In Australia, the dominant discourse centres on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ health in terms of disparity, disadvantage and deficit, which does not give adequate attention to structural determinants, transgenerational trauma and present trauma, including experiences of racism.While policies and interventions generally acknowledge the ongoing legacy of colonisation, this does little to actively redress the contemporary manifestations of colonisation that persist in the form of transgenerational trauma, structural inequity and intersecting forms of racism in Australia.
This case study describes firstly the context in which ACCHOs build interagency partnerships, which requires navigating complex funding, discordant priorities and power differentials. Secondly, this case study demonstrates an adaptive response to these partnership challenges, in which Waminda has harnessed the power of activism to reorient interagency partnerships toward working collaboratively through a decolonisation lens.
This research uses Indigenous research methods, such as yarning interviews with the workforce from four partner health services, yarning circles bringing to verify and refine emerging themes, and semi-structured interviews with a facilitator of Waminda’s decolonisation workshop and participants. Synthesis of data has been undertaken in stages through collaborative framework and thematic analysis.
ACCHO staff identified that effective partnerships and working relationships with other services, both government and NGOs, are essential to achieving good outcomes for their clients and communities. Advocacy by ACCHO staff was evident at all levels—on behalf of individual clients or families, on behalf of their organisation and at a policy level around funding, programs and key performance indicators. Non-Aboriginal colleagues and interagency partners who were culturally competent and worked in a culturally safe way were highly valued by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff and were viewed as allies.
Health and social services are complex systems and implementing changes in policy and practice are equally complex and multi-faceted. Achieving systemic change requires effective interagency partnerships. However, these partnerships can be fraught with issues of power imbalance, competing priorities and discordant world views, all of which are manifestations of a complex social system that sits in a colonised context. To counter this, Waminda has driven a process of collective learning and reflecting with partners to generate a common language around colonisation and structures of power, racism and whiteness. Beyond enhancing workforce capability and strengthening partnerships in terms of knowledge, language and understanding, Waminda’s approach represents a call to action for the Australian health and social services sector, and in particular for organisational leaders to take responsibility for enacting change and decolonising themselves and their organisations.