I am writing this article in relation to the recent news of an inquest to be conducted in the suicides of 13 young Aboriginal people in the Kimberley region over three and a half years. It is actually an update of an article I submitted over a year ago to two left leaning social media outlets. Both outlets rejected it and offered ridiculous excuses for doing so. Not surprising, both these outlets delight in publishing garbage that paints white people as the cause of the problems facing Aboriginal people today.
The tragedy of Aboriginal suicide should be enough to give us a shake up and a wake up. While it is encouraging that people are talking about solutions, sadly, worn out offerings like “we need courageous governments to take bold steps to address Indigenous suicide rates” or that colonisation is to blame, still prevail. While this message is seductively appealing, it is extremely disempowering – and let’s not forget who Australia’s most disempowered people are. Overemphasising the role of government communicates the message, “You are at the mercy of government and helpless to do anything to improve your own lives.” Warren Mundine has said it is absurd to look to government to help in overcoming learned helplessness. A solution to the suicide problem must include the people letting go of the misplaced hope that government will fix all of their problems. Further, a solution must entail strategies that are underpinned by the internal message of “There is hope and my life is worthwhile and I can make a difference” – a theme I will elaborate on in this article.
Shifting the Blame
Governments certainly have a role to play, but they can only do so much. I tend to agree with Bishop Christopher Saunders of Broome, who when discussing suicide, stated: “All of the programs in the world aren’t going to make the slightest bit of difference unless somehow we get Aboriginal people to understand that their lifestyles contribute directly to the consequences that we are now seeing.”
The story of the neglect and abuse of Aboriginal children is one we hear about all too often. Great Aussie cartoonist, and my mate Bill Leak, put the spot light on this more than once. While many praised him for daring to raise the topic of neglect and abuse, others were in denial. Consider what an Aboriginal woman (and university lecturer) Chelsea Bond had to say about Leak’s cartoon: “But the moral authority of white men and their supposed truths about Aboriginal people needs to be contested.” Are the statistics on neglect and abuse of Aboriginal children really only supposed truths?
Heads in the Sand
Thankfully, sexual abuse is being recognised as a likely contributing factor to suicide: “There was evidence six of those who died had been sexually abused” instead of the usual message that the government is to blame for the Aboriginal suicide crisis. Nobody is suggesting that sexual abuse is the only cause of suicide among our children and young people, as some may imply. However, it is a source for which too many want to bury their heads in the sand. There is no shortage of reports available that identify the problem, and we have known about it for a long time. For example, back in 2006 saw the release of the Breaking the silence: Creating the Future report. Recently, Karalee Katsambanis, when writing about suicide courageously dared to suggest that there might be a link between suicide and child sexual abuse in Aboriginal communities stating that remote communities can become a playground for paedophiles. She also rightly said that fear of being called a racist prevents us from pointing out some uncomfortable truths. Available research supports what Katsambanis and many others know to be true -that child sexual abuse victims are at increased risk of suicide.
A successful intervention to both suicide and childhood sexual abuse must address the fundamental human needs of having a sense of purpose and a feeling of connectedness with others. Meeting these needs will also see a quantum reduction in a host of other problems that plague dysfunction within Aboriginal communities. So how can these fundamental needs be addressed? Warren Mundine has said: “Social stability requires that people embrace the idea of contributing to their communities” – and employment is a very convenient way that allows people to contribute to their societies. Alison Anderson has stated “It is not just about the money although the money is good. It is about status and respect, about responsibility and dignity. It is also about growing up and not being a child any more, about becoming an adult, so that children, real children, can depend on you.” Naturally, education is a key that opens the door to employment - which is why Noel Pearson has stated that education is the bedrock of everything we have to do. So having a job is more than just a job – it contributes towards sound mental health
At this stage I should acknowledge that there are some people who, sadly, live in environments, often in remote communities, that are so toxic and resource-poor that it can be very difficult for them to bring about change in their lives. We need to ask, “Why are they living in these conditions?” - while so many of their city cousins live in locations with easy access to fresh food, education, jobs, and modern services. However, I believe that even in the most difficult of situations, very often people can call on their internal strengths and make a positive difference – as so many Aboriginal people have proven. Moreover, I like to think that in a country like Australia, no matter where you are or what your situation, there is always someone willing to lend a helping hand. Interestingly, many of the city-based Indigenous cousins who are quick to blame government, racism, and colonisation for the suicides, are themselves doing very well. Why? Maybe they live where they have access to education and jobs?
Addressing the aforementioned fundamental needs will bring stability in people’s lives. They will begin to celebrate living and communities will start thriving. Jobs and education will not save everybody, but they will go a long way towards ending despair and providing people now with hope and a sense of purpose in their lives and for future generations. It is time to move forward. The suicide of an Aboriginal person is the suicide of an Australian, and that diminishes us all.