Pathways to Aboriginal Healing

Leaning tree by Milton Jackson, pastel on paper, 41 x 33cm, c.1949. Noel & Lily White Collection, Berndt Museum of Anthropology. [WU7568]

Leaning tree by Milton Jackson, pastel on paper, 41 x 33cm, c.1949. Noel & Lily White Collection, Berndt Museum of Anthropology, The University of Western Australia. [WU7568]

The first step in re-establishing healthy communities is to acknowledge and understand the impact of the colonial legacy on the lives of Aboriginal people today and the various pathways necessary for healing from historical trauma, using both cultural and contemporary understandings and processes.’ Helen Milroy, Pat Dudgeon and Roz Walker, Community Life and Development Programs – Pathways to Healing

You might have been wondering how our initiative The Carrolup Story can facilitate healing amongst Aboriginal peoples. One way is by helping show the impact of the colonial legacy on Aboriginal people today, as described in the quote above. This quote appeared  in the seminal publication Working Together: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Mental Health and Wellbeing Principles and Practice, edited by Pat Dudgeon, Helen Milroy and Roz Walker, p. 420.

I thought I’d spend a little more time here focusing on some of the other themes described by Helen Milroy and colleagues’ chapter on Pathways to Healing.

One thing that has really struck since working in this field is the Indigenous aspiration of healing the community, rather than just ‘fixing’ the individual as is the case with much of western culture’s mental health system. The former approach is far superior, as I will be discussing in future blogs.

So what might healing Indigenous communities involve? Here is a summary of what the above chapter is about, as described at its beginning:

‘This chapter provides an overarching framework for understanding the components of healthy communities through a healing and community life development approach.

The chapter explores three major themes covering the nature of the trauma that has occurred over many generations and continues to be experienced in the present. These are:

  • the extreme sense of powerlessness and loss of control;
  • the profound sense of loss, grief and disconnection; and
  • the overwhelming sense of trauma and helplessness.

In turn, there are three pathways to recovery to address each of these areas of trauma that have occurred as a consequence of the history of colonisation and its impacts:

  • self-determination and community governance;
  • reconnection and community life; and
  • restoration and community resilience.

Most significantly we argue that Aboriginal worldviews, developing a comprehensive, holistic approach that focuses on individual, family and community strengths whilst at the same time addressing the needs of the community, is both a more culturally acceptable and effective approach to address these issues.’

Here is what the authors have to say about the first steps to re-establishing healthy communities, which is of clear relevance to what we are trying to do with Sharing Culture.

‘The first step in re-establishing healthy communities is to acknowledge and understand the impact of the colonial legacy on the lives of Aboriginal people today and the various pathways necessary for healing from historical trauma, using both cultural and contemporary understandings and processes.

Although the full history of Australia in regard to the treatment of Aboriginal peoples remains in dispute, there is enough evidence to support the experience of sustained, profound trauma for the entire Aboriginal community over generations, suggestive of genocide. See Chapters 1, 6 and 17 for further discussion.

It is partly the ongoing effects of this process that continue to impact negatively at the individual and community level that require healing before the contemporary issues can be successfully dealt with.

Following this, establishing appropriate cultural, community, family and individual support systems and programs to address current needs and developments can occur systematically.

The themes that emerge in the pathways to recovery are:

  • self-determination and community governance;
  • reconnection and community life; and
  • restoration and community resilience.’

These ideas are well worth some serious reflection… and action!

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