This sort of situation has been happening in Australia, in regards to self-harm and youth suicide in indigenous Australians. The recent Elders Report on these problems is an essential read. It needs to be acted upon by government. The importance of indigenous people connecting to their culture needs to be taken on board. (I’ll be talking about this matter in my next blogs)
Please read this report and pledge your support. I have included the report summary here:
'The Elders’ Report into Preventing Indigenous Self-harm & Youth Suicide was produced between 2012 and 2014 by Indigenous led social justice organisation People Culture Environment in partnership with Our Generation Media. It was developed in response to a massive and unprecedented increase in Indigenous youth self-harm and suicide that has occurred over the past 20 years across Australia’s Top End.
Over this 20 year period the incidence of youth suicide in these communities went from being an extremely rare phenomenon, to one where the rate of Indigenous youth suicide is now the highest in the world.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics states for young Aboriginal men, the rate is 4 times higher than their non-Indigenous counterparts, whilst for young Aboriginal women the rate is five times higher.
In some remote communities in the Kimberley, spates of suicide have reached 100 times the national suicide average. In the Australian Government’s own report, Gone Too Soon, into youth suicide in the NT, published in 2012 states: “The suicide rate for Indigenous Territorians is particularly disturbing, with 75 per cent of suicides of children from 2007 to 2011 in the Territory being Aboriginal.”
The Elders’ Report into Preventing Indigenous Self-harm and Youth Suicide brings together the voices of Elders and community leaders from across affected communities that wished to speak publicly about the causes and solutions needed to address this issue.
The reason for creating the Report is that too often, the voices of community leaders are lost amongst the views of professionals, bureaucrats and other people in positions of power who bring their own perspectives to consulting with communities, analysing problems, developing policies and prescribing solutions. In this Report the voices and views of speakers are unaltered.
The Report is a transcription of interviews held with 31 Elders and Community representatives from over 17 communities.
Each speaker was asked two primary questions: why is self-harm and suicide happening? what is the solution?
In response to the first question there was a high level of agreement between the speakers about the role culture and loss of cultural connection plays in making young people vulnerable to self-harm.
“If we lose our culture we are lost, without it we are finished as a people.” Andrew Dowadi, Maningrida, N.T.
“There is no balance for young people they are more adapted to non-Aboriginal culture than their own. This is happening because we have been forced into one place into towns and away from our traditional homelands our outstations.” Lorna Hudson OAM Derby WA
“They are forcing our kids to attend school but they got to realise there is another education too and its our old system our culture that our kids are missing out on.” James Gaykamangu Millingimbi, N.T.
“If they lose language and connection to culture they become a nobody inside and that’s enough to put them over the edge.” Joe Brown, Fitzroy Crossing, W.A
“The Elders are the ones that hold on to the culture and the lore, they are the most important aspect of healing our people. And when we lose that, we lose who we are and when you lose who you are what do you have to live for. And many of our people are giving up; many of our people are suffering because of that loss of spirit loss of identity.” David Cole, Central Desert
In response to the second question there was an equally high level of agreement amongst speakers about the role culture can play in healing and protecting young people.
While some details of people’s experience differed, the message was unanimous: while most non-Indigenous involvement with the issues in these communities is well meaning, it is not working; give power back to the Elders of each region to build programs that take Indigenous young back to country to reconnect with their land and their spirit; and direct funds and programs for ending suicide and self harm to the Elders and community leaders to lead in the healing process.
“We haven’t been funded because the Government haven’t been listening to the people on the ground, they do come and do consultations but they go away and the bureaucracy gets a hold of that document and when it comes back its probably unrecognisable from the interview that was done on the ground. ... So we end up again with ideas, with suicide prevention that come from Canberra that bears no resemblance to what is needed in the community and on the ground. And that is a big frustration that there is funding but the Government says this is how we are going to spend it.” Dean Gooda, Fitzroy Crossing, W.A.
“Aboriginal people need to be involved in solving our own problems, bringing in outsiders into the Kimberley will not create succession, the legacies of change we need.” Wayne Bergmann, Kimberley, N.T.
“We want Government to support the Elders so we can teach culture to our young people – when they have culture first they have the very thing that will hold them strong through their lives no matter what they choose to do or where they choose to do it.” Eustice Tipiloura, Tiwi Islands
“Support us to take our people out on country. All we ask is to help us so we can change things, we are losing our own countrymen, we are losing our lives. What is happening is a Balanda (non Indigenous) problem that gave us the bad things. Stop thinking blackfella doesn’t know anything about healing, we living with these problems, we the best informed to deal with it.” Andrew Dowadi, Maningrida, N.T.
“The only way to stop suicide is to fulfill our cultural obligation to teach our young people because that’s what we have been brought up with, strength of character through strength of culture, not by white man’s cultural obligation, we need to educate our young ones culturally. The Government doesn’t see that we need to build something culturally strong for our people to be healthy and survive.” George Gaymarrangi Pascoe, Maningrida N.T.
What needs to happen and how you can help?
In respect to the actions and next steps that should be taken to address youth self-harm and suicide in Indigenous communities this report calls for Governments, professionals in the health and justice systems and others to acknowledge and accept:
- The links between cultural strength, cultural identity and young Indigenous people’s vulnerability to suicide and self- harm;
- That preventing suicide and self-harm involves supporting Elders to maintain and pass on their cultural knowledge to young people - and that this involves taking young people onto country so they can reconnect with who they are as the basis for building self-belief, self-confidence and self-respect;
- That the way forward is to adopt a ‘community centred’ approach to healing that is led by local Elders and which involves building community and cultural strength as a foundation for helping Indigenous youth be stronger, more resilient and more positive about their future.
For individuals and organisations that wish to help directly, the appendix to the Report contains the details of 21 community organisations who are at the front line of dealing with these issues. These are the organisations doing the work to reconnect young people with culture and country, and they would value any direct support that can help them maintain and grow their programs.
Max Dulumunmun Harrison Yuin (NSW) Chair, People Culture Environment, Director, Culture is Life
Indigenous community leaders and Elders are calling for your support to help them heal their young people, by reconnecting them to their culture, and strengthening their sense of identity.
They are asking that long-term funding be directed to grassroots, community-based programs that are working on the frontline with at-risk youth, providing vital support, cultural education and on-country healing.
Please sign-up your support.