Being part of the solution- observing National Reconciliation Week

National Reconciliation Week observed between the 27th of May and the 3rd of June marks the significant socio-political milestones in Australia’s history such as the 1967 Referendum and the Mabo decision that were crucial in the acknowledgement and recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and their place in Australia as First Nations groups. This week is a small step in making amends for the destruction within these communities wreaked by Australia’s colonial legacy and this year, is appropriately themed “Be Brave. Make Change”.

Health and wellbeing among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people

The disparities in health and wellbeing among First Nations communities and non-Indigenous Australians stands at over 10%, with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people dying on average a decade before other Australians, and also experiencing an overall poorer quality of life, in comparison. Outcomes for psychosocial wellbeing are also poorer for First Nations people in comparison to non-Indigenous Australians. Based on data reported by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, a majority of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people (66%) experience psychological distress – placing them at double the risk when compared to non-Indigenous Australians. These increased rates of poor outcomes can be attributed to ongoing challenges with education, employment, health, disability and the impacts of longstanding systemic disparities, racism, trauma, and dispossession.  

What can you do to support the wellbeing of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people?

  • Prioritise building authentic and respectful relationships with First Nations people.
  • If any Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people you interact with share their story, struggles or challenges with you, listen respectfully, acknowledge their resilience, empathise, and highlight the individual’s strengths as well as your concerns, if any. Encourage support seeking when appropriate from resources that are culturally safe.
  • Be aware of the significance of culture, family, community, Country, and spirituality for First Nations people. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ health must be viewed in a holistic context, that encompasses mental health and physical, cultural, and spiritual health.
  • If expressing your concern about wellbeing, ensure you make language choices that avoid stigma. Use factual but sensitive language – for example, refer to social and emotional wellbeing, or about worries, sadness, or thoughts of suicide rather than mental illness. Use your knowledge of the person as an individual to strike the right balance.

What can workplaces do to contribute towards reconciliation?

Diverse, culturally safe organisations are good for all stakeholders as they contribute to richer work and business experiences in the long term.

  • Commit to implementing policies that support and protect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employees and stakeholders and embed principles of respect and integrity into your diversity, anti-discrimination and anti-racism policies and practices. You can do this by running well-developed and co-designed courses on cultural integrity, competency, safety, and awareness for your staff. Develop practical resources to guide your organisation and staff for working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander.
  • Where possible, build awareness and education around the First Nations communities where you operate, and the dominant family groups, preferred names, original custodians, and language groups of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander stakeholders you work with.
  • Consider partnering with First Nations organisations where possible.
  • Centre the voices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff and listen to their experiences to improve how your organisation can do better in supporting their needs. Address barriers to employment that may prevent First Nations staff from working in your organisation.
  • Consider starting a Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) to embed culturally safe practices so your organisation can authentically work towards reconciliation alongside the communities you support and engage with. Built on the pillars of relationships, respect and opportunities, RAPs provide goal-oriented strategies and actions that your organisation can undertake to empower Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and create long-term change. 
  • Consult Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander stakeholders on any business matters related to their communities and decisions that impact them.

While there is a long road ahead to ensure equitable outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities in Australia, there are steps that we can all take within our workplaces to support justice, respect and reconciliation for First Nations people. Here are additional recommendations from Reconciliation Australia to help facilitate change and be part of the solution.

The Centre for Corporate Health and Resilia acknowledge and pay our respects to the traditional owners, custodians, and elders of the Gadigal people of the Eora nation, and all the First Nations lands and communities where we work. We recognise the continuing connection that nurtures Country and community.