"Research in over 200 indigenous communities in Canada has showed that Indigenous communities that have control over local institutions and are grounded in a collective sense of history and culture have the low rates of suicide or no suicides at all, while indigenous communities with no cultural connectedness had suicide rates over 800 times the national average."
Connecting to Culture
Connecting indigenous people to their culture, land, spirituality and history is key for healing to occur. When these connections are strong, indigenous people gain a sense of who they are and where they belong. Culture provides meaning and purpose to life and a sense of wellbeing. Identifying, preserving and sharing culture gives indigenous people a sense of pride and hope of a positive future. All these elements facilitate healing.
In the past thirty years, there has been a massive and unprecedented increase in Indigenous youth self-harm and suicide. Youth suicide has gone from being an extremely rare phenomenon – a word for suicide had to be invented in Arnhem Land in the 1980s – to being the highest in the world. Suicide is rife amongst Indigenous people in other colonised nations.
In the recent Elders Report, Elders from around Australia stressed the importance of providing young people with “a cultural foundation and helps protects them from feelings of hopelessness, isolation and being lost between worlds.”
Research by Michael Chandler and Chris Lalonde in over 200 indigenous communities in Canada has showed that Indigenous communities that have control over local institutions and are grounded in a collective sense of history and culture have the low rates of suicide or no suicides at all, while indigenous communities with no cultural connectedness had suicide rates over 800 times the national average.
The way forward is clear: Connect to culture. Indigenous people must own and control the healing process. Empower Indigenous communities.
“… The speakers in this Report are calling for urgent understanding and action to improve Indigenous wellbeing in Australia. What we know from decades of experience is that bringing in outsiders does not lead to long term solutions - these can only come from within communities, who need to own and control the healing process.
“Themes such as community empowerment, the strengthening of cultural identity, maintenance of Indigenous languages, culturally appropriate employment, bi-cultural education and returning to country; these human rights are what our people have been advocating for decades and for good reason...” Mick Gooda
Dr Joe Solanto talks about the healing of historical trauma, emphasising the importance of connecting to culture.
Relationship to Land & Country
The relationship that Indigenous people have with land and country, and the link between land and country, is best captured by some quotes and film:
“For Aboriginal people, land is not only our mother - the source of our identity and our spirituality - it is also the context for our human order.” Foundation for Aboriginal and Islander Research Action
“Land is very important to Aboriginal people with the common belief of 'we don’t own the land, the land owns us'. Aboriginal people have always had a spiritual connection to their land, and because of this connection many Aboriginal people will not leave their country. Those who do leave, tend to always come home to visit, keeping the connection.
Land to Aboriginal people is a major part of their identity and spirituality. They have a connection and sense of belonging to their land. They gain their strength through their land. Many believe this is because old ancestors were buried in their country and the spirits protect and care for the land and those still alive.” Adapted from Marion Kickett's PhD thesis
“Land has recuperative aspects that are essential to Aboriginal well-being. Our land has an important part to play in healing. The land is a powerful healer, as is the sea.
When your ancestors have walked these places for millennia, they hold an energy of timelessness that invokes serenity and the feeling that one is not alone, but in the presence of these ancestors, who are able to communicate via the senses and convey the feelings and thoughts that are most conductive to healing.
When we are able to sit on our land in contemplation and hear, feel or see the spirits of our old people, than we have been to a place within ourselves of great depth and connectedness. It is this place we need to go to in order to truly heal ourselves: and once we have learnt how to do that, then we can move forward.” C. Clarke and D. Fewquandie
Professor Marion Kickett describes the importance of Country and how Dreaming Stories are an important part of her identity.
Bob Randall, is an Yankunytjatjara Elder and a traditional owner of Uluru (Ayers Rock). Bob is one of the stolen generation of the Aboriginal people, taken from his family at the age of seven. Throughout his life Bob has worked as teacher and leader for Aboriginal land rights, education, community development and cultural awareness.
> Facilitating Healing, Part 5