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Indigenous Suicide Prevention in Colonised Countries

Indigenous suicide is a global concern. The 2nd National and World Indigenous Suicide Prevention Conferences in Perth WA in November 2018 brought together Indigenous peoples from Australia, Canada, United States of America and New Zealand. The Conference Report, released today, confirms the urgent need for action in colonised countries throughout the world.

Suicide rates have been increasing worldwide and are especially high amongst Indigenous peoples. The critical importance of identifying and implementing effective suicide prevention strategies in Indigenous communities was highlighted by a report Global Overview: Indigenous Suicide Rates. Prepared for and launched at the Conferences, the report details the consistently higher rates of suicide amongst Indigenous compared to non-Indigenous people and demonstrates the urgency for action.

Indigenous Elders, policy makers, researchers and community members representing LGBTIQ+SB, Youth, and Lived Experience participants came together at the Conferences to recognise the impacts of colonisation and subsequent trauma, disadvantage, marginalisation and lack of action by government on Indigenous issues and the need for healing and recovery processes for suicide prevention.

Professor Pat Dudgeon, a Psychologist and Project Director at the Centre of Best Practice in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention (CBPATSISP), has found intergenerational trauma and suicide to be a legacy of colonisation for Indigenous peoples the world over.

There’s an emerging story about people who have been colonised. Usually the takeover of their lands has been quite brutal. There were genocides and people removed from country and treated like second-class citizens, which in itself is traumatic.

Professor Dudgeon cited the work of psychologists Professor Michael Chandler and Professor Christopher Lalonde as pointing a way forward in preventing suicide in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

They looked at Canadian First Nation tribes and found that some communities had no suicide and others were right off the scale. So they examined the communities that had no or low suicide rates and coined the term ‘cultural continuity’. Translated into plain English, those communities had good self-determination. They had their own councils, they were in charge, they had agency over their community and their lives.

Another factor was that they were doing cultural reclamation activities. These could be simple things like building a long house or ensuring you had your cultural ceremonies happening. These issues corresponded directly to suicide rates.

Recovery from colonisation is our globally shared agenda and the conference enabled delegates to examine issues and identify solutions that are needed. Indigenous peoples from all countries who attended the conferences are calling upon their respective governments to recognise the Indigenous Rights declaration, the right to self-determination and the right for data sovereignty.

Recommendations included a dedicated National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention Strategy and Implementation Plan; allocation of greater levels of program funds for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities; and an Elders call on all levels of government for an immediate response to unacceptable rates of suicides of young people, including a Royal Commission or ‘Truth and Reconciliation’ as the basis for healing and moving forward, programs and services to recognise and support the restoration and maintenance of culture and identity for the younger generation.

As Professor Dudgeon says:

Our people know the solutions, as is evidenced in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention Evaluation Project (ATSISPEP), Solutions that work: What the evidence and our people tell us along with countless other reports and bodies of work. It’s time for all parties to work together, and with us on co-designing and implementing clinically proven culturally driven solutions.

The next Conference will continue the legacy of the Calls to Actions and Recommendations. Ms Carla Cochrane who is the Regional Research Coordinator for the First Nations Health and Social Secretariat of Manitoba is coordinating and planning the 3rd World Suicide Prevention Suicide Prevention Conference that will take place in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada in August 2020.

Ms Cochrane stated:

The 2018 Conference allowed us to share our stories and to connect on all levels, including spirit, with the promotion of life.  Even though we come from different regions, our experiences and history are very similar and so is our strength, perseverance and resiliency to overcome the challenges we may face. Our connection to who we are as Indigenous people, our connection to the land and our languages set this foundation and this was highlighted at the conference.

Our focus at the 2020 Conference will be on continuing the legacy of the Calls to Actions and Recommendations from the 2018 Conference and on strengthening our communities through sharing our stories and our Knowledge.

If you or someone you know needs help or support, you can contact your local Aboriginal Community-Controlled Organisation or

  • Lifeline: 131 114
  • Kids Helpline: 1800 551 800
  • Mensline: 1300 78 99 78
  • Beyondblue 1300 22 46 36
  • Q Life 1800 18 45 27,
  • Open Arms Veterans & Families Counselling 1800 01 10 46
  • The National Indigenous Critical Response Service 1800 80 58 01
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