Being an Indigenous woman equates to shorter life expectancy, a greater risk of health problems and lower levels of social and emotional well being, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
This well-known fact is being addressed this week at the International Network of Indigenous Health Knowledge and Development, at The University of Queensland.
Melissa Walker, an Indigenous women’s health researcher at the Queensland University of Technology, says the statistics are ‘shocking’ but the focus should be on the future.
“Everyone knows the statistics, they’re shocking,” Ms Walker said.
“We should also just cash in our super early because we’re just not gonna get there, we die early, we don’t go to school as long and our health isn’t as good, we have large families and limited income.”
“It’s just a reality, and resilience is about knowing those stats and working with it and that’s what are we doing now, so to me it’s what the future holds.”
Literature referring to Indigenous mental health often uses the term ‘social and emotional wellbeing,’ but Ms Walker proposes the term should be modified to refer to ‘wellness’.
“In literature it refers to the deficit stuff in mental health but our research, which is wellness, is changing that model and flipping it round.
“We are looking at what makes us well and in that, socially, it’s the coming together of women, it’s bringing us all together, being one and helping each other out and learning from our elders in our community.”
“It’s about growing us and teaching those around us, even those that are non-Indigenous.”
Data from the research enabled the development of the North Brisbane Indigenous Women’s Wellness Summit, earlier this year.
The program provided a safe space and place for the Indigenous women in the region to come together.
“They got to relax, rejoin and focus on who we are as women, and bring culture into a place and space that is safe.
“They get to thrive which creates that resilience within the community.”
The conference this week provided an opportunity for the international Indigenous community to exchange ideas and perspectives.
“I think they definitely took on the wellness factor and thinking about what comes next and stepping away from that deficit model”.
Theda New Breast, a Montana born Blackfeet Indian, who works predominately with Indigenous women in the Native Wellness Institute in the United States, says that positive thinking and regaining Indigenous identity is the key to wellness.
“Our focus is to teach positive thinking and teach daily affirmation, thinking well of yourself, building confidence and self esteem and a lot of it is done through ceremony,” said Ms New Breast.
“For an Indigenous person to recapture their spirit they have to learn their language, get an Indian name, maybe learn songs, learn what ceremonies their ancestors did, like if it’s a Sweat Lodge or Longhouse.”
“A lot of what we do is trust building, building relationships around them and learning to work with people.”
Ms New Breast says that she has been able to easily connect and identify with the stories of the Indigenous people at the conference.
“From the moment I got here I introduce myself to other Indigenous people and immediately we connect and I’ve never met them before in my life.
“Every workshop I went to I could relate, every keynote speaker I could relate to.”
This article also appears on the INIHKD website, http://inihkd2012.com/?p=559