JANINE MOHAMED IS A NARRUNGA KAURNA WOMAN FROM POINT PEARCE IN SOUTH AUSTRALIA, AND IS CURRENTLY CEO OF CATSINAM, THE CONGRESS OF ABORIGINAL AND TORRES STRAIT ISLANDER NURSES AND MIDWIVES. SHE HAS OVER 20 YEARS EXPERIENCE IN NURSING, MANAGEMENT, HEALTH WORKFORCE, HEALTH POLICY, AND PROJECT MANAGEMENT IN THE ABORIGINAL AND TORRES STRAIT ISLANDER HEALTH SECTOR
Social media can be overwhelming and downright distressing sometimes. But at this time of the year, it makes my heart sing to tune in on social media.
NAIDOC Week is one of THE highlights of my year. The celebration of our peoples and our diverse and strong cultures always feels me with joy.
But this year is extra special – thanks to the NAIDoC Committee people who came up with the #BecauseOfHerWeCan theme.
The hashtag has already led to the sharing of the stories of hundreds, if not thousands of strong and inspirational Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women.
As I scroll through my Twitter feed, I see the stories of Elders, community and cultural leaders, mothers, grandmothers, sisters, aunties, educators, activists, athletes, politicians, artists, writers, lawyers, actors, poets, musicians and of so many more wonderful women.
Some people are using the hashtag to share the stories of ancestors who were nurses and midwives. This reminds me of how fortunate I am to be leading an organisation that represents Aboriginal nurses and midwives.
I am proud to be an advocate for the unique and powerful roles that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander nurses and midwives have in the health system and their communities, as agents of change. And I am so proud of being a sister, aunty, mum and former nurse.
We acknowledge and appreciate our male colleagues, but there can be no doubt that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women form the backbone of our nursing and midwifery professions.
May Yarrowick, who trained as an obstetric nurse in Sydney in 1903, may well be our first Indigenous nurse qualified in western nursing. We now have over 3,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander nurses and midwives. And of course, Aboriginal women have been assisting our women birth our nations for over 75,000 years.
We are only about one percent of the nursing and midwifery workforce — but we punch weight far above our numbers. CATSINaM and our members have worked hard to achieve significant improvements in health policy and services, most especially through advocating for the wider uptake of cultural safety at all levels of the health sector.
At CATSINaM, we take extra pleasure this year in celebrating NAIDOC Week because it offers such a wonderful opportunity to pay our respects to all the deadly Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander nurses and midwives who have come before us, paving the way for our current and future generations to follow.
Through their example and leadership, they have created a legacy reminding us of the importance of strength in identity and culture.
They have also left a legacy that reminds us of the importance of cultural governance, and I am delighted that as part of NAIDOC Week, I will be participating in a conference on Indigenous women and governance.
Effective systems of regulation have been embedded in our cultural knowledges and practices over many tens of thousands of years. Importantly, these systems have supported and sustained our holistic world-views of health and social, emotional, spiritual and cultural wellbeing.
We recognise that the social, emotional, spiritual and cultural wellbeing of the whole community is paramount in determining the health and wellbeing of individual members. The holistic nature of our knowledges and cultures locates health in culture, community and kinship networks.
Indeed, NAIDOC Week more broadly provides an important opportunity for us to reflect upon and to demonstrate the importance of culture and connection for the health and wellbeing of our people.
And increasingly we are seeing our NAIDOC week being celebrated by wider Australia. Changes that are being led by our organisations, communities and peoples.
These changes stand in stark contrast to what I remember when I was at school in the 1970s and 1980s –– there was no Aboriginal flag, there was no Welcome to Country.
I “learnt” as a young girl at school that Aboriginal people had “died out” that our language was “lost”, as if it had been left somewhere, when in fact it had been stolen from and denied us. I increasingly see more non- Indigenous Australians joining in our celebrations.
Just recently, I was talking with my husband, about the issues our children face in out of home care. He asked how I managed when I was in this situation as a young girl.
When I was ten years old, I fostered out to an Italian family in Adelaide for about six months. My mother made the arrangement during a period when my nana, who was my carer was unwell.
Reflecting back, I remember this as a difficult period. But I coped. And what helped me to cope was that I knew who I was. I was strong in my identity; I knew my family story and connections. These were things I learnt when growing up. I drew on the legacy of strength from the women who came before me.
When I was in care, I clung on to my culture, to our collective strength. I knew that I would eventually find my way back to it.
Every year NAIDOC Week reminds me how happy I am to be connected to my culture and to the long and extraordinary history of our mob.
In fact, I love NAIDOC Week so much that I chose to get married during this week.
So this week, you can wish me “happy fifth anniversary” as well as