First Nations people from across the globe will attend the eighth Gathering of Healing Our Spirit Worldwide (HOSW) in Sydney next month, to build solutions for First Nations communities. Co-Chairs of the HOSW Organising Committee, Richard Weston and Professor Juanita Sherwood, tell us that registrations are still open for this unique four-day event, which will start on 26 November, and why you might like to go along.
Richard Weston and Juanita Sherwood write:
Australia is reaching a new level of maturity in its understanding of trauma and its ongoing and devastating impact if left hidden and untreated. The Federal Government’s swift apology to the survivors of institutional child sex abuse last week – and its announcement around truth telling and healing initiatives like a survivor’s museum and research centre – is a good indication that as a nation, we are ready to talk about trauma and how to tackle it. Increasing focus during the Invictus Games on the issues of post-traumatic stress disorder for veterans and intergenerational trauma being passed down to their children is another such indication.
But less is said and understood about the ongoing impact of unresolved and intergenerational trauma in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. For our mob, the causes of trauma stem from 230 years of colonisation in the shape of frontier violence, sexualised violence, massacres, disruption from country , forced exclusion from language and culture and, more recently, the extensive forced removal of children from their families, with its subsequent abuse and neglect. This series of traumatic events affected whole families and communities, meaning the trauma is collective and the ongoing impact is far more profound. Available research highlights the impacts of collective trauma on family relationships,community networks and value structures, and also on health, wellbeing and prosperity. However, we are still just unpacking the structural damage caused, compounded by ongoing issues like institutionalised racism and disempowerment. And we’re also still exploring the best ways to heal individuals, families and communities to break the trauma cycle and close the gap on the factors that determine quality of life.
Share knowledge and solutions
That’s why the Healing Our Spirit Worldwide Gathering, to be held in Sydney in late November, is so important. It’s a chance to bring together First Nations peoples from around the globe to share knowledge and solutions on tackling the impacts of colonisation and delivering improved health and prosperity to First Nations people. Co-hosted by The Healing Foundation and the University of Sydney, it will be the largest event of its kind in Australia, involving more than 200 speakers who will talk about healing approaches that are making a difference in communities around the world, as well as emerging research that will inform future policies and initiatives.
It’s a rare chance for Croakey readers, especially those working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, to gain an understanding of trauma and healing in a First Nations context, by listening to people with lived experience. And it’s an even rarer opportunity to hear how First Nations people are tackling the issues by integrating up-to-date western knowledge into culture-rich programs that build on First Nations wisdom and traditions.
Emphasis on self-determination
What makes Healing Our Spirit Worldwide different to a traditional conference is the emphasis on self-determination. Every panel and plenary, and every speech and paper delivered, involves First Nations people from countries like Canada, Hawaii, New Zealand, Norway and the United States, as well as Australia. We know that First Nations people around the world face similar challenges, which are often the symptoms of trauma – issues like suicide, mental health problems, chronic health issues, substance abuse and increased contact with child protectein and justice systems. The line-up of speakers, and the research and successful programs that they will talk about at the Gathering, proves that we have the solutions within our rich cultures and traditions, and within our communities. We will cover a wide range of topics relevant to people working in health and social service fields, from traditional child-rearing andwraparound services for children in out-of-home care, to family reconnection, enhancing education outcomes, family violence programs, and using traditional food as medicine. We’ll also talk about building First Nations workforce capacity, embedding traditional culture into health policy, addressing intergenerational trauma and building healing-informed and trauma-aware frameworks.
A different future
By sharing these solutions, participants will learn from each other and create a different future for our grandchildren’s grandchildren, which is the overarching theme of the Gathering. Within another generation, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population in Australia will be well over a million people. If we learn from the collective wisdom of global First Nations cultures now, we have the opportunity to create a different future – one where trauma and its symptoms are not part of their everyday lives.
And by attending the Gathering, you can be part of that different future, by using the information you learn to help grow healing informed and trauma-aware services – which support individuals and families to create renewed ways of living, without exacerbating trauma. Eventually, we need to ensure that everyone working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people has the skills to identify and appropriately deal with trauma. Because when we train people to understand how trauma works – and how healing can change lives – they are more likely to pick up warning signs early, diagnose problems correctly and find effective solutions.
Richard Weston is a descendant of the Meriam people of the Torres Strait. He has worked in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander affairs for more than 20 years. As well as holding the position of CEO of The Healing Foundation, he is a member of the National Health Leadership Forum and the Close the Gap Working Group. He is also an advisory committee member for the National Empowerment Project and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention Evaluation Project.
Professor Juanita Sherwood is Associate Dean (Indigenous Strategy & Services) in the University of Sydney’s Faculty of Medicine and Health, following dual roles as the Acting Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Indigenous Strategy and Services) and Academic Director and Professor of the National Centre for Cultural Competence.A proud Wiradjuri woman, she has an extensive research track record in the areas of Indigenous health, education, and social justice.