Recently we attended a cultural safety and respect workshop in Canberra hosted by our colleagues at the Congress of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Nurses and Midwives (CATSINaM). The facilitators, Sharon Gollan (a Ngarrindjeri woman) and Kathleen Stacey led us through an extremely thought provoking, and at times confronting, two days of workshopping. The workshop focussed on participants reflecting on our ‘whiteness’ and the impact of our white culture on this country’s First Nation’s peoples - Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. We were confronted with the privilege our ‘whiteness’ affords us in being part of the dominant culture in this society; the fact that we will not be discriminated against because of our skin colour; that we grow up with expectations of entitlements, often without thinking that others don’t share that privilege. We were taken on a journey of the hideous pain and suffering inflicted on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in this country from colonisation to present day.
While we can’t rewrite history or undo the wrongs of the past, we can commit to learning from the deep injustices of former generations and the perpetuation of discrimination by our generation. We can, and must, recognise racism; name it; and do all we can to establish zero tolerance of racism in our working lives, as nurse and midwives, and in the community.
Accordingly the policies and procedures we develop in our health and aged care facilities must demonstrate that we will not tolerate racism in any guise. This means taking extra steps to ensure services are accessible to and will be provided to all individuals and communities. Taking seriously the effort to Close the Gap in health equality by arguing for additional funds for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Enabling Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to manage their own health and aged care services. And, above all, RESPECTING Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in decision making. All of this will lead to safer and fairer health and aged care for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians. As the ANMF federal office professional team, we commit to embedding cultural respect for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in all our national policies, position statements, and guidelines documents. Over past months we’ve been revising the Federal Office Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP). We’ve been assisted enormously in this by Faye Clarke (a Gunditjmara, Wotjaboluk and Ngarrindjeri woman, ANMF member and CATSINaM Board director) and Robyn Coulthard (then federal professional officer and ANMF member). Throughout this revision work we’ve declared that we don’t want the RAP to just be words on a page, a document that just sits on a shelf and makes us feel good that we are an organisation with a RAP! Rather, we want the document to guide us in working with our CATSINaM colleagues, to establish good relationships with our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander nurse and midwife members and encourage their involvement in our work, to foster respect among our broader membership for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, to promote understanding of the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and to show leadership to the nursing and midwifery professions in respect and working towards health equality for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians.
While Australia is a relatively wealthy country, nurses and midwives know too well that poverty pervades our communities. It’s a shocking and inexcusable fact that the greatest levels of poverty in this country exist in some Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. We want to remind all our nursing and midwifery members that 12-18 October 2014 is Anti-Poverty Week. For the past decade Australia has dedicated a whole week in October to activities which aim to strengthen public understanding, concern and action about the hardship and injustice of poverty, both in Australia and around the world. On your behalf, the ANMF makes an annual donation to support this national anti-poverty awareness raising campaign. We’ve been advertising Anti-Poverty Week in the ANMJ, and, although it’s still a month away, we’re alerting you ahead of time to visit the website: www.antipovertyweek.org.au. Here you’ll find information and ideas for activities you can do in your health or aged care workplace or in your local community. Nurses and midwives hold a position of trust in our society and we should use this position of influence to advocate for a fairer share of resources and better access to essential services, for all people, but especially for our First Nation’s people.
We encourage our members to develop relationships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples which are respectful of diversity of experience and cultural heritage. It is only through an improved understanding of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples that we will be able to address health inequalities, reduce pockets of poverty, and provide safe culturally respectful care.
Elizabeth Foley and Julianne Bryce
Federal Professional Officers