Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Trying to be exciting about dull stuff – or a note about terminology!

Words are important. Sticks and stones might break bones, but words can certainly cause quite a bit of harm. So it’s worth just taking a moment to set out some of the thinking behind terminology I’ll be using on the blog, and my thinking behind it. Have you ever read a more boring blog sentence? Well, let’s see if we can make this a fun post. Or failing that, a short one.
The thinking behind what we call Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples has been heavily influenced by colonisation without us even noticing. Aboriginal is an English word which has come to mean the diverse group of peoples who are the original inhabitants of the land masses we now call mainland Australia and Tasmania. Torres Strait Islanders are the group of people who originally inhabited the islands between the northcoast of Queensland and Papua New Guinea. It’s intriguing that the name we’ve given references a Spanish explorer. I’ll try to write Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people when that’s what I mean. Much of the time I’ll write Aboriginal and I’ll mean to include Torres Strait Islanders too, really just for clear English purposes – which I am a bit sorry about, as should English trump the needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders once again? I won’t be using the term Aborigine, as I find that dehumanising – it’s all too easy to forget we’re talking about people. And I won’t be using ATSI either, as abbreviations are usually a way of using jargon that allows us to forget the concepts behind the words.
I’ll use indigenous in the context of non-indigenous, meaning people who are not Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander. I’ll also use indigenous when I want to talk about the indigenous people of other countries, as, for example, in the UN Declaration onthe Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Other phrases it’s worth being clear on are AMS or Aboriginal Medical Service, which is a primary care service servicing predominantly Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. An Aboriginal Community Controlled Heath Organisation (ACCHO), are essentially owned and run by their local communities. Not all AMSs are ACCHOs – Inala in Queensland is an example – and there are some ACCHOs which are not AMSs, providing social rather than health care. Often, the term Medical Service doesn’t do these organisations justice, as that is only a part of what they do, and they are much more than a doctor’s surgery that happens to see Aboriginal patients.
And, just to put a nice cap on all the confusion, there’s Close the Gap and Closing the Gap. Surely they must be the same thing? I’m afraid not. Closethe Gap is the campaign that you’ve heard of, kick-started by the then Social Justice Commissioner, Tom Calma, and supported by Oxfam and led by a range of Aboriginal organisations supported by a large number of non-indigenous health and reconciliation organisations. If you’re reading this, take a moment to sign the pledge, and think about joining or organising a morning tea for National Close the Gap day on March 22nd.
Closing the Gap on the other hand, is the government program with 6 targets across a range of health, education, and social measures to, er, close the gap. Oh, it does get confusing.
So, that’s cleared that up, then. And with a hop and a skip we move on to the next post.

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