Led by the Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (VACCHO) in partnership with the Victorian Department of Health, marra ngarrgoo, marra goorri: The Victorian Aboriginal Health, Medical and Wellbeing Research Accord (‘marra ngarrgoo, marra goorri’ or the ‘Accord’) was successfully launched on Wednesday 11 October in a ceremony at Treetops, Melbourne Museum.

VACCHO Executive Manager for Research, Olivia Payne, says the launch is the culmination of many years’ hard work: “The foundation of the marra ngarrgoo, marra goorri goes back to the 1980s, with a lot of grassroots Community campaigning to have more control over research and research that actually benefitted Community.

“It’s a long time in the making, but we are well positioned with the implementation of marra ngarrgoo, marra goorri to have a real impact.”

Over the next 12 months, VACCHO will work with medical research institutes (MRIs), Universities and health services across Victoria to familiarise them with the Accord’s objectives, principles and implementation actions and seek an initial endorsement.

“The endorsement is a formal letter of support for the Accord, allowing us to understand which organisations are endorsing the Accord’s contents before we look at what actions those organisations need to take,” says Ms Payne.

Victorian Department of Health Executive Director of Health and Medical Research, Megan Astle, says the Department envisions the Accord as a “pivotal policy framework in achieving the ambition of Victoria’s innovative 10-year Health and Medical Research Strategy”.

“Our vision is that, through the Strategy, Victoria will further develop our medical research community into a thriving, world-class body well-positioned to combat current and emerging global health challenges.

“By strengthening and enabling our diverse health and medical research community, there will be strong returns for the Victorian economy on the local, national and international stage.

“Having culturally safe, ethical processes in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander research is fundamental to delivering better outcomes for Community and enshrining First Nations cultural knowledge and right to self-determination.

“The Accord has exciting potential to lead the way for institutional reform, strengthening workforce collaboration, Community-led identification of research priorities, and research translation.”

Implementing key actions

During the first phase of implementation, the team will work towards capability building initiatives for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander researchers, non-Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander researchers and ethics committee members.

The team will also be establishing an Accord Accreditation Scheme to facilitate the uptake of capability building initiatives.

The Accreditation Scheme will guide research organisations in aligning their research practices with the Accord’s six principles of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Leadership, Trust and Equity, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Priorities, Cultural Safety and Humility, Knowledge Equity and Recognition, and Data Governance and Sovereignty with the aim of embedding concepts of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander self-determination in research practice.

“The Accreditation Scheme is the wraparound vision across the entire Accord – it’s about working with organisations to see impactful and institutional change.”

Olivia Payne, VACCHO Executive Manager for Research

Ms Payne says the Accord acknowledges that many organisations will not currently have the capacity or capability in Aboriginal-led health research, and therefore the Accreditation Scheme will be a tiered system.

“It’s going to be a long journey to achieve the ultimate goal of self-determined and ethical Aboriginal research, but the accreditation scheme, underpinned by the Accord, will provide the framework for us to achieve this.

“We don’t want the first tier of the accreditation scheme to be so onerous that some organisations don’t participate. We want the scheme to acknowledge current organisational capabilities and provide these organisations with tangible actions they need to undertake to progress to the next tier.”

The Accord will also strive to establish an Aboriginal Health Research(ers) Network, which may help identify Victorian Aboriginal research priorities.

“The Network’s primary purpose would be to offer Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander researchers greater access to mentoring and peer support as well as opportunities for collaboration – particularly for Community and peer researchers who may not have established connections,” says Ms Payne.

Finally, the team will work towards establishing an independent Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ethics committee for Victoria to ensure there is appropriate Aboriginal and Torres Strait governance of all research that impacts Community in Victoria.

Looking forward

Ms Payne says, by providing an endorsement, health research organisations are making a forward-looking commitment towards the signatory process and the Accord Accreditation Scheme.

“The endorsement is saying, ‘we want to be on the track towards entirely ethical Aboriginal research’.

“Once we have those endorsements, we’ll start to seek signatories.”

Ms Astle says the Department of Health will continue working collaboratively with the health and medical research sector, VACCHO, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community and other areas of government to deliver on the Accord outcomes.

“The Department is preparing for whole-of-Victorian Government implementation of the Accord, which aims to ensure that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander research conducted and/or funded by the government complies with established ethical guidelines and aligns with broader commitments around self-determination and Treaty.”

Artwork by: Trina Dalton-Oogjes
Description by the artist:
The Artwork shows the connection between Community, land and water.
Bunjil and the Elders watching over the gatherings.
Footprints, Emu and Kangaroo tracks are moving us forward, together, towards a new way of being.