Context: It is critical that those working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, acknowledge and understand the impacts of trauma, in order to engage in culturally safe practice. Government departments, organisations and private enterprise who employ or work with Australia’s First peoples, have been busily becoming culturally informed since the early 1970s. Now that more sectors are ticking the “culturally safe” box, the recognition of the role that historical and other traumas play in Indigenous communities and Indigenous peoples’ lives, is emerging as a critical prerequisite for respectful and safe practice. Since Māori nurse Irihapeti Ramsden articulated the core concepts of cultural safety in 1990s, with her emphasis on the recognition of power imbalances and the critical role of self-reflection by healthcare professionals, a plethora of terms and definitions have emerged.
Issue: The absence of culturally safe practice and persistence of ongoing racism prevents the social, economic and health inequity gap from closing in Australia. Despite 50 years of researchers and policymakers acknowledging and mandating culturally safe practice, little has translated into shifting practice and outcomes. Without a trauma-informed lens on the impacts of interpersonal and institutional barriers to cultural safety, racism towards Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples will continue. Historical and ongoing racism is supported by negative stereotyping and sustained by white privilege that goes largely unrecognised. The systemic continuance of these flawed attitudes enables non-Indigenous Australia’s denial of historical origins of both individual and collective trauma. Cultural safety training has not been enough to bring about true culturally safe practice when working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Understanding the effects of trauma on individuals, families and communities and being able to work in a culturally safe and trauma-informed way, has the power to address racism, impact systems and influence policy making.
Lesson learnt: Culturally safe trauma-informed practice training makes cultural safety more achievable. Organisations that are serious about working and partnering with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in what is now an ‘Indigenous industry’, are becoming “trauma informed” and looking for training with a specific cultural lens. A lens that acknowledges survival, resilience, Indigenous knowledges and a holistic model of health. For those doing that training, it is the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who are drawing immense strength and hope from understanding this trauma and how it has impacted their lives. Sharing this knowledge through a cultural lens with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander populations, also has the potential to create safe healing spaces and interrupt trauma being passed on through generations. The outcomes of this hope, however, are inextricably reliant on the ability of governments and organisations to stop and listen. Policy makers and institutions need to genuinely reflect on their own ‘cultural lens’ on the historical and contemporary barriers to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Trauma-informed cultural safety can allow profound change for individuals and the systems within which they practice.