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Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Butt Out Boondah aims to improve Indigenous women’s health

The nine-week Butt out Boondah program delivers a local, culturally appropriate health program to address high levels of smoking among pregnant Indigenous women in Queanbeyan, Goulburn, Yass and Cooma.

Tobacco is the leading contributor to the burden of disease for Indigenous Australians. In 2011, it cost the Indigenous community 23,000 years of healthy life.

Researchers at ANU have found smoking was a complex behaviour influenced by a range of factors including colonisation, ongoing effects of trauma, stress, racism, and exclusion from economic structures like employment and education.

Butt Out Boondah program leader Lauren Henry, a Wodi Wodi woman of the Yuin nation, said the program connects pregnant Indigenous women with a “culturally responsive approach” and creates an environment of acceptance and support through every aspect of their smoking cessation journey.

 “It’s not about shame,” Lauren said.

“We take the yarning circle approach where we’re all on the same level and we respect each other.

“Our structure incorporates cultural connections rather than shame, cultural activities like weaving and painting, mums and bubs groups, and making possum skins.”

In Indigenous culture, the possum skin represents the journey of life. When a baby is born, mums make a blanket from two possum skins.

Each year the baby grows, another skin is added to represent the progress of their identity and their continued journey.

When bubba turns 15, they receive the possum skin as a symbol of who they are, where they come from and to feel pride in their story, mob and culture.

The skin eventually has the story of the mob burned and engraved into it and it becomes a family skin.

Lauren said the yarning circles where these possum skins were made were “women’s business” and not for men.

“This is for women to do together. It’s a network of positivity and identity.”

It’s in this culturally safe environment that Butt Out Boondah provides education about the long-term health impacts of smoking.

Butt Out Boondah passionately connects women to cultural smoking which meant to cleanse spirits of anything bad.

Lauren said they teach Indigenous women the difference between cultural smoke, which is thought to be good for health outcomes, and cigarette smoke, which is harmful.  

“We teach people: this is the smoking that our people did and this is what it’s for.”

Lauren studied a Bachelor of Indigenous Health Science at the University of Wollongong and said university can teach as much as they want about Indigenous health, it still won’t prepare workers for the reality.

“Working with community is like a dance; we are just here for support in a culturally safe and appropriate way while people have their quit attempt,” she said.

Lauren said the whole team at Butt Out Boondah were Indigenous and that provided an authenticity and an ability to engage with young women to find what they were wanting and needing to learn.

“We’re at a time when Indigenous people can choose where they go for services,” she said.

“We don’t know who will come into our doors. But we can help them understand their connection to land and culture.”

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