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Self-determination essential for healing

In a series of new reports, Torres Strait Island communities share knowledge about the cultural determinants of health, and about healing from the traumas of colonisation.

Fiona Cornforth, CEO of The Healing Foundation, reports below.


Fiona Cornforth writes:

The Torres Strait Island communities of Kerriri, Dauan, and Saibai have launched new reports to take the lead in their own healing.

This is an example of self-determination in action in First Nations communities, where strong leadership has resulted in community-focused solutions that are already having an impact and contributing to healing for individuals, families, and communities.

Fiona Cornforth

Kerriri (also known as Hammond Island), Dauan, and Saibai communities partnered with Mura Kosker Sorority and The Healing Foundation to co-design a roadmap to healing with priority solutions identified and developed by and for community members.

The reports hold the evidence for how important restoring cultural practices, ceremonies, and protocols are to healing for First Nations communities.

They show that communities know and understand best what practical solutions will work, and how important it is that solutions are led by local people and families.

The reports also share how crucial it is to celebrate the important times that also need to be acknowledged as part of healing for First Nations peoples.

We’re seeing communities holding people and service providers to account, to ensure that meaningful and sustainable actions are taken.

Kerriri healing forum participant:

Government can act in ways that cause trauma and disempower us or they can act in ways that help us to heal and empower us.

They can either tell us what they are going to do or listen and ask us how they can support the things we want to do.”

The launch of the three reports follows a series of healing forums held in September 2020, where dialogue took place between a diverse range of key stakeholders, including community members, leaders, Elders and representatives of government and non-government agencies.

Healing Foundation and Mura Kosker staff at the JCU Centre on Thursday Island. Photo credit: David Williams – Gilimbaa

Roadmap to healing

This journey started back in 2012, when the first of many healing forums brought together participants from First Nations organisations and communities to discuss healing needs and solutions to deal with the pain caused by the impacts of colonisation in the region.

Early gatherings were an opportunity for community members to share their stories and lived experience, identify the causes of disharmony in their communities, articulate healing needs and aspirations, and suggest ways to achieve their healing objectives.

Working in partnership with Mura Kosker Sorority, The Healing Foundation has continued working with local stakeholders and communities across the Torres Strait and Kaurareg region since 2012, to support communities to create and lead their own healing opportunities.

We are now seeing the success of this work in action through the Kerriri Meriba Iling Siduan, the Dauanilgaw Dhoeynidnay and the Saibailgaw Dhoeynidnay.

Healing forums focused on important issues that communities would like to address, including but not limited to housing and infrastructure; education and employment; the ongoing effects of intergenerational trauma; Native Title; the impacts of climate change; and the COVID vaccine rollout on the remote islands.

On Saibai Island after the report was handed over. Photo credit: David Williams – Gilimbaa

Healing solutions

Saibai healing forum participant:

We need to raise our children out of our Indigenous lore rather than our colonial past.”

Dauan healing forum participant:

Healing the past, we have to heal today and begin the journey … from intergenerational trauma to intergenerational healing.”

We know from the forums that when communities are supported to prioritise their own healing actions, and when service providers and policymakers all come on board and truly listen to communities – when we see solutions led and informed by local people – then amazing things can happen.

The healing reports outline the key findings from each forum, the priority actions and healing solutions, and next steps as determined by each community.

They explore five focus areas that were identified by communities: child safety and wellbeing; community safety; spiritual healing; self-determination; leadership and governance.

Solutions put forward include strong local leadership and governance that fosters pride in Torres Strait and Kaurareg people’s spirituality and culture, and self-determined communities with the skills, capacity, and support to proactively promote and ensure safety and wellbeing for all peoples, including children, parents, and Elders.

To achieve this, solutions include greater and more trauma-aware, healing-informed support for communities to create and lead healing opportunities; the establishment of a healing network with champions and leaders who are recognised as the key interface between community and service providers; and greater awareness of the differences between Western and cultural governance values.

Communities want to understand, access, and exchange information with services that can support mutually beneficial healing outcomes. This includes embedding healing within government and non-government initiatives that are already being provided.

There is undeniable evidence and data about the issues communities are facing on the ground and on how solutions can be achieved. It is essential that we keep supporting communities on their healing journeys by providing culturally appropriate, trauma-aware and healing-informed resources to ensure effective solutions continue.

We know that the trauma from colonisation hasn’t been addressed or resolved and that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are still subject to systems built on principles of racism without First Nations peoples in mind. We know how powerful it is when our people understand the impacts and extent of trauma.

But just as importantly, we know also how powerful and essential our cultures are in providing healing. First Nations cultures have always kept us safe and well. And restoring culture and prioritising healing is essential to lead intergenerational healing.

I’d like to pay homage to Mura Kosker Sorority, our partners in the Torres Strait, who are always working alongside families and communities. They have a presence in every island and it’s through them that we have project officers and team leaders who can speak to people and remove any barriers to undertaking this important work.

Saibai healing forum participant:

Because we have looked after this land for thousands of years it’s appropriate we take our island back.

We have to hold the island for our children and make sure this is a healing place.”

Mura Kosker Sorority Incorporated is an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisation based in the Torres Strait region with programs, services and resources designed to support women, men, children and their families with cultural, spiritual and emotional wellbeing.

The Healing Foundation is a national Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisation that partners with communities to heal trauma caused by the widespread and deliberate disruption of populations, cultures and languages over 230 years.  This includes specific actions like the forced removal of children from their families.

 • Fiona Cornforth is a Wuthathi descendant of the far northeast cape of Queensland with family roots also in the Torres Strait Islands.


See Croakey’s archive of stories on the cultural determinants of health.

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