Five Question with Janine Mohamed

Janine Mohamed was Indigenous X host from September 20 to September 26, 2014.

Five questions to Janine

I am Janine Mohamed, a proud Narrunga Kaurna woman from Point Pearce in South Australia. I was raised by my grandmother, aunties, uncles and community to value education and a good hard day’s work, to use every opportunity to its full potential, and to never forget where I came from. This led me to make my career choices very carefully and to always use this as a touchstone: “Is what I am doing positively affecting the Aboriginal community? Am I being true to myself and what I believe?”

As a result, over the past 20 years I have worked in nursing, management, health workforce, health policy, and project management in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health sector. Many of these years have been spent in the Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Sector at state and national levels. Right now, I have gone back to my nursing roots and am the CEO of the Congress of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Nurses and Midwives (CATSINaM).

Outside of work I spend much of my time with my husband and children, cooking, spending time with our local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth group and contributing to my local church.

I will particularly focus on the achievement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander nurses and midwives, which will be profiled that very same week at the 2014 CATSINaM Annual Conference in Perth. We have a rich nursing and midwifery history. It includes the nursing and midwifery roles and practices that select women in our community undertook for many 1,000s of years, as well as our entry into the nursing and midwifery profession as we now know it.

We believe our first professional nurse was May Yarrowick who undertook her general nursing in 1902. We now have over 2,212 nurses and midwives employed in Australia who identify as Aboriginal Australians or Torres Strait Islander Australians; 150 will be at our annual conference. We have professors and doctors of nursing and midwifery teaching in our universities and undertaking research. Collectively, we are making a significant contribution to “closing the gap”, showing leadership and influencing policy, particularly regarding the critical need for cultural safety and respect as a practice of health professionals and an experience for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians.

We have amazing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations, including the peak nursing and midwifery organisations and universities who have supported us greatly to assist over 50 of our student members attend, be connected and talk about their the pride in their identity professions and as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students facing the real difficulties experienced by our mob aiming to get through university

My rock and foundation was my grandmother who grew up in what I would consider really hard times as a single mother, supporting and caring for six kids despite suffering from mental illness. My Nana on my father’s side was the mother of 15 children who worked tirelessly to support cultural recognition and recovery, and believed in reconciliation between black and white Australia as an essential ingredient for our shared future. She became an elder and is honoured through a monument on the Torrens River in Adelaide. I also acknowledge my mother who made some hard choices, leaving the mission to gain a job and a professional identity, of which I am proud.

My five children contribute to my continued growth and learning; they too are my modern day role models, and my mother in-law who is a deeply spiritual woman and gives me and her family boundless love and support.

I have been fortunate enough to be surrounded and supported by amazing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in my working environment; people like Pat Anderson, Donna Ah Chee, Mary Buckskin, Jenny Poelina , Irene Peachey, Mick Gooda, Tom Calma and Romlie Mokak . There are also non-Aboriginal people who have been my mentors. As a child, my next door neighbour was Robert Walker, the director of nursing of the local hospital; he and his wife really encouraged and supported my early interest in nursing. I have been fortunate to find and work closely with non-Aboriginal people, like Kathleen Stacey, Karen Cook who are committed to working alongside me and other Aboriginal Australians in our shared journey of addressing injustice and creating a future of which we can all be proud.

Just thinking of my small community, there are so many people who have taken leadership on our collective behalf: Alice Rigney, Peter Buckskin, Adam Goodes, Michael O’Loughlin, Klynton Wanganeen, emeritus professor Paul Hughes to name a few. It nurtures my spirit and sense of hope for what we may achieve in the face of adversity. I have spent much time away from my family and community due to education and work, so when I go home to be with them it always revives, quenches and grounds me.

Then there are other amazing Indigenous people who I value and admire from afar – people like Linda Burney and Nova Peris who are great Aboriginal women who sit in the highest ranking roles within Australian Government, and have broken through glass ceilings for their people. Internationally I would have to say my role model is, hands down, Nelson Mandela.

Last but definitely not least, the diplomacy and strong connection to our people that my husband, Justin Mohamed, displays is a daily inspiration.

I have a passion for fostering our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health workforce, starting with getting kids to believe that they can have a career in health. In fact, they are really needed. The biggest issue facing our kids are the same as they were for me: racism and lack of self-belief. The only way we are going to eradicate racism is through education, education of non-Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander people in cultural safety and respect, education of our kids so that they flood our workforces and become leaders. Educating our leaders as to how to embed this concept into systems so that it’s not reliant on individuals. I believe with all my heart that nursing and midwifery will lead the way in this concept. The will to do this work by both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples within our professions has been inspiring.

My other passion is really caring about people as human beings – wanting to know about them, their stories and their journeys, learning from them and hearing their gems of knowledge – especially our elders. I am always amazed by the resilience, passion, forgiveness and patience of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, especially the years they have spent waiting for us to get it right.

Nurses and midwives are innately caring people and I believe this came naturally for me as a nurse because of my cultural heritage. Healthy self-belief in children comes from role modelling and messaging, nursing and midwifery and Aboriginal health have amazing black leaders and so many more are on the horizon. Racism and the messaging that comes from it plays a sinister role in our kids identify and belief in self. My belief is that identity is a social determinant that is strengthened through connectedness as a people, role modelling and irradiation of racism. Bottom line is that our children should have the access and choices of every other Australian child and truly believe that they can grab opportunities with both hands.

My hopes are that Aboriginal peoples will be active in all aspects of lives and society, and racism will no longer be a barrier to achieving our hopes and aspirations – we will have the same choices and opportunities as all other Australians. I hope that we live in a truly unified Australia that values and celebrates cultural diversity, and acknowledges and respects our long history of 60,000+ years, that we don’t just talk about Human Rights and the rights of Indigenous Peoples but as a nation we are world leaders in this space.

My number one hope is that we will not live with the burden of illness that currently confronts us and limits our quality of life for such a long period of our lives. This would mean I could have more time to connect and celebrate with my family other than just at funerals. I hope that my kids – and yours – inherit the same lifespan as any other Australian.

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