Science and the Voice to Parliament

Wildlife biologist and Torres Strait Islander woman Tiahni Adamson has been thinking deeply about the Uluru Statement from the Heart for a long time.

“When the Statement was being created and put together we had a youth dialogue that came in from around Australia, who came and met to give the youth perspective,” she told Cosmos.

“Also how we can bring [The Uluru Statement] back and communicate that to our communities and our local areas that we live and work in.”

The Uluru Statement calls for Voice, Treaty, and Truth, and the first of these reforms – Voice – is what Australia will be voting on later this year.

Is there a link between science and the Voice?

“I feel like being a First Nations person and being a scientist is absolutely entwined,” Adamson told Cosmos.

“We’re the first scientists. First Nations people are true hardcore experimenters. Back in the day, instead of testing on animals or making lab-based experiments, we were living, walking experimenters and scientists, working on solutions within our communities to survive every day.”

“The food that we eat, the land management technique, the technology that we’ve created, are all aspects of science and engineering.”

Because the Voice would enshrine First Nations people to have more say on issues that affect them, Adamson believes that it would help not only Australia’s first scientists but the wider community.

“Science is naturally highly political because of the things it affects in a wider society,” she said.

“And it’s really important as scientists today to understand what we can learn from and with First Nations people and communities and how we can work together to create better solutions and reorganise our research priorities around a more equitable future for everyone.”

Nyamal woman and clinical psychologist, Dr Tracy Westerman was told growing up to not to criticise other Aboriginal people. But during the referendum debate, she regularly sees information directly relating to her work with trauma and Aboriginal children that is flat out wrong.

“This is not about a disagreement of opinion – that often leads to better outcomes. But if you disagree with science or fact, that never leads to better outcomes” she told Cosmos.  

“More importantly, these are human beings whose trauma is being invalidated at a national level.”

It’s this understanding of the science that has given Westerman her own voice to speak out about issues affecting her community.

“The thing that’s actually really frightening is that what’s being promoted is that assimilation is the aspiration – that cultures don’t matter,” she said.

“Infant mortality is threefold for Black people. If you have a Black doctor, infant mortality reduces almost equal to mainstream just by having a Black doctor. So, the reason why I started the indigenous psychology scholarship programme is because that lived experience, that understanding of culture, is what scientifically improves outcomes.”

The referendum for the Voice is being held on the 14th of October. Find out more information here.

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