[by Senator Pat Dodson]
Today is a difficult day for the Kimberley and the families of those who passed away.
Today, after nearly three years, State Coroner Ros Fogliani has delivered her findings in a significant inquiry into the deaths of 13 Aboriginal children and young persons in the Kimberley region between 2012 and 2016.
The Coroner’s findings were handed down in Perth, and live-streamed to the Regional Courts of Broome, Kununurra, Fitzroy Crossing and Halls Creek. I sat in the Broome Court and it was crowded with a good cross-section of the community.
Inquest into the deaths of thirteen children and young persons in the Kimberley region
This inquiry confirms what we already know – we have a crisis in the Kimberley. The rate of suicide in the Kimberley by Indigenous people, in particular young Indigenous people, is amongst the highest in the world. The Coroner reinforced the well-known social determinants of well-being which First Nations peoples live in.
Ten years have passed since the last major inquiry into the deaths of young Indigenous people – the Hope Inquest. Today confirms yet again, we have made little or no progress.
Clearly, the policies and service delivery that address suicide in our communities are failing and our people are losing hope. Too much seems to be reliant on being delivered from the outside and not from within our community or the Kimberley.
Today, on this day of sorrow and reflection, we must re-think the way we address Indigenous youth suicide.
There needs to be a new form of engagement with Indigenous communities and young people need to have a voice and role in future initiatives if we are to fix the issues and deliver the opportunities for change in the future.
The Coroner, in her final key recommendation, emphasised the principles of self-determination and empowerment in initiatives, policies and programs relating to First Nations peoples. She has relied on the expressed aspirations of the Western Australian Government. The Western Australian Government must now honour this with First Nations people.
Any new approach must be informed by a rigorous analysis of the values driving the delivery of services. It must be holistic and therapeutic – addressing the complex needs of entrenched socio-economic disadvantage, unresolved trauma, cultural disruption, and systemic social exclusion and disempowerment. We need to prioritise programs that value cultural imperatives and programs controlled by Indigenous people.
There is no magical solution to be handed down by government. But government must work in collaboration with communities to achieve a new social order.
The report handed down today must not join the 42 reports into Aboriginal well-being delivered over the last 15 years that simply sit and gather dust. This report must lead a paradigm shift that leads to community-led solutions that address the clear sense of suffering, hopelessness and disillusionment that is being felt.
We must continue to work towards building mabu ngarrungu, strong community, and mabu buru, strong country. Essential to this is mabu liyan – being well inside ourselves through strong connections to family, community and country. Government must understand us and our thinking around culture and well-being and not continue to simply impose its own views.
There is hope for a better way of doing things and to stop this sadness. It requires a resolve to work with First Nations peoples to establish new ways.
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[supplied by Bangarra]
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