Jaki was born and raised in Darwin and is of both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander descent, with ancestral links to the Yadhaigana and Wuthathi people of Cape York Peninsula in Queensland, traditional family ties with the Gurindji people of Central Western Northern Territory and extended family relationships with the people of the Torres Straits and Warlpiri (Yuendumu NT).
Jaki is Regional Associate Director of Australasia at The Fred Hollows Foundation and plays a highly respected leadership role in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health and eye health sectors. She previously served two consecutive terms as Chair of Vision 2020 Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Committee and is currently a Member of the Vision 2020 Australia Board. Jaki also serves on the Close the Gap Campaign Steering Committee.
This year’s NAIDOC Week theme is ‘Because of Her, We Can’. What does this mean to you?
A celebration of ‘her’ – all ages, all generations, all walks of life – and the significant role that women play in society. For me, it is a reminder to acknowledge the strength, resilience, love and emotional journey that the women in my life have endured, how we have come out on top and continue to do so, even in the hardest of times.
What is your key focus as a member of Vision 2020 Australia’s Board?
I hope to share and call on my knowledge and experience as an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander woman, and as an experienced administrator, to influence discussions to improve access to eye care for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, which will ultimately benefit all who need improved access to eye care services. Access, for me is about health equity and the patient’s perspective. Whilst I do not speak on behalf of others, I bring my perspective through my experiences and knowledge and hope to ensure that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voices are heard and seriously considered by Visionn 2020 Australia and its membership.
Can you tell us about an Aboriginal/Torres Strait Islander woman or women who inspire you?
There are way too many to name individually – from my Mum, sister, daughter, family and friends, to managers, coaches, teachers, colleagues and stakeholders and acquaintances (some whom I have only met once but who have influenced my thinking in some way). Women who have inspired me have generally added to my life in some way, through love, laughs, good advice and constructive information – all, in some way, have contributed to who I am today. My Mum, sister and daughter would be my biggest influences and sources of inspiration. With my Mum passing away in 2015, I have reflected on how important her guidance, ‘tough love’ and unconditional pride (in all of us) meant and still means to me – it is how I manage to get through life’s challenges but also how to celebrate the good times and keep ‘your chin up’.
Through your work with The Fred Hollows Foundation’s Indigenous Australia Program, what are some of the ways Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women lead and influence their communities?
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women play a pivotal role in the health of their families and community. They also play an active role in the health workforce – as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health practitioners, nurses, allied health, administration, doctors, managers, healers, trainers, specialists, etc.
The Fred Hollows Foundation works through partners, and through our partnerships across Australia we acknowledge the pivotal role that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women play – in guiding initiative, decision making, program implementation and policy design within the health sector – from CEOs, Business Managers, Program Managers, Key Advisers, Board Directors, Administration Officers, Researchers, and many other roles.
Do you know of any emerging women leaders in eye health who we should know about?
There are many emerging leaders out there – researchers, nurses, Aboriginal and Torres Srait Islander health practitioners, community workers, policy makers, educators, orthoptists, optometrists (and maybe one day, we will see a female Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ophthalmologist).
Of course, within The Fred Hollows Foundation, Vision 2020 Australia and all our member organisations we have a vast array of experienced, knowledgeable and inspirational women doing great things, at all levels, across the sector.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults are three times more likely to go blind than non-Indigenous Australians. How does The Foundation’s Indigenous Australia Program work to close the gap in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander eye health?
The Foundation’s Indigenous Australia Program ultimately aims to increase access to quality and culturally safe eye care services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. We work through partners (as we are not a service provider), uphold guiding principles (including only going where invited, where there is a demonstrated need, and not competing with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health organisations for funding) and continue Fred Hollows’ ‘right to health’ legacy. Our programs are designed with a focus on the patient journey and through a Health System Strengthening approach.
The Foundation’s Indigenous Australia Program also aims to provide a point of difference and support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voices being heard in decision making and policy design at all levels. Noting that there are a large number of stakeholders in the eye care space, it is important to collaborate in order to meet service delivery needs and direct efforts and resources to where they make the most difference – to patient care.
What do you think are the biggest challenges in working to prevent avoidable blindness in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities?
There are a number of key challenges, with the biggest one from my perspective being the need for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voices to be heard. That’s not as easy as it sounds. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples need to be engaged in the process, given the tools (including information) to drive the process and lead the decision making for their community and/or organisations, at all levels. This is an ongoing challenge that we, in Australia, seem to find the hardest to address (although on the face of, it seems, an easy fix.)
The second biggest challenge is that eye health is not generally at the forefront of people’s minds, with holistic health (as opposed to a body part approach) and life ending diseases/conditions being more immediate in terms of living, resourcing and care. As a sector, we would suggest that eye health is very important for everyday life events and that generally 90% of blindness or vision loss can be prevented or treated, so it’s a worthwhile investment – for the individual and the system.