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Making Change: Indigenous Eye Health Conference

Health leaders from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, attending a national conference, have welcomed the election of the Labor Government and called on non-Indigenous Australians to support efforts to establish an Indigenous led approach to closing the gap in eye health.

The 2022 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Eye Health Conference (NATSIEHC22), co-hosted by Indigenous Eye Health (IEH) at the University of Melbourne and Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance Northern Territory, took place on Larrakia country in Darwin from Tuesday 24 to Thursday 26 May 2022.

The only way we can make sure our voice is heard, is to protect it in the constitution… we need an unapologetic political voice…

The conference theme, Our Vision in Our Hands, was reflected in a consistent call for “greater leadership and ownership of eye health by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, along with the shift in power that is necessary to produce the outcomes that we are all working towards”.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Conference Leadership Group (CLG) co-chairs, Shaun Tatipata and Anne-Marie Banfield, along with CLG members, chaired most of the sessions. Mr Tatipata founded Australia’s first Aboriginal-owned optical and eye care provider – the Deadly Vision Centre, and Ms Banfield is National Manager of Engagement and Awareness at Hearing Australia.

While First Nations peoples must play a key role in leading eye health initiatives that improve outcomes in their communities, Ms Banfield reminded delegates that they cannot do this on their own – that non-Indigenous people are needed as allies to “amplify the voice of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people”.

A powerful keynote address by Thomas Mayor (pictured) left no-one in doubt about why a constitutionally enshrined voice – the key proposal in the Uluru Statement from the Heart – must be achieved to improve true representation of Indigenous Australians. Mr Mayor was one of 270 Indigenous leaders who gathered in Uluru in 2017 to craft the words for the Statement.

“Every time we have built a voice, a hostile government has knocked it down,” Mr Mayor said. “The only way we can make sure our voice is heard, is to protect it in the constitution… we need an unapologetic political voice so that we can hold our representatives to account.”

Across the three-day conference, delegates heard from Indigenous led health care and training providers about initiatives underway to build capacity in communities. Ophthalmologists and optometrists also spoke about delivering services to manage vision and eye diseases.

RECOGNISING CHANGE MAKERS

NATSIEHC22 recognised the following leaders who have been working to improve eye care for First Nations people:

Contribution to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander eye health (Individual): Lauren Hutchinson,

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leadership in eye health: Aboriginal Health Council of South Australia, for the leadership of Michael Larkin and Chris Rektsinis in eye health in South Australia, with special allyship mention to Nicholas Schubert of Indigenous Eye Health Unit,

Allyship in contribution to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander eye health: Will Chin, and

Special allyship award for contribution to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander eye health sector: Mitchell Anjou.

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