World Indigenous Cancer Conference 2024: Insights and reflections

Talia Pfefferle, Director of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis Cancer Strategy, shares her experience attending the conference and reflects on the common themes of global Indigenous cancer priorities and the power of community.

Talia Pfefferle (Director of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis Cancer Strategy) at the World Indigenous Cancer Conference 2024. Image credit: VCCC Alliance

The World Indigenous Cancer Conference (WICC) was held in Naarm (Melbourne), Australia, from March 18 to 20, 2024. The conference served as a pivotal platform for global collaboration, identifying cancer-related research priorities and opportunities, fostering partnerships within the Indigenous cancer research community, and sharing knowledge and information about Indigenous people living with cancer across the world.

One of the key goals of the World Indigenous Cancer Conference is to bring people together in the Indigenous cancer space and talk about common challenges, common highlights, common successes and even uncommon knowledge that we can learn from. It was an extension of the convening work that we do at the Partnership, on a larger, international scale.

– Talia Pfefferle, Director of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis Cancer Strategy

Talia Pfefferle led the delegation representing the Partnership that attended this year’s conference, which included colleagues from the First Nations, Inuit, and Métis Cancer Strategy team, as well as First Nations Advisor Lea Bill and Métis Advisor Susie Hooper. The Partnership also sponsored the attendance of six First Nations, Inuit and Métis elders.

Lea Bill (First Nations Advisor) at WICC 2024. She was one of the four convenors of the conference. Image credit: VCCC Alliance

Various partners from Canada, such as Métis Nation of BC and CancerCare Manitoba, attended and presented at the conference as well.

This is the third WICC, with the first held in Australia (2016) and the second in Canada (2019).

In addition to leading the delegation, Pfefferle participated in the conference as a panelist in the opening plenary session (“Setting the scene – a global overview of Indigenous cancer”) and in a concurrent session on the final day (“Developing and supporting the Indigenous workforce”). She was joined in the opening plenary by Rami Rahal, former Vice President of Cancer Systems, Performance and Innovation at the Partnership, who now serves as CEO of the New Zealand Cancer Control Agency.

At both sessions, Pfefferle provided insights into the Partnership’s initiatives and its reconciliation journey. She emphasized the significance of the Partnership’s focus on addressing disparities in cancer outcomes among Indigenous populations through the Peoples-specific, self-determined priorities within the Canadian Strategy for Cancer Control, which was noted at the conference as one of the leading national initiatives of its kind in the world.

From the opening day all the way to closing and in between, elders and healers were core elements of the conference, including ceremonies such as smudging. There was this kind of cross-cultural, cross-generational synergy that was very grounding and also uplifting.

– Talia Pfefferle

Despite the progress that has been made, disparities in cancer outcomes among Indigenous peoples persist at a high level in many countries. “These challenges, common among Indigenous populations globally, underscore the ongoing importance of initiatives like the WICC in driving concrete actions and meaningful change,” says Pfefferle. “The work we do at the Partnership, such as supporting First Nations, Inuit and Métis-governed data and data systems, resonated deeply throughout the event.”

Looking ahead, Pfefferle outlined key actionable takeaways from the conference, including plans for continued collaboration among international partners and a renewed focus on data collection strategies. The Partnership’s role in advancing these priorities, particularly through its reconciliation journey and engagement with First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities, remains crucial in driving progress within the field of Indigenous cancer research.

Beyond the conference sessions, Pfefferle highlighted the Partnership’s support for the Elders and Youth Forum, which provided a platform for elders and youth to voice their priorities in cancer research and care. It was held the day before the conference began. “The forum was simply amazing and beautiful,” says Pfefferle. “It helped set the tone for the conference, in terms of priorities, and I was grateful to see how the Partnership was already responding to, or starting to respond to, many of them.”

One of the lasting impressions of the conference was the sense of camaraderie that it engendered among the attendees. “Even though this work can be hard and take a lot from you, especially if you are coming from community, the people there felt good being around each other,” says Pfefferle. “Seeing the commonalities and the larger village of people trying to advance cancer outcomes for Indigenous peoples in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and around the world, was incredibly reaffirming and reinvigorating. I felt like I was home.”

Learn more: World Indigenous Cancer Conference

WICC Report (PDF)