Elders Report: Preventing Self Hrm and Indigenous Suicide

http://startsomegood.com/Venture/culture_is_life/Campaigns/Show/culture_is_life_elders_report

The Elders report into Preventing Self-harm & Indigenous suicide. Indigenous youth suicide in Australia has now risen to become one of the highest in the world. In the Kimberley alone there is one attemped Indigenous suicide per week. The percentage of Indigenous suicide has increased from 5% of total suicide in 1991 to 50% in 2010. The most dramatic increase was in youth aged 10 – 24, where the percentage of Indigenous youth suicide increased from 10% in 1991 to 80% in 2010. The suicide incidence in relation to gender shows that 91 per cent of Indigenous suicides were male victims and 9% female victims from 2000–2005. The relationship changed in the 2006–2010 period, with 82% male and 18% female, with half the female suicides under the age of 17 years, an emerging trend. “Girls now account for a previously unheard of 40 per cent of all suicides of children under the age of 17 – an unprecedented rate in Northern Territory indigenous communities. The proportion of indigenous girls committing suicide in the Territory is now the highest in the Western world.” Dr Howard Bath, Children’s Commissioner for the Northern Territory, February 2012. Non-existent 20 years ago, it is now a social issue that is tearing communities and families apart across remote, regional and urban Aboriginal Australia. Survival of traditional cultural life in these Communities is now at crossroads, urgent action is needed. Government approaches to Aboriginal mental health are not working. Communities are calling out to be heard, and for community-led solutions to be supported. The Elders and Community leaders understand many of the causes behind the self harm and suicide phenomenon and are asking to lead in the healing process of their people. The Culture is Life campaign has been spearheaded by Indigenous Elders to create a solutions-based report (film, photography and written) on community perspectives for preventing, and ultimately ending, Indigenous youth suicide. 32 Elders from across Australia were chosen by their Communities to be involved in the report. The Elders healing solutions have been recorded and directly transcribed to build the report (there are no non-Indigenous voices within this report). Funds are now needed to design, print and distribute the report to all members of the State and Federal parliament as well as key stakeholders in the medical, academic and legal communities. The report features a foreword by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Mr Mick Gooda and Introduction by Prof Pat Dudgeon, Co chair Aboriginal Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Advisory Group, Commissioner National Mental Health Commission. http://www.cultureislife.org – See more at: http://startsomegood.com/Venture/culture_is_life/Campaigns/Show/culture_is_life_elders_report#sthash.KUrFM9aq.dpuf

indigenous social justice association: on a public meeting and other things

Workers BushTelegraph (1996 - 2016)

some final things for 2013 as we wind up for the year.

tonight, thursday, and apologies for the short reminder here, we will be holding our meeting at the redfern community centre at the block at 7pm to further our call for solidarity from those groups and individuals previously invited by letter to discuss the upcoming tj rally, amongst other solidarity actions.

the next and final isja meeting for the year will be held on 12 december. all are welcome to attend at 7pm at the redfern community centre. the january meetings will be held on 9 and 23 january, 2014 and thence every 2nd and 4th thursday of the month thereafter.

on friday 13 december we will be holding our last public meeting for the year at the settlement, 17 edward street, darlinton. . we begin at 7pm and finish, at the latest, by 9pm. tea, coffee and water…

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The case for Indigenous self-determination

The case for Indigenous self-determination

21/10/2013

If we want to shift Aboriginal disadvantage, then self-determination is the only way, writes Sol Bellear.

Last week, I wrote a story for The Drum about the Bugmy High Court case. It sparked a flurry of commentary, much of it, unfortunately, quite ignorant.

The Bugmy decision reinforced the long-standing legal principle that a court must take into account a person’s background during sentencing, including any history of disadvantage.

The point that seems to have been lost on many readers – despite it appearing in the article several times – is that the High Court declined to make a finding on the basis of race. White people are just as entitled to have their background considered as people of colour. It was not a victory for Aboriginal people, it was a victory for ALL people … and common sense.

However, I argued that while I respected the High Court decision, the case I’ll celebrate is the one in which the High Court determines it has no jurisdiction over Aboriginal people. If we want to shift Aboriginal disadvantage, then self-determination is the only way to achieve that.

One reader, Mike, made a genuine attempt to engage:

Sol, I don’t agree with most of your article for various reasons, many of which have been captured in the comments above. But I do want to thank you for posting. It’s good to hear the point of view of an Indigenous man closely involved in Indigenous legal affairs. I know you won’t reply to this comment, but I, and I’m sure some other readers, would appreciate it if you followed up with an article about your suggested changes to the current system (legal or political) to address the imbalance between non-Indigenous and Indigenous Australians. Without making any presumptions, it sounds like you might be in favour of creating a separate and legally sovereign nation for Indigenous peoples within Australia. I’m not being facetious; I’m genuinely curious.

Mike, you hit the nail on the head. That’s precisely what I’m in favour of, and here’s why.

Unlike the overwhelming majority of Aboriginal people, I’ve been fortunate enough to travel the world, and in the process I’ve witnessed firsthand the benefits of self-determination for Indigenous peoples.

I’ve looked at the Sami Parliament in Europe, I’ve visited reservations in the US and Canada, and I’ve spent time in Maori communities.

What I found in my travels shames our nation and makes a mockery of our fear of a ‘nation within a nation’.

Dozens of treaties have been signed in the US and Canada which afford First Nations communities varying degrees of genuine self-determination, from controlling their own schooling to giving them a real capacity to generate an economic base.

In the United States today, there are more than 250 Native American tribal courts across at least 32 states, which handle everything from criminal matters to family court.

Native American corporations and individuals are exempt from a raft of state and federal taxes, including state income tax for people living on reservations.

Native Americans and First Nations people in Canada also have significant political structures which ensure a greater degree of power in their own communities. In Canada, they have the Assembly of First Nations. In the US, individual reservations act as partially autonomous bodies, providing their own law and policing, schooling, health, housing and infrastructure, and income through tax breaks and initiatives like casinos.

In New Zealand, Maori have seven seats which sit over the entire nation, in which only Maori can vote (although anyone can contest a seat).

This is real self-determination in action, yet none of these nations has imploded or been crippled by their relationships with their Aboriginal peoples.

 

This is real self-determination in action, yet none of these nations has imploded or been crippled by their relationships with their Aboriginal peoples. All of them have been enhanced. Of course, things aren’t perfect overseas. Treaties are regularly breached, and the life statistics of Indigenous peoples consistently lag behind those of their non-Indigenous countrymen. But here’s what Canada, the US and New Zealand don’t have.

They don’t have trachoma, a third world disease that has been eradicated in most nations.

They don’t have the world’s highest recorded rates of rheumatic heart disease, another third world condition linked to overcrowded housing.

They don’t have jailing rates of Indigenous people up to eight times greater than the jailing rates of black males in Apartheid South Africa.

They don’t have world-beating rates of suicide and self-harm.

They don’t have life-expectancy gaps between Indigenous and non-Indigenous populations in the double digits.

And they don’t have third world infant mortality rates.

And in particular, they don’t have an excess mortality rate even approaching that of Indigenous people in Australia. Research by Australian Dr Gideon Polya reveals that the excess mortality rate of Aboriginal Australians is one of the worst on earth, twice that of the mandatory reporting death rate for live cattle exported on a boat from Australia, and the same rate as a sheep in an Australian paddock. It’s actually higher than Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnam during their respective wars.

But can we blame all this on a lack of self-determination? Research by Dr Paul Kauffman, another Australian researcher, provides some interesting food for thought. In 2003, he completed a study called ‘Diversity and Indigenous Policy Outcomes: Comparisons between Four Nations‘.

In Australia, the rate of Indigenous over-representation in prison is 10 times greater than in the US.

 

Briefly, it compared the progress in Canada, the United States and New Zealand against the appalling state of affairs in Australia. And it looked specifically at what sort of institutions each nation had which could be classed as self-determination in action. The results are startling.

In Australia, the rate of Indigenous over-representation in prison is 10 times greater than in the US.

Australia’s Indigenous youth suicide rate is twice that of New Zealand and three times that of the US.

In New Zealand, 85 per cent of Maori have a post-school qualification. In the US the figure is 65 per cent. In Australia, it’s fewer than 14 per cent.

To round out the study, Dr Kauffman noted that Canada, the US and New Zealand all have treaties, constitutional recognition and extensive employment diversity programs. Australia does not.

Dr Kaufmann’s study may not be conclusive proof that self-determination is the difference, but it’s pretty compelling. Either Australian Aboriginal people have a knack for death and destruction, or something else is going on.

That’s not to suggest Australia doesn’t pretend to support self-determination, because we certainly do when the rest of the world is watching. In 2008, the Australian Government endorsed the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, a document which was crafted specifically to set out the rights of First Peoples to govern their own lives and communities.

Yet virtually every Australian government policy announced since flies in the face of our stated international position. The Northern Territory intervention and its bastard son, the Strong Futures laws, for example, breach almost half the articles of the UN Declaration.

Dr Kauffman’s study was completed in 2003, a decade ago, but today my people are further from self-determination than we’ve ever been.

In the coming weeks, the Abbott Government will unveil its signature Indigenous affairs policy – a hand-picked board of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people who will advise the government on the best ways forward for Indigenous peoples in this country.

It is the precise opposite of self-determination, light years from the only policies that have been shown to impact positively in other nations in a similar position.

It also happens to be a recycled policy that failed under the Howard government. It will fail under the Abbott government too because as history shows, the new National Indigenous Council will spend its time telling the government what it wants to hear, not what it needs to know.

And that’s one of the key problems in this country – we don’t learn the lessons of our history.

The great lie of 100-plus years of Australian Indigenous Affairs policies has always been that Aboriginal people are so backward that we need to be saved from ourselves.

After socially engineering our communities into world class poverty, governments blamed us for circumstances, and declared themselves the only ones capable of fixing it.

So they took our children away. They forced us from our ancestral lands. They held our wages and savings in trust, and then found better ways to spend the money. We were forced into slavery, denied equal wages and prevented from ever building generational wealth.

That great lie still underpins thinking in Indigenous affairs policy today. So it’s time to do something different, and time to acknowledge that the case for self-determination for Aboriginal people in Australia isn’t just compelling – it’s overwhelming.

Of course, we’re not debating HOW it should occur. We’re still debating WHETHER it should occur. And most Australians think it shouldn’t.

That speaks some volumes not just about our maturity as a nation, but also about our capacity to stare down the racism and paternalism that infects our national character, and the truthfulness of our claimed national identity as ‘the land of the fair go’.

The solution, obviously, is for the Australian Government to practice what it preaches, step back and let us make decisions for ourselves. On that front, I can offer you a couple of guarantees.

The life circumstances of Aboriginal people will not improve overnight. There is no silver bullet. Over the course of that journey, there will be corruption and nepotism. There will be wasted funds, political in-fighting, and examples where well-meaning programs cause more harm than good.

Put simply, we will make many of the same mistakes that have been made – and continue to be made every single day – by mainstream Australian political and governance structures.

On occasions, our ‘parliament’ will be as toxic as yours. On occasions, our leaders will embezzle funds and abuse their travel entitlements, just like yours do. On occasions, our leaders will make bad decisions that favour themselves and their families, just like yours do. On occasions, our communities will erupt into crime and violence, just like yours do.

But I can also guarantee you this: over time, the advances we make will be far greater than those under a system of colonial occupation.

How do I make this guarantee? Because we could hardly do any worse, and because decades of international experience, research and outcomes tell us so.

We are the only first world nation on earth that thinks self-determination is a dirty word, and yet Australians are in the worst position of all to lecture.

The fact is, my people will not simply surrender anymore than you or your children would if Australia was invaded tomorrow. So you can talk till the cows come home about wanting to help Aboriginal Australians, but until the conversation shifts to how non-Aboriginal Australians can stand aside and permit Aboriginal Australians to help themselves, then we’re just marking time.

While we wait, many more of my people – people like William Bugmy – will die, having lived tragically short lives marked by violence, dispossession and misery.

Sol Bellear is the Chairman of the Aboriginal Medical Service, Redfern, and a long-time Aboriginal activist. View his full profile here.

Macklin said we will take child suicides seriously

Macklin said we will take child suicides seriously

The Stringer
October 5th, 2013

Empowerment and pride are a formula that works positively to the betterment of the human condition, and to individual freedoms. Where empowerment and pride are lacking, communities and individuals languish in both dysfunction and malfunction, with the worst culminating in suicide. This explains in part the world’s highest suicide rates which are found among the world’s Aboriginal peoples. With the worst rate found among Aboriginal peoples in Australia – especially among its youth.

Australia’s Aboriginal youth is seven times more likely to kill itself than its non-Aboriginal counterparts. This national shame has been effectively criminally neglected by State and federal governments and there is no show or sign by them of funding Aboriginal controlled and Aboriginal serviced suicide prevention strategies. There is no sign of governments wiping away the ridiculous third world impoverishment that 100,000 Aboriginal peoples endure in this first world nation – the world’s 12th largest economy, per capita the second wealthiest nation on the planet, with the world’s highest median wages. There is no sign of governments dishing out equality, of improving the well-being of community with equity the equivalency to that of non-Aboriginal communities and townships, nor of respecting adequately the cultural integrity and rights of Aboriginal peoples particularly in the remote and regional areas – and therefore rather than cultural bridges there are only more cultural divides.

Determinism plays its hand as Aboriginal youth are born into grief, into the effects of the Stolen Generations, into cultural divides where cultural healing is still to be realised, into cultural loss, into racism and into the endless deaths – premature deaths.

Far too many Elders and community leaders have said to me that most Australians cannot or fail to realise how much grief Aboriginal children are exposed to. People dying from suicide – adults and youth – dying prematurely from illnesses – the passing of life happens either weekly, fortnightly but not any further apart than monthly in Aboriginal remote and regional communities.

Aboriginal suicides were not always the tragic common occurrence that it is now, it first surged in the 1980s but not to the tragic levels that we now have. Suicide among Aboriginal peoples is nearly four times that of non-Aboriginal peoples, but Aboriginal children are killing themselves at more than seven times the rate of non-Aboriginal children – and as young as eight years of age, boys and girls.

The rise in Aboriginal suicides is not limited to Australia, though in terms of proportion to total population, Australia is the world’s worst tragedy, owning the worst rates. First Nations peoples around the world – Canada’s Inuits, New Zealand’s Maoris, America’s First Nations peoples, Latin America’s First Nations peoples, and particularly the Amazonian peoples, are dealing with likewise horrific disproportionate suicide rates – adults and youth.

Many are confused by the spates and spikes of suicides, having presumed that the granting of rights to First Nations peoples all around the world would improve their well-being.

671,000 Australians identify as Aboriginal, but if we standalone the poorest 150,000 of our Aboriginal peoples, a significant proportion of them are living in third-world akin conditions in the world’s 12th largest economy. These statistics underwrite research I have titled “The Aboriginal Clock.”

Since releasing my findings that Aboriginal youth are dying at the world’s highest rates it was sad to note that it did not stir much of a ripple, not much impact at all on the Australian consciousness. The chronic neglect and maltreatment of Aboriginal peoples are matter-of-fact in Australia. We accept much with very little outcry; the news media and governments despite highlighting chronic problems do not prioritise Aboriginal peoples and the underlying issues. Racism has many veils and layers.

Thirty years ago Aboriginal youth was not killing itself at the rates we have today, nor was this case twenty years ago, and ten years ago the suicide rates were much lower than today. The suicide rates are on the rise, the median ages of suicides are getting younger – this evidences the sense of hopelessness felt by many. Much of the hope of previous generations invested in the Black Power movements, in the Land Rights movements, in the striving for Treaty and equality has dissipated for many Aboriginal peoples who have waited and nothing positive has eventuated for them, and for many the belief is that they have less now than they did two decades ago. I have interviewed more than 100 Territorian Aboriginal Elders, and similarly more than 100 Aboriginal Western Australian Elders for research titled “Climate of Death” and “People are not the Property of People; the Northern Territory is a prison built brick by brick by the Commonwealth” and the overwhelming majority described beliefs that all that they or their parents struggled for two and three decades ago has now vanished.

They despair at being effectively forced into surrendering culture, their homelands, their right to their historical identity. They were prepared for integration and the best of both worlds but they reject assimilation. No other cultures in Australia despite the various xenophobia that prevails contemporaneously have been so harangued as Aboriginal peoples are to let go of their historical and cultural identities – that is beyond the insulting tokenism we are prepared to allow.

They have no trust in ministries of Aboriginal Affairs or in a Prime Minister for Indigenous Affairs, they do not believe any longer in the presumption these perceivably affirmative actions will deliver what is now long overdue. The majority of those I have spoken with, hundreds, inherently fear these ministries which they believe are responsible for corralling them and extinguishing many of their rights and freedoms. They see these ministries, as I do too, as covert, whether inadvertent or not, social engineering attempts by Governments and their bureaucracies, and that the colonialist attitudes continue.

The majority of Aboriginal peoples, especially those among the poorest 150,000, and which my cluster surveys clearly indicate, are all for a Treaty, and without a Treaty they do not believe they will be rightly respected as Aboriginal peoples and allowed to be free in their own Country.

The majority have said that rather than ministries of Aboriginal Affairs they would prefer Aboriginal peoples in parliament. In New Zealand seven of the 70 parliamentary seats are reserved for Maoris. The majority of those whom I have interviewed, once again in the hundreds, would prefer for instance 7 or 8 of the 76 Senate seats for Aboriginal people. They also want to see all major political parties ensure Aboriginal representation. This would be inspiring electoral reform, something to which I too, for more than a decade, have been calling for. However the resistance will be huge but it can be achieved. In one University I worked at, I was on their peak academic planning council and also on the University Senate (the Board of the University) and in 2008 I lobbied quite hard to introduce a unit of compulsory Aboriginal studies to all undergraduate students. It was met with huge resistance and from those I least expected. In the end I managed to secure the fifth recommendation, substantive Aboriginal studies by Aboriginal scholars as a component of the introductory unit to all undergraduate students – an Australia-first.

We have long known what Canada’s Dr Michael Chandler and I have validated – that the rates of Aboriginal suicides, the world over, are higher than that of non-Aboriginal populations. Each life lost should have been a message to get our state of affairs in order – this is the best prevention strategy, to allow people their full suite of rights, the right to equality, the right to be who they want to be within a normative setting of their own. Each life lost reminds us of our prejudices, our biases, our racism, our failure to resist the simple mindedness of assimilation. Between 1994 to 2006, the rate of Aboriginal suicides averaged 25.7 per 100,000, that is 70 per cent higher than in non-Aboriginal Australia.

Early last year the federal government promised to back recommendations from The Gone Too Soon report, released by a Northern Territorian parliamentary committee. In the Northern Territory between 2007 to 2011, with Aboriginal children accounting for 75 per cent of all child suicides. At the time, federal Indigenous Affairs minister Jenny Macklin said, “We will make sure that we make a considered response and also make sure that the additional services that we put in place correspond to the recommendations in the report.” More than a year later little has been done, next-to-nothing.

“We will take this report very seriously,” had said Ms Macklin.

Twenty three recommendations were made which included the assignment of youth engagement officers from within the police, more mental health workers, psychiatrists and counsellors. These have not been lived up to nor the calls heeded for the integrity of cultural identity, pride and empowerment within communities and peoples, and their homelands, by Wes Morris, Dr Michael Chandler and many others.

The Gone Too Soon report found that Aboriginal suicide programs, run by Government and their services, not by Aboriginal controlled services, are fragmented and uncoordinated and continue to fail to stem the tide of suicides

Australia’s Aboriginal suicide epidemic – Whose child will be the next to die?

Australia’s Aboriginal suicide epidemic – Whose child will be the next to die?

The Stringer
October 4th, 2013

Image - www.sbs.com.au

Image – http://www.sbs.com.au

Aboriginal people are killing themselves at the world’s highest rates. Why? Premature deaths in Aboriginal Australia are a way of life, mourning and grief a common occurrence, and far too many Aboriginal communities have come to accept the deaths as their lot, refusing to speak about them. Why? Despite the general quiet and acceptance of death and grief in Aboriginal communities there is however a rise in Aboriginal voices calling for change.

The horror of dramatic disproportionate rates of suicide for Aboriginal peoples is played out the world over but Australia’s Aboriginal peoples are at the top of this tragic list.

In 2011, the United Nations State of Indigenous Peoples report found that the world’s Aboriginal peoples made up one-third of the world’s poorest peoples. But their horrific rates of suicide are not limited to the negative drivers contained within impoverishment. But impoverishment does contribute, significantly so, and therefore one of the stressors can be easily resolved.

In the Kimberley region – Western Australia’s tourist mecca, the Aboriginal homelessness rate is sky high – and in some of its towns the suicide rates reached up to 100 times the national average.

The tragedy is endemic throughout Australia – last year, a Northern Territory Select Committee on Youth Suicides tabled its report into youth suicide and found the obvious; that there are significantly higher rates of Aboriginal suicides when compared to the national average.

Between 2001 and 2006, the Northern Territory suicide rate for Aboriginal youth aged between 15 years to 24 was 3.5 times than in the rest of the nation. The report highlighted the young ages at which Aboriginal youth were committing suicide – and the rise of young Aboriginal women suiciding.

“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,” stated the report.

“For too many of our youth there is not enough hope to protect them from the impulse to end their lives.”

The suicide rate increased for youth between ages 10 and 17 – up from 18.8 per cent to 30.1 per cent per 100,000 – in contrast to non-Aboriginal youth suicides which dropped from 4.1 per cent to 2.6 per cent.

The report found the rate of suicide among Aboriginal girls had increased – with girls now up to 40 per cent of suicides of children aged less than 17 years.

The report highlighted the underlying causes to Aboriginal youth suicide as mental illness, substance abuses and sexual abuse trauma but failed to highlight acute poverty and a suite of rights denied to this day to Aboriginal peoples in many of these troubled communities. What is missing in many of these communities are the pathways and access to opportunities and to the benefits of education and hard work which the rest of Australia does have access to. These communities continue to be neglected by State and federal government jurisdictions and their agencies – services and layers of community infrastructure have not been grafted into these communities and instead they are dilapidated third-world environments.

In South Australia, there have been 77 Aboriginal suicides in ten years – 2001 to 2011 – it was 99 Aboriginal deaths in custody nationally, from 1980 to 1989, that led to a Royal Commission but 77 Aboriginal suicides in one jurisdiction alone does not rate a mention.

Mr Sansbury said that “only dead people” come into his dreams. The South Australian Nurrunga Elder dreams of the deceased, of young lives lost. Mr Sansbury has dedicated his life to helping troubled Aboriginal youth, in seeking to reduce the horrifically high rate of suicides.

“Death is our life, said Mr Sansbury, describing the state of the Aboriginal landscape Australia-wide, of mourning and sadness for young lives lost far too regularly.

Mr Sansbury works pro bono through the South Australian community group, Garridja – a Nurrunga word which means “to rise”. Garridja works to address all areas of Aboriginal disadvantage. Mr Sansbury has long known that Aboriginal suicide is a national problem but one that is getting relative little national attention. Alongside others he is investigating the 77 Aboriginal suicides.

“I am working with an Aboriginal doctor and a non-Aboriginal doctor in investigating these deaths, as we are working towards collated reports. These deaths have received little attention and this makes no sense.”

At the beginning of last year Mr Sansbury called for a 24/7 Aboriginal crisis centre in Adelaide following eight deaths of young Aboriginal people in and around Adelaide in the first 13 days of the year.

“It is approaching two years later, and the State and federal governments have not responded. Indeed funding promises have been broken and our youth continue to languish with nowhere to go.” He said that an Aboriginal crisis centre, Aboriginal controlled and serviced is vital. Mr Sansbury is a former CEO and general manager in Aboriginal health and employment and is widely recognised for his considerable knowledge and expertise in working for change for Aboriginal peoples, and was awarded an Australian Centenary Medal in 2003 by the Commonwealth in recognition of work as director of the Aboriginal Justice Advocacy Committee and the National Aboriginal Justice Advisory Committee. He is also the chairperson of the Narungga Nations.

“At this time many of us have immersed ourselves in working with others, specialists and experts, in finding the ways forward to address all that is wrong, and to give hope to our people, to our youth, and to ensure governments pay attention and fund what should be funded. If we have to call a national march on Canberra then we will do this, it will happen. 77 suicides in South Australia alone, and 8 deaths in 13 days January last year speak it all. It is time for those who can help us to listen,” said Mr Sansbury.

As a result of my own research into Aboriginal youth suicides, and suiciding in general, and because of my role with The Stringer, we have decided to highlight the horrific rates of Aboriginal youth suicide, and the high rates of Aboriginal deaths. It was my comparative global data research only a few years ago that confirmed that the prevalence of spates of suicides among Australian Aboriginal youth are the world’s worse statistics, and that these spates are becoming more prevalent and tragically settling in to higher medians year in year out. I have found that despite the spikes in Aboriginal youth suicide, and the rise to the medians, there has been no spike or median increases in government funding to help reduce Aboriginal youth suicides.

The Stringer has taken it upon itself to assist in establishing a truly national council that will highlight and seek to address the horror of these spates of suicide in the world’s 12th largest economy and 2nd wealthiest nation per capita.

Well known education and researcher Kabi Kabi Elder and Central Queensland University Bundaberg campus coordinator Cheri Yavu-Kama-Harathunian said she is devastated by the rising disenfranchisement of Aboriginal youth, and the world’s highest rate – of Australia’s Aboriginal children.

Eighteen months ago, Mrs Yavu-Kamu-Harathunian said, “Across my desk came a study that reported the number of completed Indigenous suicides (in the Kimberley) last year exceeded the Australian Defence Force fatalities in Afghanistan. I cannot comprehend this statement. It is too much.”

Mrs Yavu-Kamu-Harathunian has Bachelors in Applied Sciences, Indigenous and Community Health, and with majors in mental health and counselling, and a Masters in Criminal Justice.

She asks what motivates our young people to disconnect from themselves and what motivates “our brothers and sisters to disconnect from themselves and then move into that helpless hope of perhaps finding themselves in their sleep of death.”

Western Australian Aboriginal communities, challenged only by communities in the Northern Territory and Queenlsand, have the highest suicide rates not only in the nation but in the world.

Mowanjum is one of those Kimberley communities that has suffered a spate of suicides 100 times the national average. Mowanjum Council chairperson, Gary Umbagai despairs at the death tolls. “There is something dreadfully wrong in our community, but what can we do?”

Mrs Yavu-Kamu-Harathunian said, “All around this community (Mowanjum) there is so much progress, production, this affluence. What is progress, this production, this affluence stealing from our people?”

“To read about this painful crisis, to recognise the layers of disconnection, the internal anguish, community sorrow, pain, trauma, suffering is like a microcosm of the inherent legacy of pain, torment, and suffering that our people are immersed in.”

“This is a culturally collective crisis, and it impacts upon all of us who say we are First Nations peoples. To think that this tiny little community possibly has the highest rates of suicide not just in Australia but in the world is insanity,” she said.

“I remember a beautiful strong Aboriginal woman from Bardi Country way – Wendy. I respectfully do not use her surname here, mid 1990s, who developed for the first time in my lifetime, a great understanding of alcohol and its use and abuse amongst our people.”

“I remember her words of warning then, that because of the use of alcohol amongst our people, alcohol users would begin using at a younger and younger age. Her gravest concern way back then was about the rise I suicide.”

“We are now picking up the pieces of our loved ones.”

“How many suicides, how many more deaths will it take to open our eyes, and open our ears to the silent screaming that is coming from the hearts, and souls of those who are gone, and of those who grieve and keep screaming ‘Help…’”

In NSW, with Australia’s largest Aboriginal population, the youth suicide rate is one in 100,000, in the Northern Territory, the rate is 30 deaths in 100,000. In the Kimberley, with an Aboriginal population of 14,000, the rate is 1 death in 1,200, over 80 per 100,000.

Stephen Nulgitt is from the community of Mowanjum. He works with Mowanjum’s youth to deliver pride into their lives, from within their cultural identity. Mr Nulgitt’s younger brother was one who took his life.

“He was a happy little boy. A beautiful smile.”

“That night after another brother’s birthday party Darren was found hanging from a tree.”

Such is the despair in Mowanjum that no can see who is suffering, who is the next to die.

“When you hold a lot of things inside, and you hold things in and you don’t talk to anyone, it just builds up into depression and anger,” said Mr Nulgitt.

The tree Darren hung himself from was cut down.

“My uncle came with a chainsaw and just took it away, because it kept affecting my mother.”

Mowanjum’s Elders and parents are shell shocked, the situational trauma has led to myriad anxieties. Mowanjum’s community director Eddie Bear said every loss is felt right throughout the community. “Everybody feels hurt, we all go through it.” He worries so much about Mowanjum’s youth that when his young grandson goes bush he will follow him.

“When he takes off into the scrub, I will follow him and have a talk with him, sit with him there and talk.”

You got to live life. You are only a young bloke I tell him.”

Mowanjum is typical of many remote communities, where many children are not in school – and that they see around them is dejection and despair, joblessness and aimlessness. What they see on television all around the rest of Australia is not what they live in Mowanjum – they go without much.

“Poverty is a big issue.”

Mr Bear often sees the community’s youth out of school, including his grandson, Angelo.

“I tell Angelo, come here, why are you not in school?”

Mowanjum community CEO Steve Austin said more needs to be done by governments.

“Family structures are breaking down and the government agencies are not here to help them.”

“We are doing what we can to employ our people.”

Government support is needed – but that support must include the full suite of funding that would raise communities out of third-world conditions. They do not need piecemeal funding or a Northern Territory Intervention.

Despite the deaths there is no effective suicide prevention strategy being funded and administered in the Kimberley. Mr Austin said that the West Australian government last year spent $150 million on the Derby prison – an ‘Aboriginal prison’ – while applications by the organisation seeking funding for a youth coordinator to work with Aboriginal youth were rejected.

“We get no help,” said Mr Austin.

“It is as if the bureaucrats do not have any idea what we are up against.”

According to Mr Austin when his community lost the Commonwealth Development Employment Program (CDEP) there followed a spike in suicides. Aboriginal peoples employed fell from 140 to 30.

The Kimberley Aboriginal Law and Culture Centre (KALACC) coordinator Wes Morris has slammed the lack of State and federal government responses. He said far too little has been invested in prevention programs and that the current strategies disregard Aboriginal peoples, further disempowering them, compounding problems.

“Have you read the State Suicide Prevention Strategy (2007)? It is underwritten by only $13 million for all Western Australia for four years for the whole of the program. What a joke.”

Mr Morris pointed out that Aboriginal peoples have not been adequately included in the delivery of strategies, and he said the current strategies fail to understand Aboriginal culture and identity. He also said that in reference to mental health the State Government has failed to address the needs of Aboriginal peoples. “The State Government can only pony up $22.47 million for the psychiatric and psychological treatment of Aboriginal peoples with severe and persistent mental illness.” He said this is not enough, but it got even worse for suicide prevention, with only the $13 million.

Mr Morris said that the State Government’s 2001 Suicide Prevention program was much more sensitive to the cultural and identity needs of Aboriginal peoples “but, all too predictably, the recommendations within it have never seen the light of day.”

Mr Morris said that Aboriginal peoples need Aboriginal peoples with knowledge of Aboriginal peoples, not Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples disassociated from the lived experiences of communities with underlying issues that give rise to the horrific spates of suicides realised in recent years.

He identified generic premises made by non-Aboriginal peoples in authority which indeed undermine authentic solutions. Mr Morris referred to a recent proposition by the Children’s Commission for an independent Youth Justice Service to help reduce the high rates of juvenile detention. But Mr Morris said bureaucrats continually miss the point of “Aboriginal owned and controlled services.”

“There is no room in their world for an Aboriginal controlled youth justice service as per recommendation 50 of the 2006 Law Reform Commission (Final Report on Aboriginal Customary Laws). A specific agency is not the answer (if it is not Aboriginal controlled),” said Mr Morris.

He said whether it is to address incarceration rates or to reduce rates of suicide the answers lay with Aboriginal control of the response services.

“KALACC has been intimately involved in the three coronial inquests in the Kimberley. We gave rise to the first of these inquests,” said Mr Morris.

He said that mental health is not the major underlying issue and indicated that attacks on cultural identity and disempowerment were significant contributors. “Nowhere in the three coronial inquiries does the Coroner identify mental health as a major issue.”

Mr Morris said the State government’s “misguided approach” to presume the current spend on mental health can incorporate suicide prevention is crazy. Mr Morris said Aboriginal counsellors are needed to heal cultural wounds, to bring about “cultural healing.”

“Until these fundamental realities are addressed, the suicides will continue.”

Right around the world suicide rates of First Nations peoples are disproportionately higher than the rest of their nations’ populations and this is underwritten by not only the general poor living conditions of First Nations peoples, but by degrees of dispossession and the governmental driven, whether inadvertent or otherwise, erosion of cultural identity. Where there has been a failure to allow and support the preservation of culture and historical identity people have been put at risk of suicide.

671,000 Australians identify as Aboriginal but if we standalone the poorest 150,000 of our Aboriginal peoples, a significant proportion of them are living in third world akin conditions in the world’s 12th largest economy. Per capita, Australia has the world’s highest median wages and once again per capita Australia is the second wealthiest nation in the world. These statistics underwrite research I have titled “The Aboriginal Clock.”

Thirty years ago Aboriginal youth was not killing itself at the rates we have today, nor was this the case twenty years ago, and ten years ago the suicide rates were much lower than today. The suicide rates are on the rise, the median ages of suicides are getting younger – this evidences the sense of h hopelessness felt by many. Much of the hope of previous generations invested in the Black Power movements, in the Land Rights movements, in the striving for Treaty and equality has dissipated for many Aboriginal peoples who have waited and nothing positive has eventuated for them, and for many the belief is that they have less now than they did two decades ago. I have interviewed more than 100 Territorian Aboriginal Elders, and similarly more than 100 Aboriginal Western Australian Elders for research titled “Climate of Death” and “People are not the Property of People; the Northern Territory is Prison built brick by brick by the Commonwealth” and the overwhelming majority described beliefs that all they or their parents struggled for two and three decades ago has now vanished. They despair at being effectively forced into surrendering culture, their homelands, their right to their historical identity.

They have no trust in ministries of Aboriginal Affairs or in a Prime Minister for Indigenous Affairs, they do not believe any longer in the presumption these arguable affirmative actions will deliver what is now long overdue. The majority of those I have spoken with, hundreds, inherently fear these ministries which they believe are responsible for corralling them and extinguishing many of their rights and freedoms. They see these ministries, as I do too, as covert, whether inadvertent or not, social engineering attempts by Governments and their bureaucracies, and that the colonialist attitudes continue.

“We need our people helping our people, we have programs that work, such as Yiriman, acknowledged by many, evaluated by universities, and these need to be funded, and adequately so,” said Mr Morris.

The Yiriman project includes KALACC, and is a partnership between four Kimberley language groups. Each year, approximately 400 young adults, between 15 to 30 years of age, participate in Yiriman activities. The project centres on trips to Country with Elders. Senior Elders meet together to make decisions about the location, activities and purpose of each trip. Young people self-nominate or are nominated by their parents, the community, youth workers, juvenile justice workers and in some instances through the Courts. The nature of each trip is determined according to Traditional law. Yiriman workers and cultural advisers engage with the youth on the trips to Country.

Remote communities are enduring higher rates of youth suicide than in big towns and metropolises, through Aboriginal suicide rates are disproportionately high Australia-wide. Employment, education, health and community, infrastructure are invaluable to reducing both imprisonment and suicide rates but with suicides it is not just underlying issues related to impoverishment – my research and investigations have found that disempowerment is a major contributor. Despite the majority of Aboriginal youth suiciding or attempting suicide who are unemployed and dejected by the sense of hopelessness, far too many despite not being the majority were indeed employed but they too reported a sense of hopelessness or crippling dejection – the situational trauma of one’s cultural identity rubbished by the majority of Australia, misguided do-gooder bureaucratic programs, by the forces of assimilation. Cognitively, all this generates situational trauma, and degenerates into continuing traumas and stress disorders, disempowering far too many into a sense that their historical and contemporary identities are a liability.

We have long known what Canada’s Dr Michael Chandler and I have validated – that the rates of Aboriginal suicides, the world over, are higher than that of non-Aboriginal populations. Each life lost should have been a message to get our state of affairs in order – this is the best prevention strategy, to allow people their full suite of rights, the right to equality, the right to be who they want to be within a normative setting of their own. Each life lost reminds us of our prejudices, our biases, our racism, our failure to resist the simple mindedness of assimilation. Between 1994 to 2006, the rate of Aboriginal suicides averaged 25.7 per 100,000, that is 70 per cent higher than in non-Aboriginal Australia.

For Aboriginal children younger than 15 years, during that twelve year period, the suicide rate was seven times higher than for non-Aboriginal children. Therefore minimalist suicide prevention strategies have failed. Alcohol and drug abuse are factors but they are not drivers, other factors underlie the use of alcohol and drugs, and therefore for a radical reduction to drug and alcohol use and in reducing suicides we have to address the factors that lead to the use of alcohol and drugs and other aimlessness and self-destruction. As long as we continue to deny that ethnicity and connectedness with historical and cultural identity do not matter then we will continue with suicide rates that are the world’s worst, and indeed continue with the veils and layers of racism.

Whose child will be the next to die?

 

 

LINKS:

How many more suicides will it take – how many more deaths

Australia’s Aboriginal Children – the world’s highest suicide rate

Suicide gap widening – National Indigenous Radio Service –

Tiga Bayles talks with Gerry Georgatos about the suicide crisis – 98.9FM