conference Elder, told Croakey, “What I’m mainly looking forward to is meeting representatives from each country, so we can pick up on some new things, share experiences and learn from one another. I think it’s going to be great!”

Associate Professor Griffiths was also looking forward to sharing knowledges and information via in-person connections. She said, “I think for me the biggest thing is getting everyone together in a room to have some of those discussions that we’ve missed out on since the last time we got together, it’s very rare that you get to hang out with global colleagues face to face and I don’t think that there’s anything really like it.”

In addition to the Youth Forum, Justine Clark was looking forward to hearing from some of the young Māori researchers in the precision medicine space – “Jordon Lima and Danielle Sword” to name a few. Clark was also “very eager to learn about successful models of care coordination for Indigenous peoples in the service innovation and improvement sessions”.

Lorraine Tutton, Senior Project Officer, First Nations Cancer & Wellbeing Research Program at The University of Queensland and a first-timer at a WICC, said “the whole schedule looks really exciting” – especially “to know that it is actually on the international stage for Indigenous people”.

Tutton also highlighted the commitment of the presenters and attendees: “you know you don’t work in these areas for fun. It’s usually takes real passion for this particular type of work.”

Tutton noted that the discussions that occur about process, progress and power outside and around the sessions will be “quite significant.” She highlighted a particular session in the yarning circle to keep a look out for – the New Zealand Mana Enhancement session.

Andrea Casey, Aboriginal Support Project Officer and Aboriginal Hospital Liaison Officer at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Care Centre in Melbourne, said the sessions on palliative care were among those that had piqued her interest. The palliative care stream occurs on Tuesday afternoon, with presenters from Aotearoa, Australia, Canada and the USA.

Justine Clark noted the importance of the global connectedness of the event, telling Croakey “I hope to build my national and international networks with other Indigenous researchers, health professionals and those with lived experiences of cancer. And celebrate the amazing work of others in my field.”

The central role of Yarning Circles

With yarning circles preceding and running parallel to the entire conference, Aunty Pam said she was “really looking forward to yarning with everyone and hearing their stories.”

Kalinda Griffiths acknowledged the importance of yarning culturally as a shared learning methodology, globally.

She said of the pre-conference youth and Elder forums, “They’re going to set the scene for what the yarning circles will entail throughout the entire conference. And they’re also going to set the scene for the conference as a whole… They’re going to give us the direction that the programme is going to take and that’s going to be, I guess, fuelled and supported and facilitated within those yarning circles.”

The yarning circles will create a safe, culturally relevant, and important space for conference delegates to connect and share.

Lorraine Tutton told Croakey, “Like everyone, we have a story in terms of losses to cancer the impact it has on our lives, and the continuing impact that it has, so it’s very personal. Even though we work in the field, it is very personal.”

Andrea Casey will be facilitating a yarning circle on culturally safe cancer care in hospitals. She said, “we’re really proud of the work that we do. I’m really proud of the work that my colleague Jay does. She’s pretty amazing. So I’m looking forward to having a good yarn about that and seeing how other people do it. Hopefully, we will have some Canadian and New Zealand mob there too in that Yarning circle, to tell us how they do it”.

Kalinda Griffiths explained that, with yarning, “People can come back and touch base and make sure that we’re coming back to the centre of the way in which we do things. That continuity of knowledge, that continuity of culture, you know, making sure that everything is centralised throughout. That’s what those that yarning circles are there for.”

The yarning circles are to support knowledge sharing, our way.

Set your alarm for a cultural tour of Fitzroy Gardens with Conference Elder Aunty Pam Pedersen, on Tuesday morning

Program taster

Below is a taster of the packed three-day program. The eloquent and deadly Dan Bourchier (ABC journalist) will guide delegates through the program as the Master of Ceremony (take note and be impressed by his blazer collection).   

Day 1 Process

The first plenary session will set the scene, with global leaders providing insight into the landscape of cancer, survivorship, and strategies to continue to move forward in the USA (Professor Linda Burhansstipanov), Canada ( Ms Talia Pfefferle) and Aotearoa (Mr Rami Rahal).

The morning yarning circle, run concurrently as one of five streams, will be facilitated by community/consumers. A glimpse of the other four streams reveals:

Screening: Cervical

  • Same-day HPV testing and colposcopic assessment for Indigenous women in remote communities: The PREVENT Project, Associate Professor Lisa Whop, National Centre for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Wellbeing Research, Australian National University.

Racism and Cultural Safety

  • An evaluation of cultural awareness/safety training offered by the Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre Alliance members, Miss Brooke Conley, Aboriginal Programs Coordinator, Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre Alliance.

Diagnosis and treatment

  • The Road We Travel: The complex impact of cancer treatment centralisation on Indigenous Māori in Aotearoa New Zealand, Associate Professor Jason Gurney, Director, Cancer And Chronic Conditions (c3) Research Group, University of Otago.

Partnership and engagement

  • Working Together in A Good Way: First Nations, Inuit, and Métis Advisory Approaches at the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer, Dr Joshua Tobias, Manager, First Nations, Inuit, and Métis Cancer Strategy, Canadian Partnership Against Cancer, and Mrs Lea Bill, Knowledge Holder/Practitioner Executive Director, AFNIGC.

The second plenary will align with the theme, Process, putting a spotlight on developing equitable systems and services. Professor Alexandra King, a member of Nipissing First Nation (Ontario) will present an example of Indigenous leadership in equitable services, speaking from a wellness perspective rather than illness. Dr Rodney Haring, a member of the Seneca Nation of Indians (Beaver Clan) will speak about the importance of Indigenous community in Process, and the final speaker, Professor Sanchia Aranda, chair of the VCCC Alliance, will focus on the theme of Process through policy.

An Elder-led yarning circle will follow the plenary, concurrently with four “Process” streams including:

Panel: Improving cancer trial participation for First Nations Peoples

Reducing the impact of tobacco

  • Which Way? A culturally responsive group-based smoking cessation program for and by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, Associate Professor Michelle Kennedy, Assistant Dean Indigenous Strategy and Leadership, University of Newcastle and Mrs Joley Foster, Research Assistant, University of Newcastle, NSW.

Support and survivorship

  • A Step Towards Honouring Indigenous Peoples’ Rights to Indigenous Spiritual Care Practices in Healthcare Settings, Ms Muriel Lopez Silva, Program Coordinator, Toronto Central Regional Indigenous Cancer Program and Mr Leonard Benoit, Regional Indigenous Cancer Lead, Toronto Central Regional Indigenous Cancer Program.

Screening: cervical and breast

  • Cervical screening preferences among older First Nations Australians accessing Aboriginal Home Health Services, Dr Tamara Butler, Research Fellow, The University of Queensland.
MC Dan Bourchier in action at 2023 International Indigenous Health and Wellbeing Conference

Day 2 Progress

Aunty Pam, conference Elder, will informally open day two early, guiding those who choose to attend on a cultural walk through Naarm’s Fitzroy Gardens.

Day two will focus on Progress, with the first plenary speakers presenting their agenda-setting ideas to improve care outcomes for Indigenous peoples, drawing on carer reporting, clinical trials and social determinants of health as key contributors.

Speakers will include Dr Freddie Bray, Head of the Cancer Surveillance Section at the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), Professor Alex Brown, a Yuin man, and Professor of Indigenous Genomics, and Professor Malcom King a member of the Mississaugas of