The following article is written from an Aboriginal perspective as we are both Aboriginal registered nurses. We have professional Aboriginal health backgrounds incorporating a range of Indigenous healthcare areas such as: Aboriginal health services, rural and remote area nursing, partnerships and employment within the tertiary sector teaching cross cultural and Indigenous health course content to mainstream nursing students. Our roles have encompassed working as mentors, role models and advocates to upcoming Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander registered nurses. Having lived the experience as professional Aboriginal registered nurses, we believe we can be considered authoritative in this grass roots knowledge surrounding Indigenous nursing issues. The following paper will explore the journey of Aboriginal nurses and how they are fighting back to resurrect their inherent birthright to provide optimal nursing care for their people.
Historically, in Aboriginal culture, traditional healing methods and practices were used instinctively by tribal members endowed with healing powers, which in today's context, could translate into health professionals such as Aboriginal nurses and doctors. This was necessary to ensure that the wellness of their people was sustained and kept at an optimal harmonious equilibrium. Traditional healing was managed with resources from the immediate natural environment and the knowledge of bush medicines, which was a must to ensure the very survival of many Aboriginal tribal groups (Gorman, Nielsen, & Best, 2006). There is a plethora of research confirming that prior to colonisation in this great land, the health status of Aboriginal people was exemplary (Burns & Irvine, 2003; Fitzgerald, 1986; Queensland State Archives, 1890). The consummate health status of this population was solely due to the necessity for physical strength, a requirement for this hunter gatherer population (Devanesen, 2000). Physical activity was complemented by a holistic lifestyle of consuming natural organic foods from the environment, a strong sense of kinship, of cultural identity and a profound spirituality linked to mother earth, which leftthe people wanting for nothing. This is a strong indication that the health status of Aboriginal people directly correlates with lifestyle practices. In our opinion Aboriginal existence prior to colonisation was a highly sophisticated culture which was sustainable both environmentally and humanly to support future generations; a culture, which in our opinion was unmatched by any of the time. In stark contrast is the health status of today's Aboriginal Australia, which is now plagued with conditions such as heart and coronary disease, diabetes, renal failure and a multitude of cancers, all largely absent before colonisation (Best, 2003; Howitt, McCracken, & Curson, 2005).
Part of the process of colonisation in Australia was the implementation of assimilation practices, which consisted of laws and policies that were enforced on Aboriginal people for the large part of the twentieth century (Eckerman et al., 2010, pp. 22-25). These practices of assimilation did not take into consideration any part of the Aboriginal people's human existence and lifestyle, resulting in cultural genocide (Haebich, 2008; Neilson, 2005). This meant that Aboriginal people no longer had access to the natural resources and cultural knowledge that once sustained their harmonious lifestyle, as the rigorous physical activity once required for hunting and gathering provisions for their organic sustenance was abruptly interrupted. Their original way of life and their human existence involving kinship ties, connection to mother earth, spirituality, cultural identity and traditional healing methods became threatened and were no longer viable practices under white governance, thus leading to the elimination of these practices (Thomson, 2003, p. 37). The forced abolition of these practices has been the catalyst for the debilitating effects on the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal Australians, which are devastatingly apparent today. …