Reconciling how First Nations’ health is researched

Friday 03 June 2022

Flipping the way Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health research is generated and conducted is the key priority for the head of Mater Researcher’s Indigenous Health Research Group, Associate Professor Kym Rae.

As Principal Research Fellow in Indigenous Health Kym is leading the institute’s engagement with First Nations communities to ensure Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders have an equal voice in how the Institute works to improve the future health of communities.  

“Reconciliation Action Week provides an important opportunity to acknowledge the mistakes the research community has made in the past where we generated studies ‘on’ and ‘about’ Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders rather than ‘with’ Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders,” Kym said.

“Thankfully non-Indigenous organisations and institutes have realised that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities should self-determine the health issues and concerns that are researched – not the other way around.

“Our Australian First People communities have very strong cultural and social connections that are markedly different from any other cultures in our country and this deep connection gives them a very strong understanding of their communities’ needs, so they are best placed to guide the narrative.”

Executive Director Mater Research, Professor Maher Gandhi said the institute was committed to working alongside Indigenous Australians to meet Mater’s mission of delivering better healthcare for all and meeting unmet community needs.

“Kym has facilitated Mater Research signing more than eight partnership agreements with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community-controlled services in Queensland to share the decision-making of future research,” he said.

“Decisions about research priorities and who leads the research need to incorporate the views of the very people the research is aimed to help. Self-determining the focus of medical research is the best way to improve the health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families and the entire community.”

Kym said her Indigenous Research Group had already begun visiting partner communities and running focus groups with service staff and community members.

“The focus groups will identify each community’s top health research priority and then we’ll work with them on every step of the research journey to deliver relevant findings that can improve the health of their communities,” she said.

Wakamin Woman and Mulungu CEO, Gail Wason said “Our community has identified a further need for more research into the social and emotional wellbeing for mums and bubs to gain an insight into identifying how these risks determine life ahead for the individual.  “We’re excited to partner with Mater Research to get a better understanding of the health issues that affect our mob.”

Mater Research will also be forming an Indigenous governance committee towards the end of 2022 from these combined sites which will help co-design future Indigenous health research projects.