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Indigenous health expert on cultural safety in Australia

September 20th, 2021

AUSTRALIAN PHYSIOTHERAPY COUNCIL

The Council’s Accreditation Committee member Danielle Manton shares her story and why all Australian physiotherapists should become culturally safe healthcare practitioners

The Council: As we begin our conversation, we’d appreciate hearing a little bit about you, your story and what your current ‘day job’ is.

Danielle: I am a proud Barunggam Women, my great grandfather was a part of the Stolen Generation and my great grandmother was a staunch German immigrant. My family was denied their culture formally, however my Nan always maintained ties with community, and later when she moved from Queensland to Sydney established ties within the community she craved in Redfern. I was raised in Western Sydney and strongly identify with the community that raised me (and continues to raise me), the Darug community. I have worked with First Nations communities across many aspects of education for over 15 years. I am the mother to a very strong Worimi, Kuku Yalanji and Barunggam man and am determined to ensure he has ample opportunity to learn and participate in his culture and be strong in all aspects of his culture – including frequent family visits to connect with his family and Country.

I am an Indigenous Health Lecturer and work to embed Indigenous perspectives in the health curriculum, this involves many community partnerships. Community partnerships are exceptionally important, the community must lead this and have a direct voice and influence within healthcare education. All the work I do is firmly entrenched in advocating for my family, my community and a better future for my people. There is still a long way to go to influence change in healthcare access and outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

The Council: From your perspective, why is it important for physiotherapists joining the Australian profession, either as new graduates in Australia or migrating from overseas, to be culturally aware and safe?

Danielle: Cultural awareness is basically just knowing the true facts about Australian history and understand the influence of colonisation that continues to impact Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people today. Unfortunately, people in Australia are very quick to judge and stereotype our First Nations peoples without understanding what we have been through and continue to go through.  Australians are so privileged to be able to learn, share and celebrate the oldest living culture in the world and are really doing themselves a disservice by not engaging with our First Nations peoples.

The Council: In your opinion, how can physiotherapists and healthcare professions help become more inclusive in their practice?

Danielle: It is important to educate yourself, it is not the responsibility of the community or your Indigenous friends and employees to educate you. The Council has developed a great cultural safety training resource, which will also contribute to continuing professional development to help get you started. Also, watch movies and read books by Indigenous authors, actors and writers. There is a great hashtag #nothingaboutuswithoutus, follow First Nations people and organisations of social media, ensure you always get information related to Indigenous peoples directly from Indigenous peoples.

The key to inclusive practice for all peoples is communication, authentic relationship building and being proactive, flexible and responsive to client’s needs – the same approach doesn’t always work for all people, it may just be simple adaptations such as allowing clients to attend appointments together or moving to an outdoor space.

The Council: Last year, the Council was grateful that you chose to join our Accreditation Committee and help us in the work that we’re involved in accrediting Australian entry-level physiotherapy programs. How do you see physiotherapy accreditation having a role in improving Indigenous health in Australia?

Danielle: I am so excited to be on this Committee, physiotherapy has so much to offer Indigenous Health. Physiotherapy is in a unique position due to the breadth of treatments both reactive and preventative. Physiotherapists have the opportunity to engage with the community, offering services to support community sporting events, which is a great way to get to know the local community. Physios also have the skills to educate clients with skills and strategies to prevent chronic conditions as well as manage chronic conditions that doesn’t rely on attending a hospital or clinic or taking medications, and the knowledge can be shared within families and communities.

The Council: Given that you work within an Australian university, how are you helping your university students to gain a deeper understanding of how to work in Indigenous communities and become culturally safe physiotherapists?

Danielle: Building relationships and dispelling fear through knowledge awareness and access to reliable information. Before engaging with community you need to do the work, develop your own knowledge and understanding about the Traditional Owners of the land you are on and the ongoing impact of colonisation, which is the important role of ensuring Indigenous perspectives are included in University education as well as continuing professional development. This foundational knowledge can be built on through authentic and meaningful engagement in the community. In my role I work with communities to identify how our physio students can be useful, and support students to engage with the community. The invitation, leadership and direction from the community is essential to establishing a positive relationship.

The Council: We know that you have experience teaching international students in your university context. What advice would you give to the Council’s overseas physiotherapists wanting to join the Australian profession about how they can grow in their cultural understanding and safety?

Danielle: Educate yourself! The main comment I receive from international students and domestic students is ‘I had no idea’. I cannot encourage all Australians enough to educate yourself, don’t wait for mandatory training or an Indigenous person to start your journey. Watch videos, there are movies and documentaries available on Netflix and ABC iview that have been written and directed by Indigenous peoples, and follow Indigenous leaders and organisations on social media. Ensure you get a diversity of voices and Indigenous peoples are diverse, each area has different languages, protocols and expectations. This is an ongoing journey you will never know everything about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and it is not your place to, but you can keep learning. Celebrate the opportunity to engage with the world’s oldest living culture, it is a privilege you will value.

To know more about the Council’s Cultural Safety Training click here

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