opinion

OPINION: This year’s NAIDOC Week theme is ‘Heal Country.’ But we need to heal our people first.

As many Australians are well aware, we are currently in the middle of our annual NAIDOC Week - a nationally recognised time to celebrate the achievements of our First Nation’s people, their culture and reflect upon their history. 

The overarching theme for NAIDOC Week this year is “Heal Country!”, whereby the NAIDOC Organisation says it means “…hearing those pleas to provide greater management, involvement, and empowerment by Indigenous peoples over country”. 

However, after some rattling news making headlines yesterday, it appears that this theme is riddled with irony and deep shame for non-First Nations Australians.

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On Tuesday evening, the COVID-19 task force gathered to discuss all further handling of the pandemic, as it rears its ugly (and highly contagious) head. 

Every representative of a group with a highly vested interest in the rollout attended. That is, except for the national peak body of Aboriginal Health. 

Our First Nations people, the stronghold of our country and its 60,000 plus year history, are at greater risk of COVID-19 than the rest of us. Yet, our Government neglected to invite Pat Turner, the CEO of the organisation, to the meeting.

What is particularly worrying about this decision is that our First Nations people are among the most vulnerable to health issues in the nation. 

The health inequalities are ripe between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities, with 46 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders suffering from at least one chronic health condition.

Experts say that the life expectancy for Indigenous Australians is eight years less than non-Indigenous Australians and, according to the data, closing this life expectancy gap is not deemed feasible within at least the next 10 years. 

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First Nations communities in regional areas are also further from healthcare services and are consequently more-so at risk.

Despite all of these compelling figures, provided by the Australian Government themselves, the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation was not invited to attend these discussions, imperative to containing and managing the pandemic. 

To make matters worse, while the 160 Joeys boys were infamously injected with Pfizer vaccines, Wiradjuri woman Yvonne Weldon - the Chair of the Metropolitan Aboriginal Land Council - stated that the Aboriginal Medical Centre in Redfern was not equipped to administer Pfizer vaccines at all.

She said in a video released on Wednesday evening that she is “concerned” as a Wiradjuri woman and that, “to heal Country, you must heal the people”. 

But this week, of all weeks, we seem further from healing Country than ever. 

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All of these events that have accumulated over this NAIDOC week weigh heavy on our First Nations people and collectively on our national psyche. 

During a week intended to revel in their successes and reflect on their diverse, ancient culture, we are collectively contributing to greater inequalities between us.

Just as we hold health concerns for our elderly and treat them accordingly, we must do the same for our First Nations people. 

After all, their compromised health is a result of chronic illnesses and systemic injustices brought about from European settlement.

Many First Nations people this week have reiterated that the NAIDOC theme “Heal Country” is so much more than land - it is about the culture, the water, spiritual connection and chiefly, the people.

This NAIDOC Week we must be cognisant that, until we heal the people, we cannot heal Country.

Pnina Hagege is a Journalism and Political Science student at UTS and has a history of working for political figures in Local and Federal Government (views are her own).

Feature Image: Supplied.