Meet Olivia! An Enrolled Nurse and proud Ngunnawal woman, in the ACT. She has written below a great guide to nursing within Indigenous Communities of Australia. Thanks to Jess (Indigenous Education Leader) for her review, input and insight into Indigenous Cultures.

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The gap between Indigenous people and healthcare workers can provide a significant impact on the outcomes of Indigenous health. Understanding customs and cultural way of life in remote Indigenous communities can assist healthcare professionals to deliver adequate healthcare for all.

This document provides a guide of further understanding of Indigenous communities, their customs and respect of Indigenous culture.

Gain a rapport with the person. Take a person before business approach by introducing yourself by name and job role first. Ask them where they come from and allow them to introduce themself before beginning to talk about what they are going to experience.

There may be a language barrier. Avoid using medical jargon. Explain things in simple terms but do not come across as condescending or like you are speaking down to them. If in doubt that your message has been conveyed, use talkback technique and get them to explain what you have just explained in their own terms.

Within Indigenous culture, emphasis is placed on building relationships and trust. Do not rush appointments, allow time to gain a relationship and ensure that your message has been conveyed. This also means they may come in families, take your time to speak to all family members and allow them to stay together for the duration of the appointment.

ALWAYS gain permission to touch a person. Explain to them why you need to teach them before carrying out any procedures. Especially that of the opposite gender.

Women may only want to be touched by women and men may only want to be touched by men, this is a part of some Indigenous tribes that females are only allowed to be touched by females.

Gain permission before touching a child or baby. Do not take the child off the mother or out of sight of the mother without gaining permission first.

Do not take photos or have phones/cameras out. If permission is granted then ensure you only take pictures of those who agree. In some cultures, people believe that taking pictures takes away the soul of the people in it.

Avoidance of eye contact. For Indigenous culture, avoidance of eye contact is customarily a sign of respect, in some communities. Some people may find it uncomfortable or disrespectful to make direct eye contact. Ensure to observe the person’s lead and body language to gain an understanding if this is a custom. Do not be offended if they are looking down or not directly at you.

Titles. Indigenous culture uses the terms “Aunty” and “Uncle” to show respect for the older generation. Do not call people by these titles unless given permission to do so.

Silence. Silence is a form of communication within some Indigenous communities.  Meanings include a sign of respect, contemplation, disagreement with what has been said and a time to reflect on what has been said. Allow time for reflection and informal discussions.

When referring to Indigenous peoples used a capitalized ‘I’ as this is about acknowledging the self-determination of Indigenous communities.

When referring to Indigenous cultures, refer to ‘cultures‘ because there is not just one culture, but many different cultures because each Indigenous traditional owner group has different law, language and practices from another.

For those who want to learn more, I have attached is some links to useful resources that assist with further understanding of Indigenous cultures, customs and traditions.