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Research aimed at protecting and embracing First Nations health knowledge

Written by Endeavour College of Natural Health | Wednesday, 3 May 2023

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Dr Alana Gall is right where she wants to be. A research fellow at the National Centre for Naturopathic Medicine, Alana is pursuing the research she set her heart on while studying at Endeavour.

“In 2008, when I was studying naturopathy, Professor Jon Wardle introduced me to research as a potential career,” Alana said. “Back then, I had no way of knowing I would complete a PhD and be leading research in a field I’m passionate about.”

When Endeavour last shared Alana’s story, she was midway through her PhD after graduating from Endeavour with a Bachelor of Health Science (Nutritional and Dietetic Medicine), completing her Masters in Research and working as a research assistant.

In 2021, Alana’s research team moved to the University of Queensland. While she was there, the NCNM Foundation Director, Professor Wardle, asked Alana to apply for a Postdoctoral Research Fellowship.

“The Fellowship is to develop and establish a program of research around Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander traditional medicine and healing practices, which is exactly why I got into research in the first place."

“Over the years, I have learnt a lot about conducting research with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and how we can do this in a culturally safe way, using Indigenous methodologies. Now, I can take this knowledge into a group focused on natural medicine and build a research program that I hope will help protect and embrace First Nations’ traditional medicine knowledge.”

To fund the research program, Alana is applying for several grants. One grant is to support a collaborative project to co-construct new education curricula that include First Nations’ culture based on the model of bush tucker. Another project aims to protect and preserve First Nations’ traditional medicine knowledge.

“Australia doesn’t currently have legislation that protects Indigenous knowledge,” Alana explained. “Communities have legitimate fears about bio-piracy and their knowledge being stolen for commercial gain.”

“One of the first things we need to work out is how to embed respectful approaches to First Nations’ traditional medicine in public health policy. Then, we want to support GPs, pharmacists and other health professionals, and First Nations people in how to discuss traditional medicine and the ways it can and can’t be used so that everyone feels safe to have conversations about it.”

“We are working with the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation on this research program because if we can embed this in policy, then they will be the first to take it to communities,” Alana said.

Alana acknowledges there is a long road ahead for these research programs, but it’s a path that she’s more than prepared to tread.

“I have been worried about First Nations’ traditional medicine for a long time. It is a medical system unlike any other and an integral part of our culture. Some knowledge is generally known to everyone in the community, but there are also traditional medicines and practices that only healers know. This knowledge is often hidden, and our Elders and old people are dying and taking the knowledge with them because there’s no confidence they can share it safely.”

As Alana has learnt more about traditional medicine, she believes she may have been a healer her whole life. It is one of the reasons that she has such a strong personal investment in her research.

“I want all First Nations people to have access to their medicine. There is a level of healing, cultural healing, in First Nations’ health knowledge that conventional medicine does not have. We must embrace this knowledge and learn to use it respectfully.”

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Endeavour College of Natural Health

Endeavour College of Natural Health is Australia's largest Higher Education provider of natural medicine courses.

The College is known as the centre of excellence for natural medicine and is respected for its internationally recognised academic teams and high calibre graduates. Endeavour offers Bachelor of Health Science degrees in Naturopathy, Nutritional and Dietetic Medicine, Acupuncture Therapies and Chinese Medicine, Undergraduate Certificates, a Diploma of Health Science and massage courses.

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