Introduction by Croakey: Last week the Western Australian State Coroner Ros Fogliani released her findings into the deaths of 13 young Aboriginal people in the state’s Kimberley region. She found that 12 were due to suicide and were tragic individual events “shaped by the crushing effects of intergenerational trauma and poverty upon entire communities”.
In the post below, Melanie Robinson writes that the findings show the need for changes in service delivery, the way the media perpetuates stereotypes and myths, and for creating true pathways in education and employment that can offer hope to young people and cultural safety in and for the workforce.
Robinson, who was born in Derby and grew up on the Gibb River Road in Ngallagunda community in the Kimberley, is the newly appointed CEO of the Congress of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Nurses and Midwives (CATSINaM).
She is a nurse who has been a director of CATSINaM for three years, has worked clinically, in nurse training and policy development and, most recently, was Director of Aboriginal Health in the Child and Adolescent Health Service in Western Australia.
In her 373 page report, Coroner Fogliani made 42 recommendations after finding that the situation in the Kimberley region is “dire” and that the considerable services already being provided to the region are not enough, because they are still being provided from the perspective of mainstream services.
Concluding, she said:
It may be time to consider whether the services themselves need to be co-designed in a completely different way, that recognises at a foundational level, the need for a more collective and inclusive approach towards cultural healing for Aboriginal communities.
If the cultural healing is able to occur at the community level, underpinned by the principles of self-determination and empowerment, there is a prospect of the benefits of this healing being passed on to children and young persons, through stronger, safer, more resilient communities, and families.
If this course is chosen it will require significant commitment of funding and a preparedness to engage with the Aboriginal communities to co-design the services. It will also require both short and long term perspectives to be taken of the factors that give rise to the unacceptable levels of poverty within the region, and that generate the social determinants of ill health.”
See also these media reports on the findings:
Guardian Australia: Community-led solutions are key to reducing Aboriginal youth suicide
Melanie Robinson writes:
On Thursday 6 February 2019 the Western Australian Coroner Ros Fogliani released a report from the inquest into the suicide of 13 Indigenous youth in the Kimberley region between 2013-2016.
Tragically all of these suicides, by young Indigenous people aged from 10-24 years, shared similarities. These similarities included the impact of intergenerational trauma, and ongoing unresolved grief and loss, domestic violence, alcohol and/or drug use, poor school attendance, challenges with housing, feelings of being helpless and hopeless, and a lack of awareness of and/or access to mental health services.
As I write this and whilst I am reading the Coroner’s report my heart is filled with a sense of anger, sadness and devastation by the pain and tragedy in these stories.
My heart is broken for the Kimberley community (my mob), their families and their leaders as they try to come to terms with an ongoing tragedy that never seems to end.
The sense of helplessness and hopelessness is almost overwhelming.
Whilst suicide has affected my family and community I want to declare that I am not an expert in mental health so I will not be commenting on the detailed circumstances outlined in the report.
But I do wish to offer the following insights about community needs and strengths.
With Indigenous people making up 40 per cent of the population, the Kimberley region has a large number of services being provided by both government and non-government agencies for a range of community needs.
In the past I have been told about one community near Derby which had up to 10 government agencies working with their families at one time. These 10 different agencies would each turn up at different times and on different days wanting the same access and information from the families. The community Elders and leaders often have grown tired from the lack of communication between agencies. They say it is too much for families to deal with and wish the agencies would work together.
Walking in two worlds
Whilst this report focuses on the Kimberley I would like to acknowledge and recognise that Indigenous youth across Australia are struggling with the demands of walking in two worlds (the Indigenous and the Western worlds).
The Western world exposes our Indigenous youth to racism and discrimination on a regular basis through their own day-to-day to encounters as well as in social media and mainstream media.
The media continue to tell stories that perpetuate the sense of being an outsider, an outcast and being seen in a negative light. These stories perpetuate ill-founded stereotypes and myths about Aboriginal people.
I continue to lobby the media for the stories about the success and achievements of the majority of Indigenous Australians who comprise three per cent of the population and yet continue to be invisible to the rest of Australian society.
Cultural safety from and in services
My personal belief is that most Australians should have training in cultural safety and need to recognise and acknowledge the strength and resilience of Indigenous people and their culture and stories. They need to learn the true Australian history, which is often not taught in schools.
We need to talk to the Indigenous youth of Australia and ask them what they need to better access and engage with mainstream mental health services. Clinicians and policy makers need to involve our Indigenous youth in the design and development of mental health and health care services under the guidance of the Elders and leaders in the Indigenous community.
Any health service working with Indigenous people and communities needs to be embedded in cultural knowledge and expertise. This requires the building of an Indigenous workforce to support our Indigenous youth and the adaptation of existing models that have been already developed.
Pathways to the future
We need to create pathways into employment programs like traineeships and cadetships that result in guaranteed employment for young Indigenous people.
Training needs to be provided to the Indigenous community closer to home and trainees and students should not have to come off Country for extended periods of time because of study commitments.
If they do need to leave Country they should be able to feel culturally safe in the place they choose to study. This requires investment in mentoring and resources which allow Indigenous students to maintain their connections to country, culture and lore.
This may require flexible training models that allow our Indigenous youth to take leave and return to Country for cultural obligations and sorry business.
School education needs to focus on engaging and managing behavioural and other issues that impact on our Indigenous youth. For example, rather than suspending them for bad behaviour, schools need to work with them and their families to identify what issues are going on and ways that they can be addressed.
Attendance and engagement at school is critical to any educational journey. The path to education is never easy however there are many Indigenous models to show the way to better results for our Indigenous youth.
Finally we need to inform our Indigenous youth about pathways to education and employment and build a sense of hope and strength.
I will continue to find ways to make the world a better place for Indigenous youth because they are our future leaders.