Breaking Trauma Trails: Facilitating the Healing of Indigenous People

4323131_origSince moving to Australia, I’ve become increasingly saddened, concerned and angered by the way that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders are treated by many non-Indigenous people (including government). As a friend said the other day, it has to be seen to be believed.

The damage that has been done to Indigenous people here (and in other countries) as a result of colonisation is huge and it continues today. It is a great demonstration of the resilience of Indigenous people that they have survived.

I’ve decided to devote most of my time from now on to working with Indigenous people. I’ll be running this website and working on recovery-related projects.

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Indigenous social and emotional wellbeing

imagesIndigenous people have a holistic view of health that incorporates the physical, spiritual, mental, emotional, social and environmental.

It includes healing oneself and relationships with others, such as family and community members. It recognises the importance of connecting to land, culture, spirituality and history, as well as the importance of bonds of reciprocal affection, responsibility and caring.

The Indigenous view of health people also recognises the importance of healing the community, rather than just focusing on the individual.

Indigenous people focus on social and emotional wellbeing, rather than on mental health. They view social and emotional wellbeing problems arising from a broad range of circumstances – unresolved grief and loss, trauma and abuse, domestic violence, removal from family, substance misuse, family breakdown, cultural dislocation, loss of land, racism and discrimination, and social disadvantage.

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Annalise Jennings and the Australian Aboriginal community of Napranum

Some of you will know that I run Sharing Culture, a website focused on the healing of historical, or generational trauma, amongst indigenous peoples of the world. I also blog regularly on this website.

Indigenous peoples have overcome great adversity arising from colonisation and its associated violence and control, as well as paternalism, racism, poverty and social exclusion. I am greatly saddened by what I see here in Australia and the disregard of the human rights of our First Nations people by government.

At the same time, I marvel at the amazing resilience of indigenous peoples in overcoming such adversity over the generations. As the Hon Pat O’Shane said, “I recognized the things that happened to the thousands of other Aboriginal families like our family, and I marvelled that we weren’t all stark, raving mad.”

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Sharing Culture

rsz_img_2891Please check out my new website, Sharing Culture, which focuses on Aboriginal healing. Here is what we say on our home page:

What is Sharing Culture?
Sharing Culture is a unique initiative to empower Aboriginal people to heal and develop resilience to historical trauma and its consequences. These consequences include poor physical health, mental health problems, drug and alcohol addiction, violence, abuse  and suicide.  

Sharing Culture is based on the core values of authenticity, connection, courage, creativity, empathy and forgiveness.

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Ruby’s Healing Story

“But she said what she had to do first, before she started to heal, was to let the past go. And in order for her to let it go she had to forgive… she had to forgive the people in the mission, the missionaries, the manager of the mission. She had to forgive the station owner and his sons and workers. And she also had to forgive herself.”

Professor Marion Kickett shares the harrowing story of Ruby and describes how her early life experiences impacted on her later life, including the development of a drinking problem. By forgiving people involved in these terrible events, Ruby started a healing (or recovery) process which led to her realising a dream.

Marion is the new Director of the Centre for Aboriginal Studies at Curtin University in Perth and co-founder (with David Clark and Mike Liu) of Sharing Culture, a new initiative to tackle historical trauma and its consequences in Aboriginal peoples. 

Historical Trauma: Nature of the Problem

Unknown-4 With the launch of our new Sharing Culture initiative and website, here is a description of The Problem:

‘Colonisation and its associated violence and control still exert a marked negative impact today on Australian Aboriginal people. Trauma and an associated unresolved grief have been transmitted across generations in ways that have influenced individuals, families and communities.

Expressions of historical trauma in Aboriginal people can be seen in: adults who feel inadequate in their day-to-day functioning: the poor physical and psychological health and much lower life expectancy; the escalation in addiction to alcohol and other substances which are used as a coping mechanism; the increase in domestic violence across generations; the self-harm, suicide and risk-taking that occurs when people can find no meaning to their existence and have no sense of purpose for their day-to-day activities.

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Sharing Culture: Healing Historical Trauma

Yesterday, I began promoting a new website that I have launched with two colleagues, Professor Marion Kickett and Perth filmmmaker Michael Liu. Here is what we have said on the home page of the website:

‘What is Sharing Culture?
Sharing Culture is a unique initiative to empower Aboriginal people to heal and develop resilience to historical trauma and its consequences. These consequences include poor physical health, mental health problems, drug and alcohol addiction, violence, abuse  and suicide.  

Sharing Culture is based on the core values of authenticity, connection, courage, creativity, empathy and forgiveness.

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Indigenous Hip Hop Projects: Rockhole

I’m a boring old codger and have never been a great fan of hip hop. But I absolutely love this film clip, the song and the amazing project. This had me skipping around the house and I’m now a Hip Hop fan.

Please share this with all your friends. And ask them to do the same. It deserves to go viral and it would do great things for the Indigenous Hip Hop Project project and, ultimately, Aboriginal people!

Indigenous Hip Hop Projects was proud to partner with  Wurli – Wurlinjang Health Service and Rockhole community to make this deadly health promotional music video.’

Fantastic stuff! Keep up the great work, IHHP. And well done Rockhole community. You are stars!!

Reflections on Healing: A Canadian Aboriginal Perspective

UnknownI’ve been reading a fascinating article from the Aboriginal Healing Foundation in Canada entitled Aboriginal Healing in Canada: Studies in Therapeutic Practice and Meaning. What of course is said in this article is relevant to recovery in the western world. Here are some interesting thoughts about healing:

‘The first thing that emerges from our work is that healing is a concept that is difficult to articulate, in part, because most [people participating in the research – DC] seem to feel that there is no need to articulate it and/or simply have never been asked to.

There is no dominant treatment paradigm at work here. Healing proved to be variable in meaning, often vague and fuzzy, and very idiosyncratic.

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‘Telling our stories in ways that make us stronger’ by Barb Wingard

images-1I had a number of pieces of content ready to go on the website, had even organised them in an order. But then I found this powerful piece on Stories. This is an extract from the book Telling our stories in ways that make us stronger by Barb Wingard and Jane Lester (Dulwich Centre Publications, 2001)

‘As Indigenous people of this country, we have faced so many losses due to past and present injustice. Grief’s presence has been with us for a long time. Now we are seeking ways of speaking about Grief that are consistent with our cultural ways of doing things. 

We are remembering those who have died, we are honouring Indigenous spiritual ways, and we are finding ways of grieving that bring us together. We are telling our stories in ways that make us stronger.

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‘Intergenerational Trauma & Healing, Parts 1-3′ by Joe Solanto

Yesterday, I posted a blog from Gabor Maté entitled Our Strange Indifference To Aboriginal Addiction. I highlighted the following about society’s – it’s not just Canada – response to the problems of addiction amongst Aboriginal people.

‘We seem to comfort ourselves with the belief that the endemic drug addiction and alcoholism are unfortunate realities for which we, as a society, bear no responsibility. From both scientific and historical perspectives, such a view is distorted and self-serving.’ Gabor Maté

I’ve heard many non-Aboriginal Australian people say in relation to Aboriginal people: “Why don’t they just get over it?” (Yeh, like non-Aboriginal people just get over diabetes, cancer or rape)

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‘Our Strange Indifference To Aboriginal Addiction’ by Gabor Maté

imagesHere’s an important blog from one of my favourite writers, Gabor Maté.

‘Marlene, a 46-year old native woman, sat in my office last week, slumped on her chair, blinking away her tears. I’d just shared the news that her most recent blood test confirmed she had “seroconverted” to HIV, become infected with the AIDS virus.

Although an injection drug user, Marlene had always been careful to use clean needles. Her route of infection was sexual contact – with the resigned naiveté characteristic of so many aboriginal women in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, she had trusted a man, himself a drug addict, who assured her that he was a safe partner.

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On Healing: Mary

rsz_jimn_jim_falls‘You know, I don’t think most Murri people have idea about healing. A lot of people I know think healing is just going to the doctor and getting fixed up – getting some pills or something like that. Faith healers – religion – stuff like that.

Saddest thing is they don’t even realise that they’ve got all the coping mechanisms, and they’ve been healing themselves all these years. If it was pointed out to them, things would really start to happen. They would build on it, because they know things are wrong, but they just don’t know what to do about it.

What I’ve learnt is, healing is facing up to the fact that you’ve got choices, and there is no need to live your life in this pain. You can always get out of it.

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On Healing: Lorna

rsz_aa10‘The word healing – it means to me [that] I need to look at all my pain. Feel the pain and release it. Work with it, talk about it, and let it go, rather than hold on to it, locking it up inside myself.

I need a safe place where I can talk about my pain, all the pain that I have had in my life, my drinking in my marriage, my childhood, to to be able to sit and feel free enough to talk about it to get it out of me. I had it in me for so long, too long.

I believe that’s when the healing takes place, when I can feel well enough in myself to talk honestly about how I feel, what happened to me, what it was like for me. It is action healing. That it what I found for myself. It is action.

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The Role of Historical Trauma in Indigenous Mental Health and Addictions

In the past couple of months, I have become increasingly interested in historical trauma and the impact it has had on the health and well-being of Aboriginal people here in Australia, and in other indigenous groups around the world. I’ll be talking more about it in the coming months.

For now, I want to introduce you to the promotional trailer of the film ‘Sharing Tebwewin’.

“Sharing Tebwewin” (Sharing the Truth) is a 30-minute educational documentary designed to help health workers become more “culturally competent” in their work with First Nations people.

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Marion’s Story: Introduction

Dr. Marion Kickett tells her Story, to help the reader understand her background and why she undertook her PhD research on resilience.

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Marion’s Story: My Identity

Marion has a strong identity which has helped shape her into who she is today.

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Marion’s Story: Conclusion

Marion’s family have faced adversities, risen above them, and taught Marion to be the resilient person she is today.

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Surviving What?

Marion’s research findings provide insights into the following question: In what context do Aboriginal people need to be resilient?

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Surviving What?: Experience of Being Taken Away

The taking of Aboriginal children from their families by the authorities still impacts on Aboriginal people today.

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