Being Aboriginal is about soul, not colour

“What part are you?”

My name’s Angela Phillips, I’m a Wiradjuri woman.

I am a registered nurse, nursing lecturer and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Faculty Health Advisor here at UTS:Health.

All my life, people would say – “You’re too white to be Aboriginal.”

People would see my Dad (an Aboriginal man) and people would see me, and they’d ask “What part are you?”. I didn’t understand the connotation of what ‘part’ meant.

It wasn’t until I did my own research that I understood that assimilation policy was actually based on the idea that you’re ‘part’ – there was a negative connotation to it.  It was a form of genocide because they were trying to breed people out.

So, when I hear people say, “What part are you?”, I say, “I’m not part – I am what I am.” My mother was non-Indigenous, my Dad was Aboriginal, and I’m very proud of that, I relate to that, I understand that, so, I am a “Phillips” and I am aboriginal.

I don’t see that I am a “part” something. I am.

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“You’re just a nurse”

I remember
talking to my husband and saying, “I want to be able to do something about this.”

But people
were saying, “You’re just a registered nurse.”

So my husband said, “Well, do an education course.”

I enrolled in a Bachelor of Education degree.  I started talking to other registered nurses and I realised that they already had ideas about Aboriginal people; it was coming from their school curriculums. And I wanted to change things, but I knew I needed more.

So I went on to do a Masters degree.

We created a safe space

When I first came here in 2000, there were no Aboriginal students at all in nursing or midwifery at UTS. We’d had a couple enrol, but they’d been unsuccessful in their studies. To begin with I rang the unsuccessful students to find out why they felt they couldn’t continue.

So, I started working very closely with the UTS Jumbunna Indigenous House of Learning. We created a safe space for the students to feel safe in their studying and we organised for Jumbunna to come out for a support day one day a week.

We started recruiting – going out into the community to talk to them about nursing, talk to the hospitals where there were some Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander enrolled nurses, and we increased our numbers.

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We established an alternative entry program where we can review Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Nursing students.

They may not have the requirements or the HSC mark, but we can see their potential for success if they receive the support that they need. So we conduct assessments on them every year.

We’ve now got a new project called the Galuwa project, which gives Indigenous high school students a taste of what it’s likely to study health at UTS. Last year we had twenty students attend, so it was really successful.

In my role I also look at the curriculums and see where Indigenous health education fits in.

One of our great achievements happened in 2010, when we were able to integrate a core subject (Contemporary Indigenous Health and Wellbeing) into the Bachelors of Nursing and Midwifery at UTS.

I’m very proud of those little things and the little steps we’ve been able to create.

Three years ago I started my PhD with the support of the faculty, so I’m very thankful. It looks at Indigenous content in undergraduate health degrees, so it’s close to my heart and it fits really well.

The outcome that I’m hoping for is that we can create a model that can be embedded across the university.

How much has actually changed?

Since the Federal Government’s Closing the Gap 2010 report on Indigenous disadvantage, how much has actually changed?

Where are we breaking the cycle?

Statistically, Indigenous males in this day and age have a life expectancy of 55.

The state of mental health and suicide is one of the saddest things. Since the NT intervention, we’ve had the largest number of removal of children, even since assimilation policy – comparatively the largest numbers.

We’ve had increased incarceration.  And we know with increased incarceration we have increased suicide.

It’s not going to change until we actually stop incarcerating people so easily. 75% of juvenile justice is made up of Indigenous youth and we only represent 3% of the population.

So to make up 75% of the system… that’s unheard of. We know that we’re setting them up to fail.  Statistically speaking, we know that an Indigenous male is more likely to be incarcerated on his first offence than anyone else.

And since the system has removed the funding for the Aboriginal legal service, incarceration of Indigenous youth has tripled since then and I don’t see it getting any better with that system in ealth be known.

One of the discussions we have with students (international and domestic) is ‘what
do you know about Aboriginal people and what’s your understanding’?

There’s such a wide range of levels of awareness and education, so it’s so important to have those discussions.

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