NACCHO Aboriginal Health and Racism : The power of social media supporting Adam Goodes

AG

“On an individual level, exposure to racism is associated with psychological distress, depression, poor quality of life, and substance misuse, all of which contribute significantly to the overall ill-health experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Prolonged experience of stress can also have physical health effects, such as on the immune, endocrine and cardiovascular systems.”

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Pat Anderson is chairwoman of the Lowitja Institute, Australia’s National Institute for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Research (and a former chair of NACCHO)

This week NACCHO’s Facebook post on Aboriginal Health Racism and supporting Adam Goodes received 50,855 Likes, comments and shares reaching 846,848 people (see above) . In total our NACCHO campaign Facebook posts reached over 2.30 Million People ( 1.4 Million Twitter and 930,000 Facebook)

Thousands took the time and effort to read this important paper on Aboriginal Health and Racism

First Published by NACCHO in 2013 from the Australian Opinion Article HERE

 In July 2013, the federal government launched its new National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Plan.

Update August 2015 the NATSHIP Implementation is due to be released shortly

As with all such plans, much depends on how it is implemented. With the details of how it is to be turned into meaningful action yet to be worked out, many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, communities and organisations and others will be reserving their judgment.

Nevertheless, there is one area in which this plan breaks new ground, and that is its identification of racism as a key driver of ill-health.

This may be surprising to many Australians. The common perception seems to be that racism directed towards Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is regrettable, but that such incidents are isolated, trivial and essentially harmless.

Such views were commonly expressed, for example, following the racial abuse of Sydney Swans footballer Adam Goodes earlier this year.

However, the new health plan has got it right on this point, and it is worth looking in more detail at how and why.

So how common are racist behaviours, including speech, directed at Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people?

A key study in Victoria in 2010-11, funded by the Lowitja Institute, documented very high levels of racism experienced by Aboriginal Victorians.

It found that of the 755 Aboriginal Victorians surveyed, almost all (97 per cent) reported experiencing racism in the previous year. This included a range of behaviours from being called racist names, teased or hearing jokes or comments that stereotyped Aboriginal people (92 per cent); being sworn at, verbally abused or subjected to offensive gestures because of their race (84 per cent); being spat at, hit or threatened because of their race (67 per cent); to having their property vandalised because of race (54 per cent).

Significantly, more than 70 per cent of those surveyed experienced eight or more such incidents in the previous 12 months.

Other studies have found high levels of exposure to racist behaviours and language.

Such statistics describe the reality of the lived experience of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Most Australians would no doubt agree this level of racist abuse and violence is unwarranted and objectionable. It infringes upon our rights – not just our rights as indigenous people but also our legal rights as Australian citizens.

But is it actually harmful? Is it a health issue? Studies in Australia echo findings from around the world that show the experience of racism is significantly related to poor physical and mental health.

There are several ways in which racism has a negative effect on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s health.

First, on an individual level, exposure to racism is associated with psychological distress, depression, poor quality of life, and substance misuse, all of which contribute significantly to the overall ill-health experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Prolonged experience of stress can also have physical health effects, such as on the immune, endocrine and cardiovascular systems.

Second, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people may be reluctant to seek much-needed health, housing, welfare or other services from providers they perceive to be unwelcoming or who they feel may hold negative stereotypes about them.

Last, there is a growing body of evidence that the health system itself does not provide the same level of care to indigenous people as to other Australians. This systemic racism is not necessarily the result of individual ill-will by health practitioners, but a reflection of inappropriate assumptions made about the health or behaviour of people belonging to a particular group.

What the research tells us, then, is that racism is not rare and it is not harmless: it is a deeply embedded pattern of events and behaviours that significantly contribute to the ill-health suffered by all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians.

Tackling these issues is not easy. The first step is for governments to understand racism does have an impact on our health and to take action accordingly. Tackling racism provides governments with an opportunity to make better progress on their commitments to Close the Gap, as the campaign is known, in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health. The new plan has begun this process, but it needs to be backed up with evidence-based action.

Second, as a nation we need to open up the debate about racism and its effects.

The recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the Constitution is important for many reasons, not least because it could lead to improved stewardship and governance for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health (as explored in a recent Lowitja Institute paper, “Legally Invisible”).

However, the process around constitutional recognition provides us with an opportunity to have this difficult but necessary conversation about racism and the relationship between Australia’s First Peoples and those who have arrived in this country more recently. Needless to say, this conversation needs to be conducted respectfully, in a way that is based on the evidence and on respect for the diverse experiences of all Australians.

Last, we need to educate all Australians, especially young people, that discriminatory remarks, however casual or apparently light-hearted or off-the-cuff, have implications for other people’s health.

Whatever approaches we adopt, they must be based on the recognition that people cannot thrive if they are not connected.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people need to be connected with their own families, communities and cultures. We must also feel connected to the rest of society. Racism cuts that connection.

At the same time, racism cuts off all Australians from the unique insights and experiences that we, the nation’s First Peoples, have to offer.

Seen this way, recognising and tackling racism is about creating a healthier, happier and better nation in which all can thrive.

Pat Anderson is chairwoman of the Lowitja Institute, Australia’s National Institute for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Research.

NACCHO Aboriginal health research: Smarter research at Lowitja will lead the way to Aboriginal healthy futures

2030VisionSummary-Lowitja_Page_1

“The Lowitja Institute is aware of our peoples’ reluctance and suspicion of research. This largely has been because research was often undertaken without proper involvement or consultation or did not lead to any benefit for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

“As health researchers we have a responsibility to stay ahead of the game and to involve our peoples in research if we are to generate improvements in health and wellbeing in the future,”

Lowitja Institute CEO, Ms Lyn Brodie

A new report from the Lowitja Institute says it is critical that future health research integrates with health services and policy makers.

The 2030: A Vision for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Report anticipates what Aboriginal health needs might be in 2030 and how research could help make that future happen.

“The report tells us that doing research is not enough, that  health research and health practice need to come together at the regional and local levels,” said Lowitja Institute CEO, Ms Lyn Brodie.

“These kinds of theory/practice partnerships will not just be around health but also include all contributing factors e.g. education and justice, as a change in one of these areas could bring flow on change in another.

“A healthy and secure early childhood remains vital for our peoples’ future as we will continue to be a young population with a high birth rate.

“Participants in the workshops that informed the report also stressed the need for better accountability, community involvement and partnerships, and being responsive to changing technologies.

“The Lowitja Institute is aware of our peoples’ reluctance and suspicion of research. This largely has been because research was often undertaken without proper involvement or consultation or did not lead to any benefit for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

“As health researchers we have a responsibility to stay ahead of the game and to involve our peoples in research if we are to generate improvements in health and wellbeing in the future,” said Ms Brodie.

A better system of research as identified by workshop participants in the 2030: A Vision for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Report would be:

  • One that is holistic and actively integrates health services, policy and research
  • One that is adaptable to emerging issues
  • One that is actively aware of the social determinants of health and collaborates with those sectors
  • One that focuses on the early years of childhood to bring long-term improvements
  • One that makes effective and efficient use of resources
  • One that creates and nurtures local partnerships and networks
  • One that creates structures to bring together the best minds and innovation leaders.

You can hear more about Aboriginal health research at the NACCHO SUMMIT

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The importance of our NACCHO member Aboriginal community controlled health services (ACCHS) is not fully recognised by governments.

The economic benefits of ACCHS has not been recognised at all.

We provide employment, income and a range of broader community benefits that mainstream health services and mainstream labour markets do not. ACCHS need more financial support from government, to provide not only quality health and wellbeing services to communities, but jobs, income and broader community economic benefits.

A good way of demonstrating how economically valuable ACCHS are is to showcase our success at a national summit.

SUMMIT WEBSITE FOR MORE INFO

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NACCHO Aboriginal health and racism : What are the impacts of racism on Aboriginal health ?

 

“On an individual level, exposure to racism is associated with psychological distress, depression, poor quality of life, and substance misuse, all of which contribute significantly to the overall ill-health experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Prolonged experience of stress can also have physical health effects, such as on the immune, endocrine and cardiovascular systems.”

Pat Anderson is chairwoman of the Lowitja Institute, Australia’s National Institute for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Research (and a former chair of NACCHO) see her opinion article below

“If you (Indigenous patient) go to a health service and you’re made to feel unwelcome, or uncomfortable or not deserving or prejudged and there are lots of scenarios of Aboriginal people being considered to be perhaps being seriously intoxicated when in fact they’ve been seriously ill.”

Romlie Mokak CEO Australian Indigenous Doctors Association

 

Read over 100 Aboriginal Health and Racism articles pubished over past 6 years by NACCHO 

JUST ADDED 3 March VACCHO POSITION PAPER Health and Racism

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It’s well known that Indigenous Australians have much lower life expectancy than other Australians, and have disproportionately high rates of diseases and other health problems.

Could that in part be due to racism?

Would cultural awareness training for health professionals would reduce the incidence of racism ?

Should governments acknowledge and address the impact of factors such as racism on health outcomes?

These are some of the question being asked in the health and community sectors, amid reports of a rise in racist incidents.

How racism affects health

The impact of racism on the health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people can be seen in:

  •   inequitable and reduced access to the resources required for health (employment, education, housing, medical care, etc)
  •   inequitable exposure to risk factors associated with ill-health (junk food, toxic substances, dangerous goods)
  •   stress and negative emotional/cognitive reactions which have negative impacts on mental health as well as affecting the immune, endocrine, cardiovascular and other physiological systems
  •  engagement in unhealthy activities (smoking, alcohol and drug use)
  •  disengagement from healthy activities (sleep, exercise, taking medications)
  •  physical injury via racially motivated assault

HOW DO WE BUILD A HEALTH SYSTEM THAT IS NOT

World news radio Santilla Chingaipe recently interviewed a number of health organisations

It’s well known that Indigenous Australians have much lower life expectancy than other Australians, and have disproportionately high rates of diseases and other health problems.

Could that in part be due to racism?

The Social Determinants of Health Alliance is a group of Australian health, social services and public policy organisations.

It lobbies for action to reduce inequalities in the outcomes from health service delivery.

Chair of the Alliance, Martin Laverty, has no doubt racism sometimes comes into play when Indigenous Australians seek medical attention.

“When an Indigenous person is admitted to hospital, they face twice the risk of death through a coronary event than a non-Indigenous person and concerningly, Indigenous people when having a coronary event in hospital are 40 percent less likely to receive a stent* or a coronary angiplasty. The reason for this is that good intentions, institutional racism is resulting in Indigenous people not always receiving the care that they need from Australia’s hospital system.”

Romlie Mokak is the chief executive of the Australian Indigenous Doctors’ Association.

Mr Mokak says the burden of ill health is already greater amongst Indigenous people – but this isn’t recognised when they go to access health services.

“Whereas Aboriginal people may present to hospitals often later and sicker, the sort of treatment they might get once in hospital, is not necessarily reflect that higher level of ill health. We’ve got to ask some questions there and why is it that the sickest people are not necessary getting the equitable access to healthcare.”

Mr Mokak says many Indigenous people are victims of prejudice when seeking medical services.

“If you (Indigenous patient) go to a health service and you’re made to feel unwelcome, or uncomfortable or not deserving or prejudged and there are lots of scenarios of Aboriginal people being considered to be perhaps being seriously intoxicated when in fact they’ve been seriously ill.”

But Romlie Mokak from the Australian Indigenous Doctors Association says the onus shouldn’t be on the federal government alone to improve the situation.

He suggests cultural awareness training for health professionals would reduce the incidence of racism.

“Not only is it at the point of the practitioner, but it’s the point of the institution that Aboriginal people must feel that they are in a safe environment. In order to do this, it’s not simply that Aboriginal people should feel resilient and be able to survive these wider systems, but those services really need to have staff that have a strong understanding of Aboriginal people’s culture, history, lived experience and the sorts of health concerns they might have and ways of working competently with Aboriginal people.”

Martin Laverty says at a recent conference, data was presented suggesting an increase in the number of Australians experiencing racism.

And he says one of the results is an increase in psychological illnesses.

“We saw evidence that said about 10 percent of the Australian population in 2004 was reporting regular occurences of individual acts of racism and that that has now double to being close to 20 percent of the Australian population reporting regular occurences of racism. We then saw evidence that the consequences of this are increased psychological illnesses. Psychological illnesses tied directly to a person’s exposure to racism and discrimination and that this is having direct cost impacts of the Australian mental health and broader acute health system.”

Mr Laverty says it’s time governments acknowledged and addressed the impact of factors such as racism on health outcomes.

He says a good start would be to implement the findings of a Senate inquiry into the social determinants of health, released last year.

“In the country of the fair go, we should be seeing Australian governments, Australian communities acting and indentifying these triggers of racism that are causing ill health and recognising that this is not just something the health system that needs to respond to, but the Australian government can respond by implementing the Senate inquiry of March 2013 that outlines the set of steps that can be taken to overcome these detriments of poor social determinants of health.”

Racism a driver of Aboriginal ill health

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On an individual level, exposure to racism is associated with psychological distress, depression, poor quality of life, and substance misuse, all of which contribute significantly to the overall ill-health experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Prolonged experience of stress can also have physical health effects, such as on the immune, endocrine and cardiovascular systems.

Pat Anderson is chairwoman of the Lowitja Institute, Australia’s National Institute for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Research (and a former chair of NACCHO)

As published in The Australian OPINION originally published in NACCHO July 2013

 In July 2013, the former federal government launched its new National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Plan.

As with all such plans, much depends on how it is implemented. With the details of how it is to be turned into meaningful action yet to be worked out, many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, communities and organisations and others will be reserving their judgment.

Nevertheless, there is one area in which this plan breaks new ground, and that is its identification of racism as a key driver of ill-health.

This may be surprising to many Australians. The common perception seems to be that racism directed towards Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is regrettable, but that such incidents are isolated, trivial and essentially harmless.

Such views were commonly expressed, for example, following the racial abuse of Sydney Swans footballer Adam Goodes earlier this year.

However, the new health plan has got it right on this point, and it is worth looking in more detail at how and why.

So how common are racist behaviours, including speech, directed at Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people?

A key study in Victoria in 2010-11, funded by the Lowitja Institute, documented very high levels of racism experienced by Aboriginal Victorians.

It found that of the 755 Aboriginal Victorians surveyed, almost all (97 per cent) reported experiencing racism in the previous year. This included a range of behaviours from being called racist names, teased or hearing jokes or comments that stereotyped Aboriginal people (92 per cent); being sworn at, verbally abused or subjected to offensive gestures because of their race (84 per cent); being spat at, hit or threatened because of their race (67 per cent); to having their property vandalised because of race (54 per cent).

Significantly, more than 70 per cent of those surveyed experienced eight or more such incidents in the previous 12 months.

Other studies have found high levels of exposure to racist behaviours and language.

Such statistics describe the reality of the lived experience of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Most Australians would no doubt agree this level of racist abuse and violence is unwarranted and objectionable. It infringes upon our rights – not just our rights as indigenous people but also our legal rights as Australian citizens.

But is it actually harmful? Is it a health issue? Studies in Australia echo findings from around the world that show the experience of racism is significantly related to poor physical and mental health.

There are several ways in which racism has a negative effect on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s health.

First, on an individual level, exposure to racism is associated with psychological distress, depression, poor quality of life, and substance misuse, all of which contribute significantly to the overall ill-health experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Prolonged experience of stress can also have physical health effects, such as on the immune, endocrine and cardiovascular systems.

Second, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people may be reluctant to seek much-needed health, housing, welfare or other services from providers they perceive to be unwelcoming or who they feel may hold negative stereotypes about them.

Last, there is a growing body of evidence that the health system itself does not provide the same level of care to indigenous people as to other Australians. This systemic racism is not necessarily the result of individual ill-will by health practitioners, but a reflection of inappropriate assumptions made about the health or behaviour of people belonging to a particular group.

What the research tells us, then, is that racism is not rare and it is not harmless: it is a deeply embedded pattern of events and behaviours that significantly contribute to the ill-health suffered by all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians.

Tackling these issues is not easy. The first step is for governments to understand racism does have an impact on our health and to take action accordingly. Tackling racism provides governments with an opportunity to make better progress on their commitments to Close the Gap, as the campaign is known, in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health. The new plan has begun this process, but it needs to be backed up with evidence-based action.

Second, as a nation we need to open up the debate about racism and its effects.

The recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the Constitution is important for many reasons, not least because it could lead to improved stewardship and governance for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health (as explored in a recent Lowitja Institute paper, “Legally Invisible”).

However, the process around constitutional recognition provides us with an opportunity to have this difficult but necessary conversation about racism and the relationship between Australia’s First Peoples and those who have arrived in this country more recently. Needless to say, this conversation needs to be conducted respectfully, in a way that is based on the evidence and on respect for the diverse experiences of all Australians.

Last, we need to educate all Australians, especially young people, that discriminatory remarks, however casual or apparently light-hearted or off-the-cuff, have implications for other people’s health.

Whatever approaches we adopt, they must be based on the recognition that people cannot thrive if they are not connected.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people need to be connected with their own families, communities and cultures. We must also feel connected to the rest of society. Racism cuts that connection.

At the same time, racism cuts off all Australians from the unique insights and experiences that we, the nation’s First Peoples, have to offer.

Seen this way, recognising and tackling racism is about creating a healthier, happier and better nation in which all can thrive.

Pat Anderson is chairwoman of the Lowitja Institute, Australia’s National Institute for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Research.

NACCHO Aboriginal health news : Honorary doctorate awarded to Aboriginal health pioneer and advocate Ms Pat Anderson

Dr Pat

The chair of NACCHO Justin Mohamed on behalf of all NACCHO members, board and affiliates today congratulated Pat Anderson Aboriginal health pioneer and advocate being awarded an honorary doctorate.

Pictured above receiving a degree of Doctor of the University (DUniv) from Flinders University’s receiving the degree at the Adelaide Convention Centre (photo Mary Buckskin)

” Ms Pat Anderson is an Alyawarre woman from the Northern Territory with a national and international reputation as a powerful advocate for disadvantaged people, with a particular focus on the health of Australia’s First Peoples. Chair of the Lowitja Institute, she has extensive experience in all aspects of Aboriginal health, including community development, advocacy, policy formation and research ethics, and has had a close association with Flinders University for many years.” Mr Mohamed said.

READ HER RECENT ARTICLE :Racism a driver of Aboriginal ill health

After growing up on Parap Camp in Darwin, Ms Anderson travelled and worked overseas before working for the Woodward Royal Commission into Aboriginal Land Rights (1973-74) as a legal secretary.

She then became one of the first Aboriginal graduates of the University of Western Australia. After working in Tasmania, Western Australia and Victoria as an advocate for improved education for Aboriginal children, she returned to the Northern Territory in the early 1990s to become CEO of Danila Dilba Aboriginal Health Service.

This led to the start of her involvement with Flinders, supporting the placement of medical students based at the University’s Darwin Clinical School.

She played a key role in establishing the Aboriginal Medical Service Alliance of the Northern Territory (AMSANT), the representative body for the Aboriginal community-controlled health organisations.

After leading the founding of the Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) for Aboriginal and Tropical Health in 1997, she retained a leading role in the successive CRCs that came to constitute the core of the newly created Lowitja Institute, in which Flinders is a partner.

The Lowitja Institute, now recognised as Australia’s National Institute for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Research, received an additional $25 million in research funding from the 2013 Federal Budget. Author of numerous essays, papers and articles, Ms Anderson was co-author with Mr Rex Wild QC of Little Children Are Sacred, a highly influential report on abuse of Aboriginal children in the NT.

NACCHO health news:Lowitja Institute Appoints Justin Mohamed and Selwyn Button Board Members

healthy-futures-great

The Lowitja Institute is pleased to announce the appointment of Mr Selwyn Button and Mr Justin Mohamed to its Board of Directors.

SB

Both Mr Button and Mr Mohamed  bring to the board a wealth of knowledge and experience in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community controlled health sector. Mr Button is the CEO of the Queensland Aboriginal and Islander Health Council (QAIHC) and Mr Mohamed Chairperson of the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO).

Lowitja Institute Chairperson, Ms Pat Anderson, is delighted with the appointments. ‘We are honoured to have Selwyn and Justin join our team. Not only will they bring their considerable knowledge of the community controlled health sector, their strong leadership skills will enhance the Institute’s governance and strategic planning capacity’, said Ms Anderson.

Mr Button has gratefully accepted his appointment to the Board. ‘The Lowitja Institute is Australia’s leading Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health research facility, and I’m privileged to be joining its Board of Directors,” Mr Button said. ‘As CEO of QAIHC, we understand the important role of research, evaluation, data analysis and knowledge translation to support improved outcomes and innovation in Indigenous health and seek to build upon the good work happening through community-controlled health services. I look at this appointment as another step towards our long-term goal to improve the health of our communities, and I look forward to the opportunity to work closely with the Lowitja Institute Board of Directors on policy and research,’ Mr Button stated.

Mr Mohamed is keen to contribute his skills and experience to continue the Institute’s work to improve the lives of Australia’s First Peoples. ‘As an Aboriginal person who has been actively involved in his local community and who has held positions on state, national and international working groups and committees, I am very proud to have been appointed to the board of the Lowitja Institute where I will be able to contribute towards improving the overall health and wellbeing of Aboriginal Australians,’ said Mr Mohamed.

The Lowitja Institute is governed by an independent board with a majority Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander membership.

The Lowitja Institute is Australia’s only national health research organisation with a sole focus on the health and wellbeing of Australia’s First Peoples.

Media contact – Tracey Johnston 0428 347 573

NACCHO NASTIHP health plan news: Racism a driver of Aboriginal ill health

PatAnderson4-220x124

On an individual level, exposure to racism is associated with psychological distress, depression, poor quality of life, and substance misuse, all of which contribute significantly to the overall ill-health experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Prolonged experience of stress can also have physical health effects, such as on the immune, endocrine and cardiovascular systems.

Pat Anderson is chairwoman of the Lowitja Institute, Australia’s National Institute for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Research (and a former chair of NACCHO)

As published in The Australian OPINION

 In July 2013, the federal government launched its new National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Plan.

As with all such plans, much depends on how it is implemented. With the details of how it is to be turned into meaningful action yet to be worked out, many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, communities and organisations and others will be reserving their judgment.

Nevertheless, there is one area in which this plan breaks new ground, and that is its identification of racism as a key driver of ill-health.

This may be surprising to many Australians. The common perception seems to be that racism directed towards Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is regrettable, but that such incidents are isolated, trivial and essentially harmless.

Such views were commonly expressed, for example, following the racial abuse of Sydney Swans footballer Adam Goodes earlier this year.

However, the new health plan has got it right on this point, and it is worth looking in more detail at how and why.

So how common are racist behaviours, including speech, directed at Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people?

A key study in Victoria in 2010-11, funded by the Lowitja Institute, documented very high levels of racism experienced by Aboriginal Victorians.

It found that of the 755 Aboriginal Victorians surveyed, almost all (97 per cent) reported experiencing racism in the previous year. This included a range of behaviours from being called racist names, teased or hearing jokes or comments that stereotyped Aboriginal people (92 per cent); being sworn at, verbally abused or subjected to offensive gestures because of their race (84 per cent); being spat at, hit or threatened because of their race (67 per cent); to having their property vandalised because of race (54 per cent).

Significantly, more than 70 per cent of those surveyed experienced eight or more such incidents in the previous 12 months.

Other studies have found high levels of exposure to racist behaviours and language.

Such statistics describe the reality of the lived experience of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Most Australians would no doubt agree this level of racist abuse and violence is unwarranted and objectionable. It infringes upon our rights – not just our rights as indigenous people but also our legal rights as Australian citizens.

But is it actually harmful? Is it a health issue? Studies in Australia echo findings from around the world that show the experience of racism is significantly related to poor physical and mental health.

There are several ways in which racism has a negative effect on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s health.

First, on an individual level, exposure to racism is associated with psychological distress, depression, poor quality of life, and substance misuse, all of which contribute significantly to the overall ill-health experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Prolonged experience of stress can also have physical health effects, such as on the immune, endocrine and cardiovascular systems.

Second, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people may be reluctant to seek much-needed health, housing, welfare or other services from providers they perceive to be unwelcoming or who they feel may hold negative stereotypes about them.

Last, there is a growing body of evidence that the health system itself does not provide the same level of care to indigenous people as to other Australians. This systemic racism is not necessarily the result of individual ill-will by health practitioners, but a reflection of inappropriate assumptions made about the health or behaviour of people belonging to a particular group.

What the research tells us, then, is that racism is not rare and it is not harmless: it is a deeply embedded pattern of events and behaviours that significantly contribute to the ill-health suffered by all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians.

Tackling these issues is not easy. The first step is for governments to understand racism does have an impact on our health and to take action accordingly. Tackling racism provides governments with an opportunity to make better progress on their commitments to Close the Gap, as the campaign is known, in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health. The new plan has begun this process, but it needs to be backed up with evidence-based action.

Second, as a nation we need to open up the debate about racism and its effects.

The recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the Constitution is important for many reasons, not least because it could lead to improved stewardship and governance for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health (as explored in a recent Lowitja Institute paper, “Legally Invisible”).

However, the process around constitutional recognition provides us with an opportunity to have this difficult but necessary conversation about racism and the relationship between Australia’s First Peoples and those who have arrived in this country more recently. Needless to say, this conversation needs to be conducted respectfully, in a way that is based on the evidence and on respect for the diverse experiences of all Australians.

Last, we need to educate all Australians, especially young people, that discriminatory remarks, however casual or apparently light-hearted or off-the-cuff, have implications for other people’s health.

Whatever approaches we adopt, they must be based on the recognition that people cannot thrive if they are not connected.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people need to be connected with their own families, communities and cultures. We must also feel connected to the rest of society. Racism cuts that connection.

At the same time, racism cuts off all Australians from the unique insights and experiences that we, the nation’s First Peoples, have to offer.

Seen this way, recognising and tackling racism is about creating a healthier, happier and better nation in which all can thrive.

Pat Anderson is chairwoman of the Lowitja Institute, Australia’s National Institute for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Research.

What are the priorities of Aboriginal people and communities in alcohol control? A report from the NT summit

APO

Sarah Barr and Chips Mackinolty write:

Grog has long been a part of life in the Northern Territory—with the NT having a per capita consumption twice the rate of the rest of the nation.

For a summary of key messages and resolutions

The “rivers of grog” described by Pat Anderson, co-author of the Little Children are Sacred (PDF alert) report into child abuse, has barely abated since the release of that report in 2007. Grog, and its impact on Aboriginal communities—particularly women and children—led in turn to the Northern Territory Emergency Response in the same year.

The election of a new government in the Northern Territory, with a mandate to wind back on alcohol controls, and supportive of opening alcohol outlets in remote communities, sent a sharp message to the bush electorates that voted in the new government: unless they spoke out, their views on alcohol on communities might be wiped out.

In announcing the Grog Summit, North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency CEO Priscilla Collins summed up the widespread fears about the devastating effects of alcohol on Aboriginal communities in the NT.

“The effects of grog on our people here in the Territory cannot be denied. It is reflected in the health of our people, in the levels of alcohol-related family and communal violence, and our encounters with the justice and jail systems,” she said.

“Yes, the so-called right to drink alcohol can be—and is—touted still as a civil rights issue. Our people still get refused service in pubs and clubs because of the colour of their skin.

“But missing from the debate is our peoples’ right, collectively and individually, to choose not to suffer the ill effects of grog.

“We believe that if we were to balance the scales of so-called drinking rights with the damage caused by ‘the rivers of grog’, we come out on the side of the women and kids.”

The Grog Summit is one of a series of forums being organised by APO NT, but one that was rushed ahead of schedule to get Aboriginal views in front of the public before key sittings of the new parliament.

APO NT holds the position that alcohol disproportionately affects Aboriginal families and communities. Those sittings involved the abolition of the previous Labor government’s Banned Drinkers Register, and laying the groundwork for the CLP’s proposals to establish mandatory rehabilitation “farms” to get drunks off the suburban streets of Territory towns.

June Oscar and Emily Carter of the Marninwarntikura Womens Resource Centre and Patrick Davies from the Fitzroy Crossing Men’s Shed travelled from Fitzroy Crossing in Western Australia to share their story. The group opened up about the appalling alcohol-related harm in their community. “There was a cloud of alcohol which prevented our community moving forward,” said Ms Oscar.

“Aboriginal families are most affected by the destructive impacts of alcohol. This includes domestic violence, suicide, and removal of children from their families in high levels.”

The Fitzroy mob described the positive impacts which alcohol restrictions had on their small community. They were, however, careful to point out that restrictions were just the start of their journey.

“The restrictions are just to start the healing, and act as a ‘circuit breaker’ to start conversations about alcohol,” said Ms Oscar.

“Restrictions are only one part of the approach in Fitzroy Crossing. But you also need programs to assist the community in recovery, healing and to get back in touch with culture.”

Fitzroy Crossing now has programs for men and boys, such as the run by Patrick Davies. The community also have improved relationships with police. The Police in Fitzroy Crossing have expanded their role to community policing, not just law enforcement.

June Oscar noted that: “There was a chronic over-supply of alcohol, and their community felt different after restrictions. The restrictions allowed for a bit of respite and grieving time to consider how they move forward.”

The theme of breaking the cycle—and not giving in to pressures to bring grog into Aboriginal communities—was strong through the Summit.

The problem of drinkers dominating discussions on alcohol was a recurring refrain. “Drinkers always out vote the non-drinkers,” said Samuel Bush-Blanasi from Wugularr, and a member of the Northern Land Council Executive. “Drinkers always win – and the kids and the non-drinkers are the ones being hurt. The kids don’t get to vote.”

A key resolution from the Summit was to ensure that community consultation processes are not dominated by drinkers but give voice to women, non-drinkers, elders and particularly children—and a push towards community control over the process.

Marius Puruntatameri from the Tiwi Islands spoke passionately about the need for Aboriginal community control.

“We need to empower our people to solve our own problems,” said Mr Puruntatameri.

“We need to include Aboriginal people – be genuine and engage Aboriginal peoples in these processes.”

“Aboriginal people know their communities and we need to resolve problems in our own way”.

This sentiment was echoed by Peter d’Abbs from the Menzies School of Health. Professor d’Abb has extensive experience of the alcohol problems in the NT. He conducted evaluations of alcohol management plans and other initiatives to reduce alcohol problems in Tennant Creek, Katherine, Groote Eylandt and Gove Peninsula.

He said: “Whatever Government does around alcohol must be done with Aboriginal people, not for them, for it to be effective.”

A strong theme running through the meeting was the need to consider children and future generations. As Helen Fejo-Frith from Bagot Community pointed out, “We need to think about our kids and the next generation.”

Dr John Boffa, Public Health Medical Officer at Central Australian Aboriginal Congress spoke about the importance of early intervention. “The scientific rationale for early intervention is overwhelming,” he said.

“Adults who had adverse childhoods showed higher levels of violence and antisocial behaviour, adult mental health problems, school underperformance and lower IQs, economic underperformance and poor physical health,” said Dr Boffa.

Dr Boffa described the Nurse Family Partnerships program operating at Congress. The program aims to improve pregnancy outcomes, child health and development and parent’s economic self-sufficiency. The program is already having positive results.

There are no easy solutions to the complex problem of alcohol in NT communities. What is clear is a new approach is needed. A key message from the Summit is that alcohol restrictions will break through the haze, but what happens next is vital. And whatever happens, Aboriginal people need to be in control.

The alternatives are unthinkable, according to Mildred Inkamala from Ntaria in Central Australia.

“Grog is killing our people,” she told the summit.

“It means people no longer show respect for each other and culture. Grog is affecting their brains, and connection to culture.”

A further Grog Summit will be held in Alice Springs in the new year.

alcohol, Indigenous health, rural and remote health                               , , , ,