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Health, history and linguistics experts align for CQU Indigenous research panel

Published:14 September 2022

Four people sit at a table facing an audience

Prof Adrian Miller, Prof Yvonne Cadet-James, Prof Rosita Henry and Prof Heronides Moura.

Language and communication are crucial to living well, and a CQUniversity event is exploring how preserving and promoting First Nations languages can improve health, well-being and connection across Australia’s communities.

The expert multidisciplinary panel titled Well-being, communication, and language: the First Nations’ perspective, is hosted by CQUniversity’s Jawun Research Centre, which leads Indigenous health equity research in Northern Australia.

Held at CQU Cairns on Wednesday 14 September from 2pm-4pm, the event is chaired by proud Jirrbal man, Jawun Director and Deputy Vice-President Indigenous Engagement Professor Adrian Miller.

Join via Zoom: https://cqu.zoom.us/j/83994885030?pwd=dU0zK25GZWl3bGlHUFEzSlZnRVBpUT09 Password: 795876

The Townsville-based public health expert says his own personal experience of language reflects its cultural importance, and its core importance to well-being.

“My uncle, who’s also my Elder, describes it as ‘language is our culture’. You can’t be really Jirrbal unless you understand that language is incredibly linked to the way we are, and who we are,” Prof Miller explained.

“The removal of many of my family members from North Queensland, taken away, meant there was a disruption. So knowledge, language, meaning, that’s disrupted - not disappeared, but disrupted.

“Despite my study of my own language academically, that’s out of context… so much of our language is in context with the environment, the meaning is in the environment, not necessarily on the page… and that extends to how we talk about our health and well-being, too.”

The panel discussion will bring together experts in medicine and public health, linguistics, anthropology, history, and Indigenous studies.

It aims to enhance a productive partnership between health professionals, patients and communities from various backgrounds, based on mutual respect, and linguistic and cultural understanding, with special focus on attitudes to well-being and disease among First Nations.

The conversation will be chaired and facilitated by Professor Miller and feature presenters:

Prof Yvonne Cadet-James, Gugu Badhun woman and James Cook University academic (health)

Prof Heronides Moura, CQU visiting fellow (linguistics)

Prof Sue McGinty, JCU adjunct professor (Indigenous education)

Prof Sasha Aikhenvald, CQU professor (linguistics)

And the following discussants:

Prof Bob Dixon, CQU adjunct professor (linguistics)

Prof Rosita Henry, JCU academic and CQU adjunct professor (anthropology)

A/Prof Michael Walsh, The University of Sydney (linguistics)

A/Prof Robert Amery, University of Adelaide (linguistics)

Professor Miller said even the name of the Jawun Research Centre was also key to promoting language and health.

“Jawun means in my language, a basket, and traditionally in my community we had a shaped basket with two points, called a bicornual style, and it’s only found in tropical north Queensland.

“The basket metaphor describes the way we want to do authentic First Nations research, and to carry the things we all share as a value-based when we do research, like engagement and community-led initiatives, for better health, well-being and community outcomes.”

The panel discussion is followed by a celebration of a recently signed Memorandum of Understanding between CQU and the Tropical Brain and Mind Research Foundation, represented by Professor Sue McGinty, Member of the Board of the Foundation and Adjunct Professor at JCU.