Taking action for reconcilation

Posted 31 Jan 2018.

Aboriginal Advisory Group member, Deanne Lewis, with our Education and Research Services Manager, Cassandra Clayforth.


Cancer death rates are 30 per cent higher for Aboriginal people than other Australians. In some remote areas, that rate is as high as 65 per cent. We desperately need to close this gap.

A key element of our strategic plan involves focussing our efforts on vulnerable members of the community, and an essential part of this is working to improve the incidence and impact of cancer among Aboriginal people in WA.

In July 2015, we formed a staff committee to develop our first Reflect Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) and after 12 months of consultation with staff, our external Aboriginal Advisory Committee and Reconciliation Australia, it was launched in November 2016.

"Reconciliation Action Plans are about organisations turning good intentions into real actions and rising to the challenge of reconciling Australia, using a holistic approach to create meaningful relationships, enhance respect and promote sustainable opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians," our Education and Research Services Manager, Cassandra Clayforth explained.

"Our RAP outlines our commitment to continue to lead a community effort to improve the quality of life and cancer outcomes of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and extend our commitment to address other areas of inequality, such as employment, cultural awareness and procurement."

For most years since 2008, we've run an education course for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health professionals (pictured above) aimed at providing culturally relevant training on cancer, treatments, prevention, early detection and screening strategies, and resources and services available to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

We've also taken steps to ensure our programs are culturally relevant by representing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in many of our campaign materials, fostering partnerships with local Aboriginal organisations, engaging equal-opportunity providers, including an Acknowledgment of Country at events, and increasing access, delivery and awareness of our support and education programs in the regions.

Deanne Lewis, a proud Nyoongar woman and member of our Aboriginal Advisory Committee, says the flow-on effect this knowledge can have within a community is immeasurable.

"My mother was in the second group of Aboriginal health workers to ever be trained at the Aboriginal Medical Service back in 1984. After Mum did her training and got stuck into Aboriginal health, she actually stopped drinking and smoking.

"The impact that had on me and my family, as kids, was huge: domestic violence and everything else that came with my parents' alcoholism stopped because of that training. It was only natural, in that sense, that I followed her lead into health work. It's become my life-long passion," Deanne said.

A mother of two and grandmother to five, Deanne will attend Deakin University later this year to complete her Master's degree in public health. She plans to continue her work in epidemiology - a branch of medicine that deals with the incidence, distribution, and control of diseases such as cancer.

"First and foremost, reconciliation's about reconciling for yourself. Acknowledging the need for reconciliation and the need to know the truth about Australian history helps to heal.

"The opportunity to contribute and participate in reconciliation in providing guidance and support to nonAboriginal people about Aboriginal culture and issues that affect Aboriginal people is the reason I joined Cancer Council WA's Advisory Committee," Deanne explained.

"There are a lot of Aboriginal people who've been diagnosed with cancer, and many who have passed away; it's a lot more prevalent and discussed in Aboriginal communities these days.

"The support services around are really amazing and I think Cancer Council WA is doing a marvellous job in actioning their RAP. I always encourage people to make contact with Cancer Council WA because I know their information is not only culturally appropriate but also accurate.

"As an Aboriginal person, if you feel sincerity or commitment from whoever it is you're working with, you're more open to it, and I get that feeling from Cancer Council staff."

Our Reflect RAP is the first step in our reconciliation journey and an Innovate RAP will follow.

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Found in:  News - 2018 | View all news