Embracing Indigenous health practices

Picture: simez78/Shutterstock
Picture: simez78/Shutterstock

As another NAIDOC Week passes, I reflect on the progress we're making to provide culturally appropriate health services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in regional Australia. This is vital - because, when we get it right, everyone benefits.

As a community, there are many things we can do.

Firstly, we can make an effort to better understand and embrace Indigenous health and wellbeing practices.

Indigenous Australians have been doing health for more than 60,000-plus years.

We're not here by accident; we have some really good knowledge that has helped us survive and prosper.

We also understand the deep and lasting impacts of trauma - a valuable insight, especially when you consider the country's growing refugee population.

It's also about building cultural safety in healthcare settings, including hospitals and community health centres.

We need to not only provide culturally safe health environments for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, but also for our Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal health workers.

And, finally, we need to boost the number of Indigenous students graduating with health degrees.

Talking to regional health managers, they would dearly love to employ more Indigenous staff, but there is a shortage of applicants. We can only strengthen the country's rural health workforce if we have more Indigenous students pursuing tertiary study.

So what does this look like on a practical level?

It's about better engaging local communities and health services, and reaching students while they're still at school and university.

Universities such as La Trobe are working hard to ensure that First Nations curriculum is embedded all its health subjects and degrees, and that staff are supported to teach these new components.

We also provide a culturally safe place for students to study - and make sure all the supports are in place that they need to succeed.

But we also need communities to be on board with this.

Regional centres need to consider how they can benefit from diverse cultural practices, and a more holistic understanding of health.

We need to work together to encourage more young Indigenous Australians to enrol in health degrees.

And the young people themselves have to pursue tertiary study, and realise their dream to become a nurse, dentist, midwife, paramedic, physiotherapist - or any number of health professions that are vital to rural communities.

Because when we achieve this, everyone benefits.

David Tarnda Copley is Kauna Peremangk Elder from South Australia and Indigenous academic adviser/lecturer at the La Trobe Rural Health School.

This story Embracing Indigenous health practices first appeared on The Canberra Times.