In Brazil, government indifference could see the rich culture and knowledge of the Indigenous people of the Amazon wiped out in a preventable COVID-19 genocide.
In Australia, we have a much happier story to tell about coronavirus and our First Nation’s people.
That story is one of a partnership between the Aboriginal health sector, the health professionals, and the governments to move swiftly to protect our living treasures.
Those living treasures are our Elders and their continuing connection to land and 65,000 years of culture, equivalent to universities who teach us and hand on our cultural heritage and knowledge to us.
This year the NAIDOC Week celebrations were pushed back to November, with the hope that community events can go ahead safely at that time.
It is a small price to pay to protect what is most precious – our people and our culture!
There was a genuine outpouring of concern in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community that COVID-19 could take away generations of connection to culture.
With Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people at greater risk because of a higher level of chronic conditions exacerbated by overcrowded housing and intensive care miles away from communities, if COVID-19 got away on us, it would have been devastating.
The risk facing our communities is a direct result of years of neglect, disinvestment and failed policies and programs that have been developed without our input.
Working on the response to this pandemic comes with huge responsibility and requires partnership with the best in the sector to deliver clinically strong and culturally appropriate recommendations for our people.
As we have seen in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, our 143 Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations (ACCHOs) are best placed to respond to crisis and to drive progress towards the longer-term priority of closing of the gap in life outcomes between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and other Australians.
Throughout the pandemic, the government has been taking the advice of our community-controlled health sector, and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Advisory Group on COVID-19 to implement response plans to keep our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities safe.
In the early stages of the pandemic our communities were preparing to close borders, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health experts were discussing measures needed to protect our people across the nation.
As soon as it became evident just how deadly the COVID-19 virus was, well in advance of the Commonwealth response, the Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Sector initiated awareness campaigns for our communities and planning for prevention and response. There is no doubt the strong, and highly creative awareness campaigns has significantly contributed to keeping the coronavirus out of communities.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people continue to be impacted by the legacy of colonisation in every aspect of our lives. But what also continues is our resilience amidst the adversity we face. When we face adversity together, we see stronger outcomes.
I hope the spirit of partnership, care and respect that marked our response to the coronavirus threat will be a new high watermark for how we tackle the many other problems holding back our First Nation’s people from living the lives they want to live.
- Donnella Mills is the Chairperson of the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO)