NACCHO Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Health News: Many ongoing negative impacts of colonialism

feature tile: statue of Queen Victoria with Aboriginal flag; text: ' Intergenerational impact of Stolen Generations, a consequence of colonialism'

The image in the feature tile appeared in Steve Larkin’s article Saying colonisation had no negative effects on First Nations people is dangerous denialism published in The Guardian on 22 September 2023.

The NACCHO Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health News is platform we use to showcase the important work being done in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health, focusing on the work of NACCHO, NACCHO members and NACCHO affiliates.

We also share a curated selection of news stories that are of likely interest to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health sector, broadly.

Many ongoing negative impacts from colonisation

Fiona Stanley, Colleen Hayward and Steve Zubrick have recently written about the intergenerational impact of stolen generations, saying “We would like to contest very strongly the comments by Jacynta Nampijinpa Price that there are no longer any negative impacts from Australia being colonised. One of the most powerful and damaging interventions which was part of colonisation, was the forced removal of children and families from their parents and country. It has been generally accepted for many years that forced separation and forced removals had devastating consequences in terms of social and culturation dislocation, which have impacted on the health and wellbeing of subsequent generations. This was clearly shown in the Bringing them Home Report, (published by the Human Rights Commission in 1997) with story after story of people then recalling the trauma of separation. It is thought that since colonisation, the official and government sanctioned removals, since late 1800s to 1970, affected over 100,000 children. Separation took three forms: putting children into government institutions, fostering children with white families, and white families adopting them. The stories in the Bringing them Home Report were full of the trauma, abuse and cultural genocide of these children and their children.”

“We also were involved in the only large quantitative study of the Stolen Generations, the Western Australian Aboriginal Child Health Survey (WAACHS) done out of the now Telethon Kids Institute (TKI) which was published in several reports and papers in 2005/6. The study was a state-wide survey of one in six Aboriginal families to ascertain their social, emotional, health, educational and wellbeing status to enable the best preventive strategies to be implemented to address the high rates of poor outcomes in these families. Using many Aboriginal interviewers and researchers, the team contacted over 2,000 families with over 6,000 children aged between 0-18 years, across all areas of WA (metropolitan, rural and remote). A very high response rate reflected the trust that these families had in our team to listen to their stories of their lives. Carers and schoolteachers were also interviewed as well as the children who were old enough.”

“We would like to present two major aspects of the findings which address Price’s assertions. One relates to the extent of removals and the second to the inter-generational impact. Between 40-60% of families reported being forcibly removed from family or homeland across all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) regions. It varied from nearly 60% in Broome to 32% in Geraldton, with rates higher than Geraldton for all other regions. We felt this truly could be described as “Stolen Generations” although many outspoken government leaders of the day disputed this description.”

“We were expecting and found clear evidence of the negative impact of a history of being stolen on subsequent generations. Those with a history of removals were nearly twice as likely to be arrested or charged with an offence, 1.6 times more likely to abuse alcohol and have house-hold problems from that, more than twice as likely to indulge in harmful gambling and reported far fewer social supports, as those who did not report that history. Children whose parents had been forcibly removed also were two and a half times more likely to be at high risk of clinically significant social and emotional behavioural difficulties, than those who did not have that history. The impact was higher in those families whose mothers/grandmothers had been removed than in those whose mothers/grandmothers were not removed.

“Whilst there are numerous studies in most colonised Indigenous populations globally, this is the most comprehensive quantitative and trustworthy study to prove these intergenerational impacts. The study concluded that “the nature of the recent debate about the actual number of Aboriginal families experiencing forced separations has displaced the reality that these experiences occurred at all and the extent to which these past experiences continue to impact on the lives of the current generations of Aboriginal families. A more open-hearted acknowledgement of the extent of the suffering and disadvantage which past policies of separation inflicted on Aboriginal Australians, would in our view, significantly further the process through which these concerns are eventually resolved”.

It is mischievous and hurtful to deny the impacts of colonisation on today’s population.  If non-Indigenous people had endured the genocide and marginalisation which has been forced on our First Nations, we would also be showing similar effects of historical colonisation.

You can view a transcript of the above statement here and a short Healing Foundation animation below explaining intergenerational trauma.

Suicide prevention recommendations ignored

A new report has found that coroners around Australia are frustrated their potentially life-saving recommendations to prevent Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander suicide are being routinely ignored by the government. The research by the Centre of Best Practice in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention (CBPATSISP) examined state and territory coroner’s courts’ responsiveness to First Nations families who had lost a loved one to suicide.

It involved interviews with coroners, their staff and Indigenous people with lived experience, who called for greater accountability on the implementation of recommendations from inquests and other inquiries. The report also found the current coronial system was alienating for many First Nations people and coroners wanted more cultural training to improve the experience for Indigenous people going through it.

Vicki McKenna, manager of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Lived Experience Centre with the Black Dog Institute, described the coronial process as “another later of grief” for most Indigenous families. There’s a lot of hurt that comes with that, because families feel like feel like they’re dismissed,” the Yawuru and Bunuba Jarndu woman said. Many lived experience interviewees pointed to systemic issues such as lack of cultural understanding, communication, and financial support. “Because of the language that is used and in the way that these reports are written, it leaves our families still struggling to understand,” Ms McKenna said.

To read the ABC News article Coroners frustrated recommendations on Indigenous suicide ignored by government, report shows in full click here.

Vicki McKenna, manager of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Lived Experience Centre holding the Black Dog Institute, co-authored the report

Vicki McKenna, manager of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Lived Experience Centre with the Black Dog Institute, co-authored the report. Photo: Daryna Zadvirna, ABC News.

MBS support needed to address foot health disadvantage

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, especially those living in remote areas, are missing out on crucial care and suffering painful delays in seeing specialist surgeons, according to the Australasian College of Podiatric (ACPS) Surgeons. To address the disadvantage ACPS is calling for better access to the Medicare Benefits Scheme (MBS) to enable them to assist patients suffering acute pain and reduced quality of life.

Podiatric Surgeons are specialist doctors who are trained only to operate on feet and ankles, yet there is currently no Medicare Benefits Scheme item number for podiatric surgery or associated services, including anaesthetics and pathology. The ACPS says there is a large bank of evidence suggesting up to 70% of affected patients have untreated foot pain, which has a debilitating effect on their quality of life.

ACPS President Dr Rob Hermann said untreated foot pain has a significant impact on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander patients, especially those living outside of capital cities. “Most of us take for granted, the ability to go about our daily lives free of pain and unrestricted,” he said. “But due to the lack of funding and access, that’s just not the case for thousands of patients. Issues concerning foot health can have drastic impacts on quality of life. Along with increased pain for patients and higher risk of complications, delayed care could lead to more costly future treatment and long-term debilitation.” The ACPS said the high cost of healthcare faced by podiatric patients can be prohibitive to low-income and at-risks groups, and the consequences life-altering.

To view the National Indigenous Times article Podiatric surgeons urge Medicare Benefits Scheme support to address Indigenous foot health disadvantage in full click here.

ACPS President Dr Rob Herman

ACPS President Dr Rob Herman. Photo: Adelaide Foot & Ankle. Image source: National Indigenous Times.

Older people at forefront of framework

The Indigo 4Ms project was designed to support the development of a new model of healthcare that is sensitive to the needs of older people and stimulates discussion on long-term policy responses to support age-friendly environments. Led by Beechworth Health Service, the initiative was funded by the Federal Government and developed by experts and healthcare professionals who work with older people, as well as community members with experience using health and aged care services.

The scarcity of health prevention activities that specifically target the common age-related difficulties of hearing, seeing, moving and remembering, which have the greatest impact on an older person’s physical and mental capabilities, were the catalyst for developing two tools: one for the older generation to use as a conversational guide with healthcare providers, and a second for healthcare professionals to guide conversations with older people. “These tools will lead to more informed discussions between health services and the communities they serve,” Dr Winterton said. “It will also ensure both sides are speaking the same language. We’re hopeful this will lead to more timely care for older people and support them to access the whole spectrum of healthcare they may need.”

Beechworth Health Service CEO, Dr Mark Ashcroft, said agencies are looking forward to putting the tools into action. “We’re incredibly enthusiastic about the partnership nature of work to come as implementation of the Indigo 4Ms tools are rolled out,” Dr Ashcroft said. Albury Wodonga Aboriginal Health Service is one of 8 partner agencies involved in the project.

To read the La Trobe University article Older People at Forefront of Framework in full click here.

ATSI female Elder in dressing gown with female care support worker

Image source: National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Ageing and Aged Care Council (NATSIAACC) website.

Smileyscopes to help reduce injection fear

Letting a child receive an injection can sometimes be difficult and distressing for everyone. And it can be even tougher for staff at the Ord Valley Aboriginal Health Service who have to make children with rheumatic heart disease (RHD) receive painful injections once a month for five to sometimes 10 years. If the children don’t receive the injections they risk heart failure.

Now visiting GP Dr Ryan Holmes and his colleague Dr Sonia Henry have teamed up to try and make the big needles less painful for the children. They have created a GoFundMe page to raise money for virtual reality headsets called Smileyscopes to help reduce the fear and stress during the monthly injections.

“The injections are big and painful,” Dr Holmes said. “It’s hard to get kids to have a small flu needle at the best of times, let alone tell them you’ve got to come have a humongous injection to your bottom once a month for the next five years. That’s where the Smileyscope can be very helpful. It’s a virtual reality headset and they can be programmed for all sorts of things, so the children could be in space or under the sea. So they have a really good time with it and it makes the whole process a lot easier because the kids are distracted, they’re having fun.”

To view the Harvey-Waroona Report article Visiting doctors raise money for VR headsets for child patients at Ord Valley Aboriginal Health Service in full click here.

Ord Valley Aboriginal Health Service's outreach clinic van

Ord Valley Aboriginal Health Service’s (OVAHS) outreach clinic. Image source: OVAHS website.

Racism and the 2023 Voice referendum

A recent article written by Ian Anderson, Yin Paradies, Marcia Langton, Ray Lovett, and Tom Calma suggest that  the higher levels of racism being experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples during the referendum process itself is partly because the referendum process taps into a deep well of historical racism that originated on the Australian frontier when Indigenous peoples “were violently dispossessed from their lands by the British”.

This history has shaped the 2023 referendum and an increasingly divisive campaign between those advocating a Yes and a No position. Since the referendum was announced, there has been a substantial rise in threats, abuse, vilification, and hate speech against Indigenous peoples, both in person and online. The Australian e-Safety Commission reported in late May, 2023, that there had been more than a 10% rise in the proportion of complaints made by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples about online cyber abuse, threats, and harassment. Furthermore, the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria has gone from blocking two people a day for racist abuse on social media to blocking about 50 people, citing the national debate on an Indigenous Voice as the reason for this escalation. The Voice referendum process creates a substantial cultural load for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Indigenous peoples are being asked, and expected, to engage in conversations around this topic and, often, are then challenged to defend their position. To address these stressors, the Australian Government has allocated AU$10m to NACCHO to support the mental health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people during the campaign.

To mitigate risk to mental health and wellbeing, there needs to be respectful discourse that counters the misinformation that is emerging about the Voice and Indigenous aspirations. This discourse requires all forms of media to commit to controls that prevent racial abuse. Public information campaigns, such as that of the Australian Election Commission, are also needed. It will also require services and supports for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people during the referendum process and after the outcome is announced.

To view The Lancet article Racism and the 2023 Australian constitutional referendum in full click here.

Voice to Parliament rally with one of crowd holding sign 'Voice to Parliament' written on sign of Aboriginal flag

Photo: William West, AAP via Getty Images. Image source: The Lancet.

Sector Jobs

Sector Jobs – you can see sector job listings on the NACCHO website here.

Advertising Jobs – to advertise a job vacancy click here to go to the NACCHO website current job listings webpage. Scroll down to the bottom of the page to find a Post A Job form. You can complete this form with your job vacancy details – it will then be approved for posting and go live on the NACCHO website.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *