Assoc. Prof. Anne Lowell, Rachel Dikul Baker, Brenda Muthamulawuy
Northern Institute, College of Indigenous Futures, Education and the Arts, Charles Darwin University

Effective communication about COVID-19 with speakers of languages other than English is recognised as critical to support informed decisions in prevention and management of this new virus. Achieving effective communication is challenging in the context of the Northern Territory where 30% of the population are Australian First Nations peoples, the majority of whom primarily speak an Aboriginal language, and few health staff share the language and cultural background of their First Nations clients. Through a culturally responsive qualitative approach, we engaged with Yolŋu community educators and members, as well as Balanda (non-Yolŋu) to explore effectiveness of communication about COVID-19 with Yolŋu. Dominant communication approaches such as sharing messages through social media and radio, often focusing on what to do, rather than why, did not align with Yolŋu participant preferences and priorities. Suggestions for achieving effective communication included: engaging Yolŋu in identifying and implementing workable solutions for their own communities; collaborative development of in-depth explanations about what Yolŋu want and need to know to make informed decisions; and face to face, ongoing communication in local languages by local educators using communication processes that align with Yolŋu cultural protocols, practices and preferences. Recognising COVID-19 as one of a number of ongoing challenges being faced in remote communities offers an opportunity for applying learnings from the current pandemic more widely.

Thursday, 19th May, 2022