On White Ribbon Day a few weeks ago the Healing Foundation celebrated the success of Our Men, Our Healing, a groundbreaking capacity-building pilot for Indigenous men in Darwin and three remote NT communities – Ngukurr, Wurrumiyanga and Maningrida.
— Healing Foundation (@HealingOurWay) November 25, 2015
The program aims to strengthen, support and empower Aboriginal men through cultural, educational and therapeutic healing activities. So far, about 450 men have taken part, with many more attending associated events in their communities.
It’s seen huge success, particularly in reducing family and domestic violence, imprisonment, suicide and self-harm, writes Healing Foundation CEO Richard Weston.
Aboriginal men from three remote Northern Territory communities came together in Darwin last month to mark their commitment to ending violence against women and celebrate the success of pilot men’s healing projects in their communities of Maningrida, Wurrumiyanga and Ngukurr.
Over a two year period the projects, collectively known as Our Men Our Healing, have already led to less violence in these three communities, a reduction in the number of men registered with the NT Department of Correctional Services and decreased rates of recidivism and reoffending.
In particular, there has been a marked reduction in reports of family and domestic violence at each site, and women are feeling safer and more supported by the men in their families and communities.
An independent evaluation of the first two years of the Our Men Our Healing program, released last month, found “strong evidence” that it “is already creating significant and sustained change at the community, family and individual levels at each site”.
The most important factor in the projects’ success is the way they were designed in partnership with the men in each community, who continue to shape and run the projects.
This has ensured community ownership and a continued commitment to local needs, solutions, culture and knowledge systems and has enabled men from Wurrumiyanga, Maningrida and Ngukurr to take control of their own healing – with ongoing support, tools and resources provided by the Healing Foundation and an auspicing organisation in each community.
Co-design has also given the men confidence that “our own solutions can work best if we own them and take responsibility for them”. The evaluation concluded it was unlikely the outcomes achieved could have emerged as quickly – indeed at all – without co-design.
Other critical success factors for the program include:
- A strong local auspicing organisation, to provide support and legitimacy to the program
- A space for men to meet that is culturally safe and is recognised in the community as a place for men to talk, cool off, share and support each other. Without such a space the program essentially has no home and can stall
- A strong emphasis on reconnection to culture and country
- Strong local leadership, to help build capacity among other individuals, the group, families and the community
- The inclusion of women who are informed and supportive of the program
Importantly, the essential elements for a quality healing program were also present at each site. These include addressing local issues; local leadership; an understanding of the impact of trauma and grief; being proactive rather than reactive; building individual, family and community capacity; and combining western and Indigenous healing practices.
Before the projects commenced, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men in these communities had acknowledged their uncertainty about their traditional roles and their disengagement from both their culture and identity. The result had seen:
- Poor social, spiritual, physical, mental and emotional wellbeing
- Disempowerment and low self-esteem
- Unemployment and economic disadvantage
- Substance use and misuse
- Child and family abuse, neglect and breakdown
- Lateral and sexual community violence
- Incarceration and recidivism
- Self-harm and suicide.
By reconnecting men to culturally significant roles and responsibilities in their communities, Our Men Our Healing has empowered them to see themselves, their families, their culture and their community through a new lens and increased their self-esteem and confidence.
Men are becoming stronger and were more able to take up their role as providers (through culture and employment), protectors (of families and communities) and teachers (of their children and others).
This is reflected in the words of the men who shared the impact of the healing work in their lives.
We are learning about what violence is, what drives it and how we can heal as men and change. Without this program we would keep doing the same old thing. It’s been wonderful to come out and build my spirit and find the answers
It’s private and supportive and we hold one another like we have not done before and it frees us and puts the good spirit in us
The men’s group brings it [trauma] out of us for family, community, culture and children. We have a lot of pain in ourselves and if the group was not here we could not tell our stories of domestic violence. They would not get talked about
These findings are also reflected in the comments of women interviewed by the evaluation team:
The program has been really successful with men speaking more and owning their mistakes. They are open about their mistakes and willing to share them for the benefit of others. Tyson [pseudonym] has gone to apologise to his neighbours for disturbing them which would never have happened before…
A further endorsement of the healing program came from the Northern Territory Department of Correctional Services, which reported that over a two year period the number of men registered with them from Wurrumiyanga had reduced from 80 to 40. Of these 40, 20 men had been referred to the Wurrumiyanga Men’s Healing Program.
Importantly, the Department stated that
Many of the men do not reoffend and the pleasing thing is that many of the men still stay in the program and the change is remarkable… there has been an amazing transformation in the last couple of years
Across the three sites, more than 448 men have participated in healing activities so far and an additional nine jobs have been created. Participation across age ranges is strong and increasing.
While many of the challenges facing the men and their communities have not gone away and the local environment remains complex and difficult, these projects are providing tangible evidence of change and increased connection to culture, education and employment.
The success of Our Men Our Healing demonstrates that where Indigenous knowledges are engaged and applied, sustainable change can be achieved within short periods.
Our Men Our Healing is the first Healing Foundation program dedicated to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men, and was made possible through a $600,000 contribution from the Northern Territory Department of Children and Families.
Richard Weston is the CEO of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Healing Foundation.