Reflections on the Lowitja Institute International Indigenous Health and Wellbeing Conference

Black Background Whiote Aborignal graphic of Emu feet moving towards meeting circels. TEXT read Truth Rights Response 3rd International Indigenouzs Health and wellbeing conference

The Lowitja Conference is the largest gathering of global and national Indigenous health experts in Australia. Cormac Mercer, a Gadigal man, attended the three-day event on the lands of the Gimuy Walubara Yidinji and Yirrganydji peoples to explore themes of Truth, Rights, Response.

My desire to attend the Lowitja Conference was the result of wanting to be able to listen to and be uplifted by Indigenous health experts in health research from communities across Australia, Aotearoa New Zealand, Canada, Hawaii and the United States.

I believe that this was, and is, particularly important given Australians will be voting on the proposed amendments to the Constitution which seek to recognise Indigenous Australians as the First Peoples of this country.  The speakers reinforced the importance of sharing innovative ideas and transformational community-led research that is grounded in Indigenous ways of knowing, being and doing, disrupting and displacing Western research narrative.

Listening to a panel discussion about the economic determinants of health in which Djapirri Mununggirritj, Yolngu Elder and from Miwatj Health Aboriginal Corporation stated ‘...the solution lies within Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people...that’s where the strength lies and it becomes empowered...’ This indicated to me the importance of ensuring that voices of community sit at the centre of work to ensure optimal outcomes.

Karen Diver, Senior Advisor to the President for Native American Affairs, University of Minnesota, brought an international perspective, stating: ‘...we know what’s best for us. One size doesn’t fit all, and we know the priority order of the needs that are in our community because we’re gonna engage with them and we are responsible to them. They are us.’

I found these discussions both insightful and powerful, not only within the context of the Voice Referendum and its practical applications but also in the work that we do every day at the Nossal Institute.  We seek to improve the public health and futures of vulnerable communities through global health research and inclusive development, through principles of co-design and collaboration with local partners to build and strengthen in-country expertise.

Centering the voices of those we work with should be paramount.

Cormac Mercer is a Technical Advisor at the Nossal Institute and a final year Juris Doctor student. He has a deep interest in the way limited access and/or poor interactions with health systems can lead to poor health outcomes and embed poverty in communities.

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Cormac Mercer