At the heart of cancer inequities affecting Indigenous people is a 'cultural blindness' toward 'differences that make a difference'.19
This is not to say that cultural blindness is a deliberate act of avoidance by cancer service providers. It's more likely associated with a lack of knowledge about Indigenous people and their culture, and maybe even some apprehension about asking. The relative under-representation of Indigenous people in cancer services may present limited opportunities for service providers to engage with Indigenous people and learn about their different perspectives, values and beliefs in relation to health care.6
Name at least six famous Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and explain why these people are well known.
A matter of identity
'Indigenous' is an English term ascribed by European imperialists to define the original inhabitants of a discovered country. Other European names assigned in various jurisdictions are first nation people, aboriginals or autochthons.
The process of naming others, according to Brazilian educator Paulo Freire, is 'a crafty instrument for the domination of one person by another'.20 In other words, naming is an imposition of authority or control, an act of colonialism, which modern Indigenous societies are now contesting.
Australia's two Indigenous cultural groups, the Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islander people, have similar and distinct cultural traditions, values and ways of life. Aboriginal people are of the land and their traditional ways of life herald from a hunter gatherer culture, while Torres Strait Islander people are associated with the culture of the sea.
Access the Australian Government culture portal21 for more information about these two Indigenous cultures.
Video 8: Roslyn (1.41 min)
Ros discusses the fact that Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander peoples are not always identified as such and/or not asked about their cultural background.
There is significant heterogeneity within Indigenous culture. This means that cultural mores, languages and social systems vary in different regions of Australia.
Before European colonisation there were hundreds of different tribes and at least 300 language groups, of which less than 20 or 30 remain.19 The destruction of many Indigenous societies and languages are attributed to European colonisation in the 1870s, when policies controlled every aspect of people’s lives. 20, 21
Recently, tribal names, language groups and traditional lands have returned to the discourse on Indigenous identity as part of the decolonisation process in Australia. It’s now accepted practice for Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people to identify themselves by their tribal land and language group when addressing a public forum.
Examples of the ways in which Indigenous people may identify themselves include:
- an elder of the Gunbayngir people22
- belonging to the tribe Noonuccl from Minjeribah country23
- Gurindji woman or Yolngu man.24
Australian Aboriginal people in particular identify themselves by other names such as Yolngu (which is also written as Yolŋu), Nunga, Anangu, Koori and Murri, to distinguish between regional and tribal differences.19, 25
In Queensland and northern New South Wales (NSW), Aboriginal people use the term Murri or Goori to distinguish themselves from Kooris who are from other parts of NSW and Victoria, or Yolngu people from Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory. However, it’s generally not appropriate for a non-Indigenous person to use these colloquial terms without permission when addressing Indigenous people.
It is a mark of respect for non-Indigenous people to acknowledge Indigenous Australians as the traditional owners and custodians of the land when addressing a public or professional gathering.
Examples of protocols for ‘Welcome to Country’ and ‘Acknowledgement of Country’ can be accessed from your local Indigenous community centre or health department.
Video 9: Cindy (0.22 min)
Cindy talks about the importance of culture
Video 10: Catherine (0.40 min)
Catherine talks about diversity amongst Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
Video 11: Ros (1.45 min)
Ros advises of the need to be aware that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are not one homogenous group when considering communication; rather they are made up of many nations and people.
An important construct of Australian Indigenous culture is the historical journey since colonisation. Events of post-colonial history distinguish Indigenous Australian from other minority groups, and also imprint a legacy of tension in relationships with the non-Indigenous community. In the health care sector, these tensions can manifest as mistrust of providers and treatments and an inherent fear and ambivalence about the health care system.
From the perspective of colonised Indigenous people, the authority of western medicine was and for many still is regarded as part of the oppressive system of colonialism which denigrated their culture and traditions. Fanon explains: 'Introduced at the same time as racialism and humiliation, western medical science, being part of the oppressive system has always provoked in the native (sic) an ambivalent attitude'.25
Decolonisation is a global movement underpinned by principles of cultural safety that decentre the focus of power or authority. The decolonisation movement advocates collaborations and partnerships that highlight the values and views of minority groups in shaping health care policy, planning, research, education and so forth.16, 27, 28
For nurses, critical to the process of decolonisation is reflection on personal assumptions and beliefs that influence the mode of practice and interaction with cultural minorities.29
Access the NAIDOC website30 and explain its role.
Access the Australian Human Rights Commission website, 'bringing them home' section31. Discuss the key findings and recommendations of Bringing them home: The 'Stolen Children' report (1997).
Access the Prime Minister of Australia's website32. Discuss the significance of the national apology delivered by Prime Minister Rudd on 13 February 2008.
Access the Sorry Day and the Stolen Generations website33 and discuss what the Day (26th May) commemorates.