Marie McInerney writes:
The second World Indigenous Suicide Prevention Conference will be held in Perth on Thursday and Friday, following immediately on from the second National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention Conference.
In a moving prayer ceremony at the close of the national event on Wednesday, Maori delegates presented a gift to the conference from the first World Indigenous Suicide Prevention Conference held in 2016 in Aotearoa New Zealand.
The Manaia, a guardian spirit, will in turn be passed on to Canada for when it hosts the next event in 2020.
As Maori delegates sang the gift to the conference, Kaumatua (Elder) Ron Baker told delegates:
It has one eye, it has one hand, it has one half of a face, one half of a body, you will find them on the back paths of meeting houses and it means one half of the body is in the physical world, the other half is with the ancestors, both of them in unison.”
The gift was accepted by representatives of the Nyoongar people, the Traditional Owners of the Perth area, and the ceremony can be viewed here.
Conference patron, Professor Tom Calma AO, says organisers have been overwhelmed by interest from across Australia, and from First Nations people in other countries, particularly New Zealand, Canada, and the United States.
This year’s international event will feature speakers from many Indigenous and First Peoples nations, including Deanna Ledoux, Saskatchewan First Nations Child Advocate, Maori researcher Dr Kahu McClintock of Te Rau Matatini, and Dr Gayle Morse from the Society of Indian Psychologists, United States.
It will build on the work of the inaugural conference and on the powerful Turamarama Declaration from that conference that aims to foster community led and based solutions in suicide prevention and global recognition of the disproportionate rate of Indigenous peoples’ suicide as a worldwide phenomenon.
Bringing light to life
The Turamarama Declaration is a powerful and cultural call to arms on Indigenous suicide.
Its opening lines declare that its signatories weep with the pain of suicide in Indigenous communities and speak to the need for “healing our own wounds and the wounds of our lineage”.
The Declaration was overwhelmingly adopted by delegates at the first World Indigenous Suicide Prevention Conference held in Aotearoa New Zealand in 2016.
Its name comes from the conference theme: Turamarama ki te Ora (Maori for ‘bringing light to life’).
Originally drafted by eminent Maori researcher and health specialist, Emeritus Professor Sir Mason Durie, it is far from the dry declarations that so many conferences deliver to mark their work.
Durie wrote last year that the conference wanted it to be as accessible as possible, particularly for young Indigenous people, so its language purposely avoided technical, clinical and sociological terminology.
“Instead, it was couched in terms that were essentially humanistic, respectful and comprehensible”, he said.
The first three of its 14 compelling articles recognise the anguish and perplexity that frequently accompany suicide, the need to heal, and the strengths inherent in Indigenous people, community and culture.
It speaks with poetic power of being able to live well as Indigenous peoples and as citizens of the world, of Indigenous cultures and languages as key precursors to wellness, and of the role of Indigenous cultural values and protocols in lifting the spirit.
And it puts the challenge for action to Indigenous leaders and tribal authorities, and on then national and local authorities, politicians, and global agencies like the UN.
Indigenous suicide prevention expert, Michael Naera, the Kia Piki te Ora Project Leader for Te Runanga o Ngāti Pikiao Trust, was one of the convenors of the inaugural World Indigenous Suicide Prevention conference in Aotearoa New Zealand in 2016.
Naera told Croakey the conference was held “at the request of our Elders”, because of the disproportionate number of Maori dying by suicide and to build on the cultural and political insights and momentum that were emerging from the first New Zealand Maori suicide prevention conference.
“Because that was so successful, our Elders said ‘let’s go to the world, let’s bring all the Indigenous people together, because we understand that a lot of Indigenous peoples around the world have the same issue, exceeding the suicide rates of non-Indigenous people in their own countries,” Naera said.
Since then, said Naera, a movement has been created particularly among First Nations people in New Zealand, Australia, Canada and the US, with “huge buy-in” from Indigenous communities and community organisations around the globe, and among many non-Indigenous organisations.
Naera is part of a Global Indigenous Network Advisor Group, chaired by Sir Mason Durie, which aims to give effect to the Declaration.
With other leading Indigenous suicide prevention experts – Australia’s Professor Pat Dudgeon and Carol Hopkins, Executive Director of Canada’s Thunderbird Partnership Foundation – Naera presented at the First Nations Suicide Prevention World Leadership Dialogue at the World Congress of Public Health in Melbourne 2017.
Naera hopes the subsequent launch of the World Federation of Public Health Associations (WFPHA) first Indigenous Working Group will prompt global recognition by public health organisations of the Declaration, as a key step towards United Nations recognition of Indigenous suicide as a worldwide phenomenon.
He will report on progress at the conference this week in Perth. Watch an interview with Naera here.
Building a stronger tomorrow
The theme for the second World Indigenous Suicide Prevention conference in Perth this week is ‘Building a stronger tomorrow: Connecting our communities through culture’.
Conference convenor Professor Pat Dudgeon said the international event encourages Indigenous nations worldwide to “gather and validate our cultural norms and realities, whilst looking at how we contribute to reducing suicide and solutions that work and promote the strength of Indigenous led suicide prevention programs”.
Dudgeon, who is from the Bardi people of the Kimberley area in Western Australia, is a psychologist and Fellow of the Australian Psychological Society, and the Poche Research Fellow at the Centre of Best Practice in Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention (CBPATSISP) at the University of Western Australia.
She and Professor Tom Calma were co-chairs of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Advisory Group.
Speaking to Croakey in Perth ahead of the conference, Calma said the overwhelming interest from international and local delegates underscored the importance of hosting the event.
“We thought we’d get 350 people (attending),” Calma told Croakey journalist Amy Coopes in an interview earlier this week.
“We had to lock the door at 530 (delegates) and there’s still people knocking. There’s a big interest in this area and we need governments to understand they need to support these initiatives,” he said.
Calma said the Canadian Government, in particular, had supported a number of delegates to attend. They will be joined by the Canadian High Commissioner to Australia Paul Maddison who has been a strong supporter on issues of mental health and suicide prevention.
However, Calma said the Australian Government continued to lack long-term commitment, funding and support for Indigenous suicide prevention efforts, and was still more likely to spend significantly more on road safety when the toll of suicide was so much higher.
Focus on community-based solutions
Although incidence and prevalence varies, recent international research shows that suicide rates are elevated in many Indigenous populations worldwide, in some places more than 20 times higher than non-Indigenous peoples.
In his article about the Turamarama Declaration, Sir Mason Durie cites research showing highly disproportionate suicide rates for Indigenous people in Australia, New Zealand and Canada.
But he warns that, in the wake of increasing suicide among Indigenous peoples, “the significance of generic understandings derived from western philosophies and experiences, has been found wanting”.
The World Indigenous Suicide Prevention conference will focus on community-based solutions, the importance of community partnerships, the role of cultural practices, lived experience and data sovereignty. Like the national conference, it will also have a strong stream of presentations on LGBTIQ+ issues and for young people.
To be MCed by Aboriginal performer and writer, Steven Oliver, of ‘Black Comedy’ fame, it will be officially opened on Thursday by Indigenous Health Minister Ken Wyatt.
The Turamarama Declaration
We, participants in Turamarama ki te Ora Indigenous Suicide Prevention Conference, held in Rotorua, New Zealand on 1 – 3 June 2016, are deeply concerned about the high rates of suicide among indigenous peoples.
- We weep for the increasing number of our people whose lives have been cut short by suicide;
- We respect the courage and fortitude of families and friends who have endured unexpected and often inexplicable losses of dear ones;
- We commit ourselves to healing our own wounds and the wounds of our lineage, and in so doing to exemplify the ways in which light can be brought into the world inhabited by our elders, our peers and our young people;
- We declare that all our people should be able to ‘live well’, into old age;
- We believe that the will to ‘live well’ is strong when the human mauri is strong; ‘living well’ means being able to live as Māori, as indigenous peoples, and as citizens of the world;
- We will strive to build safe and nurturing communities that generate confidence, integrity, inclusion, equity, and goodwill;
- We recognise the key roles that whānau and families play in strengthening the mauri by transferring knowledge, culture, language, values, and love to their children and grandchildren;
- We endorse the benefits of tikanga, kawa, healing, and other cultural protocols to lift the spirit and strengthen our people in schools, health centres, sporting clubs, social media, the workplace, and the streets;
- We expect health, education, and all social service providers to offer services that are accessible, timely and effective for indigenous peoples;
- We urge our own indigenous leaders, tribal authorities, and community champions to create opportunities for our children, youth, women, men, and our older people so they can be part of te ao Māori and the indigenous world, and can be active participants in the communities where they live and work;
- We challenge national and local authorities and city councils to adopt and enforce regulations to reduce the availability of alcohol and other harmful substances, to ensure that homes are warm, comfortable, and affordable, to insist that streets, workplaces, schools, and the internet are all safe places for our peoples, and to combat practices that diminish self-worth and hope;
- We call on our elected leaders in Parliament, especially those who have responsibilities for education, social services, health, housing, employment, indigenous development, and the environment, to work together in order to create a society where equity of access, equitable outcomes, and extended opportunities can prevail;
- We recommend that our people in the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues make all nation states aware of the extent of Indigenous suicide and ensure that suicide prevention is highlighted in the UN Millennium Goals;
- We pledge ourselves to work collectively so that our combined energies can create a world where the mauri can flourish and all our peoples can live well, into old age.
Declared at Rotorua, New Zealand, 3rd June 2016
• If you or someone you know needs help or support, call Lifeline on 13 11 14 (24 hours-a-day), contact your local Aboriginal Community-Controlled Organisation, call Beyondblue on 1300 22 4636 or call Q Life: 1800 184 527.
• Summer May Finlay and Marie McInerney are reporting from #WISPC18 for the Croakey Conference News Service.