The World Indigenous Suicide Prevention Conference began in Perth on Thursday with powerful cultural ceremonies involving First Nations Peoples from around the world.
Marie McInerney and Summer May Finlay report:
To the rhythms of clapping sticks, the Nyoongar people led the way down to the white sands and blue waters of the Indian Ocean in beach-side Perth.
With them came the Elders from First Nations in Canada, the US and New Zealand, and delegates from the Pacific states of Tonga, Samoa and the Cook Islands.
They were flanked by the bearers of the three powerful conference flags: the Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islands, and Rainbow flag, the latter to honour LGBTIQ+SB Indigenous people, whose experiences and solutions are centre stage at this event.
With the vast horizon interrupted only by birds and the occasional passing surfer or tourist, hundreds of delegates lined up in single file for the smoking ceremony.
One by one they wafted eucalyptus smoke over hands and faces to cleanse their minds and spirits and help clear thoughts ahead of two days of difficult and courageous conversations.
“None of our families are unaffected, in some way,” said Ken Wyatt AM, the Minister for Indigenous Health and for Senior Australians and Aged Care, who delivered the opening address on the foreshore. Earlier he walked barefoot in the sand with Elders and other dignitaries.
“For us it’s personal,” said Healing Foundation CEO Richard Weston. Most people at this gathering of national and international experts and community leaders have personally experienced the pain of suicide in family and community.
Personal too is the legacy of colonisation that hangs over this conference, and the national conference before it, like the thick grey clouds that occasionally parted for the sun through the ceremony.
‘The blood of our people lies on this sand,” said Nyoongar Elder Aunty Liz as she stood in the sand to welcome delegates onto her country.
“My heart cries for my people but we must begin to heal.”
Community-led healing has been very much the focus of the discussions at both conferences this week.
Watch some of the cultural events
This playlist has a series of short videos from the Welcome to Country and opening ceremony, including Minister Wyatt’s speech. Below is a short clip compiled by Summer May Finlay.
• If you or someone you know needs help or support, call Lifeline on 13 11 14 (24 hours-a-day), contact your local Aboriginal Community-Controlled Organisation, call Beyondblue on 1300 22 4636 or call Q Life: 1800 184 527.
• Summer May Finlay and Marie McInerney are reporting from #WISPC18 for the Croakey Conference News Service. More reports will be published in coming days.