Staff from the Cairns-based Wuchopperen Health Service joined Elders from local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities to promote the service’s cultural program at the recent 14th National Rural Health Conference.
The Culture, Healing and History space aimed to give an overview of the culture and history of Far North Queensland’s varied Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
Highlighting the importance of culture and history in the contextualising of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health the Wuchopperen Health Service has incorporated cultural practices, beliefs and values into Wuchopperen’s service model.
As part of this commitment Wuchopperen has developed what is described as a cultural appreciation program to ensure that all staff understand the history and culture of the clients we work with every day.
Wuchopperen CEO, Debra Malthouse, explains,
“Our Directors understand that to be effective providers of appropriate health care to our community all our workers, Indigenous and others, need to understand properly the experiences and social realities of our clients; they need to have at least a basic grasp of the journey our clients and their families have endured when they arrive in our clinic wanting treatment.”
The decades of forced child removals, for example, has had a profound impact on the parenting skills and family functionality of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families until today.
Likewise, leprosy and sexual health ‘campaigns’ run by previous Queensland Governments resulted in hundreds of Aboriginal people being removed from their families and incarcerated on places like Palm and Fantome Islands causing ongoing distrust of health services in some communities.
Staff participation is obligatory in Wuchopperen’s Cultural Appreciation course which takes participants through the removal of thousands of Aboriginal people to missions, sometimes located thousands of kilometres from family, friends and country. The course explains the various and notorious iterations of the Queensland Aborigines Act which made all Aboriginal people wards of the state and subjected them to draconian restrictions on every facet of their lives.
As one Wuchopperen staff member, a recent immigrant from Africa wrote in his response to the Cultural Appreciation course:
“After I completed this induction, my perspectives towards Australian Indigenous people have completely changed, not only in my professional work but out there in the communities. I will be advocating for them within my own African community and other non-Indigenous Australians friends.”
“As a nurse, I will engage with them by listening carefully to their individual situations and show them empathy. I will give them choices or options to decide what is appropriate to their culture and history and allow them to participate in their treatment. I will promote their health and wellbeing by linking them to the resources available and remind them their rights.”
Much has been written about the lack of cultural safety in so many health institutions across this country and the impact that racism in our health system has on the right of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to enjoy high quality health care. The Aboriginal community-controlled health sector was born partly out of these concerns. Thus, promoting respect and cultural safety takes on an even greater import for organisations like Wuchopperen.
Wuchopperen is firmly committed to ensuring that, regardless of the practitioner, our clients will always be treated with respect and cultural sensitivity and we thank the National Rural Health Alliance for giving us the opportunity to share our experiences with Conference delegates.
For more information on Wuchopperen’s Cultural Appreciation program contact Nerelle Nicol at [email protected]