Summer May Finlay writes:
I am writing this from Alice Springs where an historic event is underway – the inaugural Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention conference (follow #ATSISPEP on Twitter).
Despite the challenging and traumatic topic, the mood is hopeful, perhaps because this conference is setting all sorts of “firsts”.
This is the first conference I have attended where our voices have been preferenced in this way.
The program has been designed by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. The keynotes are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. The presenters are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
The strength and resilience of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is hard to miss at this conference. People are talking solutions, not just statistics.
According to Richard Weston, the CEO of the Healing Foundation: “It’s important that the conference actually shows what Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are capable of.”
A common theme of the conference has been “nothing about us without us” – as underscored by Dameyon Bonson during his presentation this morning (see more in the tweets below).
Culture is the key to keeping us healthy, and as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, we are the Cultural knowledge holders. The solutions need to be driven by us.
Today we heard some of the recommendations from the concurrent sessions. At the end of the conference, all the recommendations will be collected and presented to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention Evaluation Project National Advisory Committee.
Weston doesn’t want to pre-empt the recommendations yet, but hopes that the government will listen to them.
“We very much have a top-down approach at the moment to Aboriginal Affairs,” he said.
He expects the recommendations will challenge governments with “the idea that Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander people have solutions that are embedded in our Cultures, embedded in our ancient knowledge.”
“Solutions will have to privilege that knowledge,” he said.
One of the key themes to emerge from the conference today is the impacts of racism and discrimination on our peoples’ social and emotional wellbeing.
Professor Helen Milroy, a Commission of The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, and a descendant of the Palyku people of the Pilbara region, understands these impacts all too well. She has lived them and seen them through her work as a Commissioner.
She told the conference: “Racism isolates. It creates an ‘other’. Racism is incredibly challenging. It is hard to shake. It’s a difficult thing to tackle if we don’t see it. We need to make it visible. It’s everyone’s responsibility to say no to racism. It shouldn’t rest on the shoulders of our children.”
The inspirational, passionate and dedicated Rosalie Kunoth-Monks, an Amatjere and Arrernte woman and the current NAIDOC female Person of the Year, was a keynote speaker today who had a powerful impact (see tweets below).
She urged the conference: “I want to know before we are done tomorrow where we are heading. Let’s find a line of action to turn a new page.
“Our voices carry power. Our voices carry knowledge. Our voices carry experience. We are the answer to the issues we face.
Meanwhile, the World Indigenous Suicide Conference will be held in New Zeland from 1 – 3 June.
• Summer May Finlay is a Yorta Yorta woman, Croakey contributor and PhD candidate. See some of the Periscope interviews that she conducted today with #ATSISPEP participants and presenters.
From the Twittersphere
Below is a collaborative Twitter essay that shows how the conference has unfolded since the opening on Wednesday night.
The conference began this morning with presentations from:
• Professor Tom Calma AO, Co-Chair of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Advisory Group
• Professor Pat Dudgeon, Project Director, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention Evaluation Project (ATSISPEP)
• Richard Weston, CEO, Healing Foundation
Keynote speech by Rosalie Kunoth-Monks
Professional support was on hand
Selfies and snaps
For help or more information
For people who may be experiencing sadness or trauma, please visit these links to services and support
- If you are depressed or contemplating suicide, help is available at Lifeline on 131 114 or online. Alternatively you can call the Suicide Call Back Serviceon 1300 659 467.
- For young people 5-25 years, call kids help line1800 55 1800
- For resources on social and emotional wellbeing and mental health services in Aboriginal Australia, see here.
Declarations and acknowledgements
Summer May Finlay is reporting on #ATSISPEP for the Croakey Conference News Service. Her expenses for attending the conference have been covered with a bursary and she will also be presenting on Croakey’s #JustJustice project. We also acknowledge and thank Frank Meany of OneVision for his donation to cover Croakey’s editorial production and design costs associated with conference coverage.
• Track the coverage here.