Over 200 Indigenous and non-Indigenous health professionals, Elders and community members from across Australia met to discuss palliative care for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities earlier this month.

The Dying to Yarn symposium was held at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre and featured guest speakers discussing holistic models of palliative care, advance care planning, grief, loss and bereavement, and cultural and spiritual care.

Organised by the Program of the Experience in the Palliative Approach (PEPA), the event aimed to raise awareness of a “good death” in the Indigenous community.

Queensland PEPA Manager, Aurora Hodges, said there’s a large gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people using palliative care services.

Ms Hodges listed four main barriers to palliative care for Indigenous people, including:

  • Lack of understanding
  • Socioeconomic disadvantage,
  • Historical experiences with mainstream systems
  • Institutional racism.

Ms Hodges also said one of the symposium’s goals was to start the conversation about palliative care within Indigenous communities.

“Indigenous people don’t generally use palliative care; the term is a bit scary. We’re trying to change that, and this is the reason why we started this Dying to Yarn conference, if we can get Indigenous health workers starting to talk about it then the community will start to talk about it,” Ms Hodges said.

Ms Hodges said the negative history between Indigenous Australians and hospitals is part of the reason they don’t feel comfortable accessing palliative care.

“Death and dying isn’t something they always want to talk about, the other thing, too, is hospitals can be a scary place for Aboriginal people because of past history with hospitals.”

“It’s not even just palliative care, it’s actually going to a hospital at all [that] can be quite a bad experience because of past atrocities … that can affect people wanting to come,” Ms Hodges said.

Moving forward, Ms Hodges said there needs to be more education within Indigenous communities about palliative care, and more education for non-Indigenous health workers about how to provide palliative care to Indigenous Australians.

“It’s a two-way [process], we need to get Aboriginal people in the community learning about palliative care and how it can help them, we also need non-Indigenous health staff to learn about how to care for Indigenous people in a culturally appropriate way because it’s not the same as [non-Indigenous people],” Ms Hodges said.

Dying to Yarn is expected to become an annual event with plans to hold the symposium in different states each year.

By Sarah Mozley