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A collective of senior Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander nursing and midwifery researchers have proposed that health professionals need to “come back to the fire” and embed Indigenist and decolonial practices within the sector’s approach to research, education and healthcare.

Writing in the December 2020 to February 2021 issue of the Australian Journal of Advanced Nursing (AJAN), the group of seven researchers draw upon the recent historical trajectory of Australia’s First Nations nurses and midwives to advocate for a more self-critical appraisal of healthcare and research.

“We need to see how our education and research theories, methods and methodologies socialise our clinical worldview and the way our respective professions relate to Australia’s First Peoples,” the authors, including Lead Author Professor Juanita Sherwood, and Corresponding Author Professor Roianne West, write.

“This means being able to see and acknowledge the impact of our own cultural backgrounds on what we bring into quality and standards in nursing and midwifery care.”

The authors also explain that cultural safety, originally introduced into nursing research and practice by Maori nurse Irihapeti Ramsden more than 30 years ago, is a key explicatory concept foundational to any potential systemic shift in healthcare.

“Cultural safety is both a philosophy and strategy for reducing professional and institutional racism,” the authors write.

“Health practitioners have a responsibility to employ critical consciousness to developing strategic frameworks that promote and make space for a culturally safe working environment, and safe healing environment for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

“History informs us that broader nurses and midwives in the not so distant past practiced as agents for government control.”

“Cultural safety is both a right for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to experience in nursing and midwifery and in healthcare and a responsibility for health nurses and midwives to uphold and commit to.”

Other recent events cited in the editorial include last year’s call, led by co-author Dr Lynore Geia, for a unified response to the Black Lives Matter movement from the Australian nursing and midwifery sector.

The Congress of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Nurses and Midwives’ recent trip (CATSINaM) to visit the Aboriginal Tent Embassy on Ngunnawal Land (Canberra) is also explored.

Significantly, the authors also allude to the broader tumult of 2020, which was also the International Year of the Nurse and Midwife, expressing their belief that silence is not a useful response, given events the healthcare community have been involved with over the past 12 months.

“We have experienced social and health upheavals that have shocked and called us to attention, and reflect on who we are as nurses and midwives collectively. We can no longer be silent on issues that are unjust and oppressive,” the authors write.

“We invite our nursing and midwifery colleagues to also return to the fire and critically reflect on what its light reveals for the nursing and midwifery profession and for those within our care… join us to speak into the silence that surrounds the tacit acceptance of culturally unsafe care.”

The full guest editorial, titled “Taking our blindfolds off”: acknowledging the vision of First Nations peoples for nursing and midwifery, is available online at the AJAN website  

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