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Indigenous exchange program bridges continents with focus on suicide prevention

A ground-breaking cultural exchange program which saw six young Indigenous Australians, including three from WA, embark on a transformative journey to Canada has been described as an experience of a lifetime and an invaluable learning opportunity.

The Anika Indigenous Cultural Exchange, funded by the Anika Foundation and the Poche Centre of Indigenous Health at The University of Western Australia, aimed to address the critical issue of suicide prevention and wellbeing in Indigenous communities.

It enabled the participants, aged 18 to 30, to spend two weeks in Winnipeg, Canada, where they engaged in cultural connection, discussions, and knowledge-sharing with Canadian First Nations youth and Elders.

The three WA participants were Mark Nannup, a Yamatji Noongar man from Port Hedland and Meekatharra; Kyanne Pryor, a Ballardong Yorga (woman) from Perth; and Derek Nannup, a Whadjuk Noongar man who was the 2021 WA Young Person of the Year.

UWA School of Indigenous Studies Professor Pat Dudgeon, who developed the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention Evaluation Project, said the exchange represented a potentially life-changing opportunity for the young people chosen.

“During their visit, the Australian youth discovered the concept of life promotion, a method employed by Canada’s First Nations people to prevent suicide,” Professor Dudgeon said.

“The approach is based around resilience, strength-based strategies and addressing the social determinants of health that contribute to suicide and is similar to strategies employed by Indigenous Australian organisations.”

In Australia the average rate of suicide among Indigenous people is twice as high as that recorded for other Australians. For youth aged 15 to 24, it is 3.5 times higher.

Mark Nannup, an actor who has starred in a number of short films and documentaries, said he soaked up the history of how the First Nations people in Canada managed to survive a long time with the impacts of colonisation.

“Their language, stories, and traditions have survived under the radar and in secrecy through their determination to make sure their identity was not stripped away from place and community,” Mark said.

The group also delved into the importance of treaties, acknowledging how the Canadian government’s agreements with First Nations people improved self-governance and wellbeing.

“Through various gatherings and conferences, the Australian attendees forged valuable connections with First Nations people in Canada,” Professor Dudgeon said.

“They found like-minded individuals passionate about Indigenous culture, wellbeing and suicide prevention, newfound friendships that transcended borders and are set to continue long after their return to Australia.

“They’ve come back stronger and wiser, with a global appreciation of the issues. Indigenous youth are our future, and we were delighted they were afforded this opportunity.

“The University and the six Indigenous youths (Poche UWA funded one) would like to thank the Anika Foundation for making this experience a reality with their generous support and funding.”

A 2024 Anika Indigenous Cultural Exchange is being planned for Niagara Falls, Buffalo in New York in the United States which will take in the World Indigenous Suicide Prevention Conference to be hosted by the Seneca Nation in July.

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

  • 13YARN: 13 92 76
  • 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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