Culture and self-determination are key to reducing suicide in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, according to a recent roundtable of Indigenous Elders, youth leaders, health professionals, academics, social justice campaigners and government figures.
Co-sponsored by the UWA-based Poche Centre for Indigenous Health, the two-day roundtable was addressed by Canadian professor Michael Chandler, a highly regarded researcher on suicide prevention among Canada’s First Nations people.
Professor Chandler said national data on Indigenous suicide rates should be broken down to the regional or even community level to get an accurate picture of the problem and compare areas with high and low rates.
In his studies of First Nations people in British Columbia, Professor Chandler found communities with a strong connection to their past and continued cultural practices, such as language, customs and control of their land, often had lower suicide rates.
UWA’s Professor Pat Dudgeon and Indigenous leader Tom Calma gave their support to Professor Chandler’s proposition.
The roundtable was convened by Gregory Phillips. From the Waanyi and Jaru peoples, he is completing his PhD in psychology at Monash University. He previously completed a published masters in medical anthropology, and has worked in healing, addictions, youth empowerment and leadership. He was a driving force in establishing the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Healing Foundation.
At the end of the two days he encouraged the participants to develop 'calls to action'. These included undertaking research to replicate Professor Chandler’s research in an Australian context; urging governments to recognise that the effects of 200 years of colonisation were still being felt in Indigenous communities; and encouraging young Indigenous people’s voices to be heard in addressing the issues of self-harm and suicide.Participants described feeling 'inspired', 'hopeful', 'empowered' and 'quietly confident' that the roundtable would help to produce positive outcomes.
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