News & Events


April 12, 2013

Students from the University of Newcastle’s Wollotuka School of Aboriginal Studies Visit IWRI

Jacket worn by student’s of the University of Newcastle’s Wollotuka Insitute

As an Indigenous person, I was recently reminded that we are connected in so many ways to our relatives beyond the borders of Indian Country or any other country. On November 27, 2012, the Indigenous Wellness Research Institute was honored to act as host for a group of Australian Aboriginal health career students from the University of Newcastle’s Wollotuka School of Aboriginal Studies. Our guests are studying to become doctors, teachers, nutritionists and social workers. They came from places like the islands of the Torres Strait, the desert and the rain-forest. They represented indigenous peoples of Kamilaroi, Wiradjui, Bundjalung, Kala Kawaw Ya and others. What began as a simple request for a dinner with Dr. Terry Maresca (Mohawk) and me to share stories became two full days of experiences I won’t soon forget.

We brought the students to the Schools of Medicine, Dentistry, Pharmacy, the College of Education and had lunch in our IWRI space at the School of Social Work. The students were amazed at the similarities in the health care system, disease, and access to culturally-based education and curriculum. They were truly shocked to find American Indians and Alaska Natives mirroring the healthcare challenges that they face halfway around the planet. Our hope was that the students knew they were not alone in the uphill battle that Indigenous students, staff, and faculty face in a homogeneous health care field.

Emotions shifted, not at Turtle’s pace but rather like the swift flitting movements of Hummingbird. One moment we were all feeling heavy with the isolation of being Indigenous people in health care, and the next a sense of unity.

When we sat down to share a meal, I realized how special it is that we have space at IWRI: A place within an academic institution where the room is not sterile, where the fire alarm doesn’t go off for the smell of sweet grass burning and where the important act of sharing a meal together creates family.

We learned so much from these beautiful people. They reminded us that the work we do at IWRI is important to all the world’s indigenous communities. We need healing and acceptance from the impact of colonization. When Terry and I introduced ourselves (in the storyteller role), we acknowledged our lineage and where we came from. It was the homogenizing of culture and community we heard from the students when they introduced themselves. By the end of their time with us, they felt safe to acknowledge where they came from and who they are.

The students said they felt like they “were part of the family.” They even seemed surprised to feel that way. I’m glad that they were able to find family halfway across the planet and I am proud of each and every one of those students and the difficult path they have chosen. They will be amazing teachers, doctors, health care professionals, and more than that, leaders within their communities.

Wollotuka Students posing for a photo with IWRI Staff