Elders look for reasons and answers on Indigenous youth suicide crisis

24 April 2014 | SNAICC NEWS

Over the last two decades rates of suicide have dramatically increased in Aboriginal communities across the top end of Australia, and Indigenous youth are most at risk.

Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows that the rate of suicide amongst Aboriginal youth is up to five times that of their non-Indigenous counterparts. In remote communities, such as the Kimberley region in Western Australia, suicide rates are almost 100 times the national average.

Over 30 Aboriginal Elders from Australia’s Top End have released a new report in which they discuss the alarming increase of youth suicide and self-harm in their communities.

Published on 15 April, The Elders’ Report into Preventing Indigenous Self-harm and Youth Suicide contains interviews with Aboriginal Elders from 17 communities in the Northern Territory, Queensland, and Western Australia in which they examine the causes and solutions required to address this devastating issue.

Each Elder was asked two primary questions: why is self-harm and suicide happening, and what is the solution? Both questions were answered with a high level of agreement between the speakers.

In response to the first question, the speakers stressed a loss of cultural connection as a key cause Aboriginal youth are becoming more vulnerable to self-harm. David Cole, an Elder from Central Desert in the Northern Territory, addresses this in his interview.

“The Elders are the ones that hold on to the culture and the lore. They are the most important aspect of healing our people. When we lose that, we lose who we are; and when you lose who you are, what do you have to live for? Many of our people are giving up. Many of our people are suffering because of that loss of spirit; loss of identity,” Mr Cole says.

As for what can be done many Elders agreed that, while well-meaning, government measures to address the issue have not worked. Solutions lay in giving power back to the Elders of each region, so that they may lead the healing process and reconnect Aboriginal youth to their culture and country.

In his interview, Elder Andrew Dowadi of Maningrida in the Northern Territroy sends this message: “Support us to take our people out on country. All we ask is to help us so we can change things. We are losing our own countrymen. We are losing our lives.”

The report is an initiative of a wider campaign to end Aboriginal youth suicide. You can sign an online petition to redirect funding to grassroots communities.

“Not supporting homelands, not supporting cultural education, and not supporting cultural activities is actually a matter of life and death for us. It’s not just a nice little thing to support; it’s our people’s inner soul,” says Bernard Tipiloura of Melville Island in the Northern Territory.