On the path towards a more culturally inclusive nutrition curriculum

Written by Endeavour College of Natural Health | 14 November, 2022

Aboriginal students gathering

Endeavour College of Natural Health has embarked on an exciting project to embrace First Nations healing and culture within its curriculum and learning environments. To address this gap, Endeavour sought guidance from Indigenous Australian health expert Kelly Stephenson.

Sophie Porter, Endeavour’s Head of Department for Nutritional and Dietetic Medicine, explained why collaborating with Indigenous Australian academics on this project is so important.

“Endeavour acknowledges and celebrates the culture, history and land of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. We felt the need to reflect this more in our curriculum,” Sophie said.

“In our annual curriculum review, our academic team highlighted that we had a white lens when discussing First Nations health in our curriculum – a gap that needed addressing.

“The systemic racism within the course previously was largely due to a lack of cultural awareness and knowledge. We understand the best people to help us remedy this gap are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander academics, who are the subject matter experts in this area.

“By engaging with Indigenous Australian health experts, we hear first-hand about their experiences. We welcome their knowledge and want to celebrate their culture, so we are collaborating with them to integrate this within our teaching.

“The challenge for our team was where to start, but thankfully we were introduced to Kelly Stephenson through a colleague. About six months ago, we connected with Kelly and started collaborating on this project.”

Kelly Stephenson is an Aboriginal woman from Awabakal country in New South Wales. She trained as a dietitian 30 years ago and still runs her practice. For several years now, Kelly has also guided health and education providers as they embed the principles of the national Cultural Respect Framework 2016-2026 for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health in their work.

“The Cultural Respect Framework encourages a whole-of-organisation commitment to cultural safety and health and includes strategies to help shape culturally respectful services,” Kelly said. “Building cultural respect in education, especially health education, contributes to shifting the inequalities in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health.

“Building cultural respect within an organisation is an ongoing improvement process. You cannot make a change and think it’s done – it’s always evolving as new knowledge emerges.

“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health is more complicated than the traditional Western model – it encompasses culture, language, spirituality and country. Our remedies and approaches are based on culture, country and community, and our people have so much to offer natural medicine.”

Sophie said that to date, Endeavour had limited modules in the nutrition curriculum about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health and wellbeing.

“These subjects were not written by or in collaboration with Indigenous Australian health professionals. We have a wonderful opportunity to include and celebrate their knowledge about plants, foods, health and healing in our degrees moving forward.”

“Now is the perfect time for this work to happen. Endeavour works to keep our course content relevant, so we constantly review it.

“Making big changes takes time because they require comprehensive academic and governance review and approval, but we are on track,” Sophie said.

During the initial planning stages of the project, Kelly delivered two guest lectures at Endeavour. One about the social determinants of Indigenous Australian health and another about plants, bush tucker and medicine, which the students and academics loved.

The team has the approval to rewrite the nutrition curriculum, and the hard work has begun. Sophie said the curriculum review has inspired broader consideration of cultural safety and enriched learning across the College.

“Cultural safety is part of providing high-quality education for our students and empowering them to play a role in creating a culturally respectful health system.”

“Endeavour is developing its Reconciliation Action Plan and an engagement plan for students and staff,” Sophie said. “Having Kelly here means that students and staff can ask questions they may think are sensitive. We are grateful Kelly is open to sharing her knowledge and experience and feel privileged to be guided by her.”

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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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