In Aboriginal culture the relationship between health & wellbeing and connection to Country is paramount. It is therefore essential that the foundation of any health initiatives embraces this understanding of the importance of Country in a spiritual, physical, intellectual, social and cultural context.
The Understanding Country health promotion model, emerged from my profound theoretical knowledge of the internal biological, spiritual and emotional landscapes of the perinatal realms of the human psyche; which are revealed and documented in my art. This model offers a practical application in a culturally safe context.
To Understand Country is to know intimately, the interior; anatomical and archetypal landscapes of our bodies and correspondingly connect this with the geographical terrain, ecosystems and the environments which the individual inhabits. It connects us with a heritage of custodial responsibilities requiring we care for and nurture the Mother-Earth and her creatures.
Traditionally this knowledge of connectedness, was passed on by Elders over tens of thousands of years. Our culture evolved through their intimate geographical, biological and spiritual relationships with their environment and their community which was documented through their art, songs, dances, stories and ceremonies.
Understanding Country in a contemporary context, describes our imminent contextual relationship with ourselves. By challenging toxic perceptions and imprints we can transform our inner world into a balanced, nourishing environment where change is negotiated without struggle and violence. This model can re-orientate how we observe ourselves in relation to our physical, spiritual, intellectual, social and cultural environment. It invites us to resume Custodial responsibilities in relation to our bodies and spirit as the Country we inhabit.
During my time as the Health Promotion Nurse at the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Community Independent School, also know as the Murri School located in Brisbane, Australia; our dedicated team provided primary health care to Indigenous students from prep to Grade 12. Our pursuit to improve the health and well being of the students was achieved in collaboration and partnership with the school's extraordinary teaching and support community. Over several years we developed and facilitated mini health and well-being expo's that provide a practical application for the model Understanding Country.
Understanding Country, employs the metaphor connecting the traditional concept of sacred geographical sites to biological locations in the body. This would include eyes, ears, the mouth, teeth and gums, internal organs, skin, muscles, skeleton, feet and so on. These sites were 'taken care of' by Elders, as well as industry professionals with decades of experience.
In practical terms; this culturally appropriate metaphor, invites our students to embrace traditional concepts of guardian and custodianship in a contemporary, urban environment. Health literacy is promoted by engaging industry experts and tertiary students to assess, relate, inform and educate their Indigenous clients, our students and families.
The legacy of toxic shame infecting many of our students is challenged, by promoting self-esteem, confidence and empowerment through employing mindful rituals and holistic processes. These involve an integration of traditional and contemporary practices including art, singing, dance, playful activities, nutritional nourishment and nurturing touch, creating an enriching health/educational experience.
The goal is to inspire our students to transform inherited and compounding chronic disease pathways by promoting the emergence of a contemporary prototype of wellness that benefits the entire community.
An Indigenous Primary Health and Well-being Model based on Understanding Country.
Historically, Elders were custodians of the country on which they and their ancestors inhabited as caretakers, for tens of thousands of years. Elders were endowed with responsibilities for the protection and nurturing of various Sacred Sites.
This primary health care model translates this ancient, inherited wisdom into a contemporary context where industry experts undertake clinical assessments and create referral pathways connected to their particular sacred site. Enlisting the support of tertiary students, the process extends to educating and empowering the student so they are inspired to nourish and care for that particular site in their own body.
Sacred Sites are contextualised in relation to human biology and include:
- Psychology (counselling, mental health & wellbeing, Mindfullness – Dadirri)
- Audiology (ear checks & cleaning, breathing exercises, ENT referrals etc.)
- Optometry (eye checks & exercises, glasses, specialist referrals prn.)
- Oral Hygiene and Dental health (regular teeth cleaning and healthy eating, dental treatments when required)
- Heart Health (happiness, grief counselling, forgiveness and gratitude)
- Hair and Scalp Care (controlling infestations, braiding, deadly hair cuts)
- Skin Integrity (Personal Hygiene/Immunity)
- Diet and Nutrition (bush tucker, bush medicines, growing and preparation of food)
- Physiotherapy (Body awareness, balance, massage)
- Exercise Physiology (movement to promote wellness)
- Body work Bowen, Massage, Kinesiology, Chiropractor, Myopathy, Homeopathy
- Podiatry (reflexology, alignment)
- Sexual Health and Well-being (respecting one’s body, contraception, education - Men's and Women's business, Sti's etc)
- Spirituality (breathing, looking within, connecting to spirit, being in the moment, custodial responsibilities, initiation practices)
- Car of Animals Animal Behavorialist
- Smoking Cessation
- Importance of Story Telling - where am I from? Art/dance/song - integration
- Evaluation photo/video documents
In Aboriginal Terms ‘Understanding Country’ can also be interpreted as ‘connectedness’ or 'Kanyini'.
The word Kanyini means connection to: responsibility, respect and unconditional love for all of creation. It envelopes the four principles of Aboriginal life:
Tjukurrpa – Creation Period (or what non-Aboriginals call ‘dreamtime’)
Kurunpa – Spirit, Soul, Psyche
Walytja – Family, Kinship
Ngura – Land, Home, Place or Mother
(Courtesy Uncle Bob Randall, Mitijulu Elder)