Canada and Australia shine the spotlight on Indigenous health and wellness

Faceless Dolls workshop at Winnunga Nimmityjah AHS.

Many Indigenous communities are facing health and wellness issues particularly those located in rural, remote and isolated areas. Cardiovascular disease, diabetes, heart health, cancer and mental health were identified as common health issues prevalent across Indigenous communities in both Canada and Australia.

These communities often lack proper access to vital services and support, and the service offerings that do exist are not always culturally-appropriate or properly aligned with community needs.

In an effort to raise awareness on issues affecting Indigenous communities and to identify practical ways for both countries to collaborate on common solutions, the High Commission of Canada in Australia was proud to host a Canada-Australia series of three events: a roundtable of academic discussions, a public film screening, and the ‘Faceless Dolls’ workshop,.

The conversation continued online via #AusCanIndigenousWellness throughout the events.

Working together for Indigenous health and wellness

The Roundtable, the first of the three events, was held in partnership with The Lowitja Institute, Australia’s National Institute for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Research, and was supported by the Australian National University, the Australian Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Winnunga Nimmityjah Aboriginal Health Service, and Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada.

Prof Mick Dodson AM, Director of the National Centre for Indigenous Studies at ANU, presents at the conference

The Roundtable covered a wide range of topics including scene setting and international frameworks, government policy in Canada and Australia, the impacts of colonization and racism in systems, and the value of acknowledging and implementing Indigenous knowledge and values. Indigenous-led approaches and governance of health and wellness were also discussed, as were service delivery approaches for remote Indigenous communities.

Participants saw the value in these discussions and shared their comments online. Here is a quick wrap up of Summer May Finlay who covered the event on behalf of the High Commission for Canada in Australia: My quick wrap up of the #AusCanIndigenousWellness Roundtable

The High Commissioner also shared his views and described the overall goal of the Roundtable as a way to identify issues or areas in Indigenous health and wellness where collaborative work between Canada and Australia would be particularly beneficial:

“The roundtable provided a forum to share experiences, consolidate our understandings and identify gaps in Indigenous health delivery in both Canada and Australia that our two countries could work together on to resolve”

His Excellency Mr. Paul Maddison

‘Fire Song’ public film screening & lead actor visit

The second event shone a spotlight on a Canadian featured film Fire Song, which tells the story of an Anishinaabe teenager in Northern Ontario who is struggling to support his family in the aftermath of his sister's suicide. The film, which debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), confronts some of the most pressing issues facing First Nations communities, including youth suicide, alcoholism and drug use.

Lead actor Andrew Martin, a Mohawk from the Six Nations of the Grand River Territory in Canada, travelled to Canberra to introduce the public screening and to participate in a facilitated panel discussion following the film, along with five Indigenous health professionals from Canada and Australia.

Dr Jeff Reading, Professor of Health Sciences at Simon Fraser University and First Nations Health Authority Chair in Heart Health and Wellness at St. Paul’s Hospital, and Mandy Yap, Research Fellow at the Crawford School of Public Policy, with one of the completed faceless dolls.

‘Faceless Dolls’ in memory of missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls

The final event was held in memory of more than 1,200 missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls in Canada. The workshop was hosted by Winnunga Nimmityjah Aboriginal Health Service and several members of its women’s group joined with Roundtable participants to make brightly coloured dolls that will become part of a larger display back in Canada.

High Commissioner Paul Maddison said the workshop was inspired by the Native Women’s Association of Canada  and helped raise awareness of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

 “The workshop visually and physically created a representation of the missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls and we hope that our involvement will help create a ripple effect around the world in honour of the memories of these women and girls.”

High Commissioner Maddison

Canada’s commitment

Canada is committed to advancing reconciliation and a renewed nation-to-nation relationship with Indigenous peoples, based on recognition of rights, respect, cooperation and partnership.

2017 marks Canada’s 150th anniversary of Confederation and the reconciliation with Indigenous peoples is a key theme for the year.