What started in 1993 as a week of praying for reconciliation has transformed into a collaborative movement to achieve reconciliation with the First Peoples of Australia. This week has been National Reconciliation Week which provided an opportunity for us to reflect on how to strengthen relationships between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and the broader Australian community.
At Larter we are on a journey of reconciliation including being in the “reflect” part of establishing a Reconciliation Action Plan. This year’s National Reconciliation Week theme – “More than a word; reconciliation takes action” – challenged us to use our awareness and knowledge as a base to take substantive action. Some of the suggestions for action include ‘truth telling’ about what has happened, asking hard questions about how to move forward, and taking a deeper look into issues that affect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. This has been humbling and motivating.
We have a base on which to build. Our team is proud to have worked alongside Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders on work such as:
- Utilising our knowledge of government requirements to assist Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Community Controlled Health Services (ACCHSs) to successfully apply for government funding (such as Tackling Indigenous Smoking) and in subcontracting arrangements
- Working in partnership with community and the Gippsland PHN to create an online Gippsland Black Pages which was originally a printed hard copy booklet, with the name arising from a consultation process with Aboriginal community members. This is a health directory for Aboriginal and Torres strait Islander communities in Gippsland.
Recently we were pleased to welcome our new Evaluation consultant Shantanu Sheshgir, who has significant experience working with Aboriginal and Torres strait islander communities, including in maternal and child health. With Larter, Shantanu is now evaluating an exciting program that is placing virtual health technology in the homes of Aboriginal people to monitor and help treat illness. Our consultation with Aboriginal communities led to some important insights and changes to the evaluation program logic, including
- Recognition that colonisation, dispossession and loss of connection to land, culture, community and country are associated with negative impacts on physical and mental health (‘truth telling’)
- High rates of social and emotional distress will likely impact on the project and must be factored into the initiative
Where to now with our RAP? We are building on a base of work since 2014 but we know we have much more to do. One idea we have discussed this year is to commit in policy and practice to the National Indigenous Evaluation Strategy which places Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people at the very centre of evaluations that affect their communities by ensuring their expertise and lived experiences are reflected in what is evaluated, and how evaluation is undertaken, and how it is reported. There are some illuminating submissions toward this Strategy by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and other informants here.
In a 2020 article published in Croakey, Summer May Finlay, a Yorta Yorta woman and lecturer at University of Wollongong, invites non-Indigenous Australians to ask whether we are merely being tokenistic when engaging in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander issues. She challenged us to recognise our cultural privilege and consider what we can do move beyond being tokenistic and even beyond being an ally, to becoming an accomplice – allowing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to define the issue and the required action, and then standing and acting alongside them.