Q&A with Sandra Creamer

Sandra Creamer is the newly appointed Adjunct Professor for Public Health. A lawyer and proud Waanyi/Kalkadoon woman from Mt Isa, Sandra has been part of Australia’s delegation to the United Nations Forum for Indigenous Issues for over a decade. She is currently the interim CEO of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Women’s Alliance (NATSIWA) and a Board Director for both Amnesty International Australia and the International Indigenous Women’s Forum. Her role as Adjunct Professor will see UQ and NATSIWA working together to improve health outcomes among Indigenous women.

Adjunct Professor Sandra Creamer (middle row, third from left) at the UQ and NATSIWA jointly-run Yarning Circle on Indigenous Women’s Health and Hygiene.

Having started out in legal aid helping victims of crime, and continuing your advocacy work through attending UN forums, why did you transition to championing Iindigenous health issues? 

I choose to advocate for Indigenous health because of the disconnect between our rights, voices and traditional knowledge. I have witnessed the impact on victims and Indigenous peoples whose hearts, bodies, minds and spirits are broken. There is no quick fix to these problems. It is vital that we develop culturally sensitive ways to help the healing process and give recognition that we are all different – one way of dealing with our health is not the only way. Our journey towards change can be hard – something I’ve witnessed in my own work and at the United Nations Permanent Forum for Indigenous Peoples in New York.

You’ve been helping UQ’s Nina Hall improve menstrual health access for women in remote indigenous communities. What do you see as the most pressing health- related issue for Indigenous communities?

A lack of good health care in communities as well as losing access to traditional foods are major concerns. Sadly, elders are having to move away from some of their communities because of land leases, medical and social issues. Once they leave, their traditional knowledge and language goes with them. Indigenous peoples need to have support, through education and workshops, to handle the changes they need to make when it comes to managing their health and wellbeing in a Western world. Not having access to traditional food, and potentially not having the right kind of food due to high cost, means diets change and health issues like diabetes rise. It’s important Indigenous people have guidance and support through those changes to give them an understanding of the right food and hygiene now required in their everyday life.

What do you hope to achieve for Indigenous communities through your appointment as Adjunct Professor of Public Health?

I hope to raise the voices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and ensure that they are consulted when it comes to their health concerns. In order to make change, there needs to be a collective voice so partnerships can be formed and issues addressed. With the menstrual health access project, the Board of NATSIWA, other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, NGOs and other universities joined with The University of Queensland to address how hygiene products could be accessed and used in remote communities. It’s during projects like these that traditional culture must be included in change. When grassroots guidance and information are provided directly by Indigenous people, changes can be made in a culturally appropriate way. Through my appointment as Adjunct Professor, I can add to the voices and traditional knowledge of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to research directly, instead of having our voices simply written about by academics.

Sandra Creamer (second from right), pictured in New York.

Where does your inspiration to keep fighting for positive change come from?

There are many people who have inspired my pursuit of positive change: my children, my family and women whom I have met on my journey. My late father was a huge inspiration. He raised 10 children after my mother passed away when I was just seven months old. Working long, hard hours on a station, he was paid very little, while my older sisters looked after the rest of us in town. Yet despite his struggle to keep us together and put a roof over our heads, my father never complained. It was only later in my life when I learnt about the ‘stolen wages’ and how laws did not include us, that the magnitude of his struggle really hit home. It’s these kinds of inequalities that inspire me to keep fighting for positive change because equality for all is a basic human right.

I also draw inspiration from knowing my culture and the understanding of Indigenous peoples’ histories – stories that have been laid down since time began. There are so many different cultures and peoples in the world that it’s important we accept that one way (namely the Western one) is not the only way in the world. We should not lose sight of the value of all cultures.

What are the advantages of having someone with an Indigenous perspective being directly involved in tackling health issues?

Direct involvement helps to overcome the disadvantages that we have faced. The system has been institutionalised and the service delivery has not been culturally appropriate, meaning Indigenous peoples’ needs were not met. Working with UQ’s Dr Nina Hall to provide better access to feminine hygiene products and working to eliminate blindness through the trachoma project have been great examples of this. These projects have included the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Women’s Alliance and other women from remote areas. The first step in the menstrual hygiene project was a workshop – hearing the voices and concerns from the women, and how to address these concerns for research and service delivery. The women spoke of the importance of cultural practices and identified how to work with Indigenous communities in a culturally appropriate way. Their voices and wisdom were respected and included when developing workshops and academic literature.

As a Waanyi/Kalkadoon woman from Mt Isa, what does the role of Adjunct Professor for Public Health with UQ mean to you?

This appointment means a lot to me, mainly because two of my sisters were never able to receive the same education as me. They stayed home and raised us, to make sure we had a good life and a good education. The opportunity to help Indigenous peoples in my new role is also incredibly important to me. Indigenous people need to be at the table to help make change because we have walked the walk, and we can identify how to overcome inequalities through our personal connection to our issues.





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