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The Elders’ report into preventing Indigenous self-harm and youth suicide

First Peoples health First Peoples mental health Suicide Youth suicide Australia

The Elders’ Report into Preventing Indigenous Self-harm and Youth Suicide brings together the voices of Elders and community leaders from across affected communities that wished to speak publicly about the causes and solutions needed to address this issue.

The report is a transcription of interviews held with 31 Elders and Community representatives from over 17 communities. Each speaker was asked two primary questions: why is self-harm and suicide happening? what is the solution? In response to the first question there was a high level of agreement between the speakers about the role culture and loss of cultural connection plays in making young people vulnerable to self-harm.

Key Findings:

  • "Most of the Elders who are 70+, especially those in the Kimberley, are people who have been able to navigate their way through the mainstream world and their own cultural world. I think that lived experience and those journeys are lessons that need to be passed onto young people. Elders and young people have an important relationship to bring to fruition." - Dr Anne Poelina, Broome, WA
  • "You can empower our people by supporting them and listening to them, by sitting down with them and talking to them face-to-face, and that’s not happening. Fair enough, we have got Government workers doing field visits and all of that, but it isn’t enough. You’ve got to spend more time with the people and listen to their cry of help. That’s not happening. It’s not being heard and acted upon back in Canberra." - Lorna Hudson OAM, Derby, WA
  • "Aboriginal people need to be involved in solving our own problems. Bringing outsiders into the Kimberley will not create succession, the legacies of change that we need. Outsiders bring in quick fixes, providing there is a level of government funding and resourcing. There are a lot of people running around trying to do good, but it doesn’t create inter-generational change. We want to up-skill our own people." - Wayne Bergmann, Kimberley, WA
  • "KALACC (Kimberley Aboriginal Lore and Culture Centre) reconnects young people with their culture. We see this as a major initiative to continue operating up here for the wellbeing of our young people. This also is good for the Elders who understand through culture and Lore, the benefits of being on country. When they see more young people involved, they know that our culture will continue." - Dean Gooda, Fitzroy Crossing, WA
  • "Those young boys drink so much and then you hear about something happening to them. We need our people trained to speak with young people about alcohol and the many other things that can harm them. We need to get young people to realise what happens to their lives when they drink and smoke drugs." - Eddie Bear, Mowanjum, WA
  • "Our suicide rate is high. Our Elders are finding it hard. The Government is cutting the services that we need to keep. Culture is important. That’s when our young people know who they are. On the Western side they lose their way. The cultural way, they don’t need their mobiles and gadgets. They can start hunting again, feeding and looking after their families. They can sit down, share culture and food and be with the Elders again." - Estelle Bowen, Hopevale, QLD

This report was produced between 2012 and 2014 by Indigenous led social justice organisation People Culture Environment in partnership with Our Generation Media. It was developed in response to a massive and unprecedented increase in Indigenous youth self-harm and suicide that has occurred over the past 20 years across Australia’s Top End.

Over this 20 year period the incidence of youth suicide in these communities went from being an extremely rare phenomenon, to one where the rate of Indigenous youth suicide is now the highest in the world.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics states for young Aboriginal men, the rate is 4 times higher than their non-Indigenous counterparts, whilst for young Aboriginal women the rate is five times higherIn some remote communities in the Kimberley, spates of suicide have reached 100 times the national suicide average. In the Australian Government’s own report, Gone Too Soon, into youth suicide in the NT, published in 2012 states: “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.

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