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  • Author: HammondCare
  • Read time: 3 min. read


First Nations
  • 04 July 2024
  • Blog

First Nations partnerships require respect and listening

  • Author: HammondCare
  • Read time: 3 min. read

HammondCare spoke to Megan, Aboriginal Liaison Officer at Dementia Support Australia, about her work supporting First Nations communities. In NAIDOC Week, Megan, a proud Wiradjuri woman, shares her experiences and insights in fostering meaningful partnerships and providing culturally safe care.

Megan's Background

I grew up in the Aboriginal community of Murrin Bridge, 12 kilometres north of the small country town of Lake Cargelligo and 320km west of Dubbo. I’m the sixth of six children and am very close to my family despite leaving home at 15 to attend boarding school in Sydney.
After school, I stayed in Sydney to work as an administrative traineeship at a major inner-city hospital. I booked surgeries and worked in the outpatient clinic, which is really where my passion for working in healthcare started.

But I missed my family, and my country, so returned home to work as an Aboriginal student support worker at the local school. I continued supporting my community as an Aboriginal maternal health worker in Western Sydney, supporting mothers with antenatal checkups and making sure they received culturally safe care. 

We worked with other health services too, so it was a one-stop hub for mothers, where they could get the care they needed; it linked important healthcare services with pregnant First Nations women who needed the support.

Another role where collaboration and partnerships were so important was when I joined a national homelessness program, working as a caseworker conducting assertive outreach to homeless people in Sydney. This role involved working closely with various organisations to secure safe accommodation and essential services for the homeless.

As a project officer for a national project, again my role focused on partnerships. I travelled across New South Wales, conducting workshops and engaging with communities to understand and address their priorities. This grassroots approach aimed to formalise partnerships between government, non-government organisations, and local health districts, ensuring that community needs were met effectively.

Access to services for First Nations people living with dementia

At Dementia Support Australia, I support the consultants by providing cultural insights and assistance for First Nations clients. When a consultant receives a referral of a First Nations client, I support them in whatever way I can, even if it's just a debrief. We catch up and discuss the case, and I provide that cultural support.

One case that comes to mind involved a 92-year-old woman living off her traditional country who was experiencing agitated and aggressive behaviours. The consultant had difficulties contacting the client's family but also mentioned the family was going through sorry business. This is a deeply spiritual time for First Nations people. During sorry business, family and community members come together to mourn and pay their respects. Giving people the space and respect they need during this time is essential. I explained that it might not be an appropriate time to contact them and suggested ways that they could reach out to the family respectfully.

Another client expressed that she wanted to go back to Country. I suggested exploring the woman’s background and we discovered she had been involved in traditional birthing practices as a midwife. I give tips and considerations when they do their assessments, to look out for cultural aspects. Even if she's not living on Country, how can we bring Country to her?

For First Nations people, Country is a deep thing; it’s part of who we are. Simple actions, such as touching the ground or smelling familiar scents, can help maintain this connection. I had a client, all she wanted was just to taste the water from where she was from. Simple things like that can make a big difference.

In preparation for visits to remote communities, I help consultants understand local cultural protocols. We always consult with the Elders to get permission. On a trip to Mornington Island, consultants met with the local staff from the local Art Centre, which runs dementia art programs for Elders. They were welcomed by an Elder, which is a significant sign of respect.

What to think about when collaborating with First Nations people and organisations

Partnering with First Nations organisations or families can be complex. Respect and listening are key, let them share their story. Allow that time for them to build a relationship with you. We withhold a lot of information if we don't feel comfortable, so building that trust is essential.

It’s often about finding the right person who can speak for the community or organisation. Respect their input and make sure you’re being led by the community.
Also, be honest and open. Letting First Nations people lead the way in how they want to be supported is critical to successful partnerships. At the end of the day, listen, observe, and be honest. And accept that this all takes time.

Building relationships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities is a multifaceted process that requires respect, understanding, and a commitment to genuine partnership. By prioritising cultural sensitivity, open communication, and long-term collaboration, these relationships can be positive, respectful, and mutually beneficial.