‘Healing’ from a First Nations perspective refers to the communities’ holistic social, economic, political, emotional and physical health and wellbeing. Within a First Nations framework we understand that everything is connected and our healing mythologies reflect a holistic approach.
First Nations people live with complex intergenerational trauma, which the mainstream health system and associated industries are failing to address. The ongoing ‘Close The Gap’ reports demonstrate how the mainstream health system is failing First Nations people.
Here in the Northern Rivers we have some inspirational cultural approaches to healing.
Carlie (Caroline) Atkinson is a Jiman/Bundjalung woman living on Widjabul Wiabul lands. Carlie is the mum of beautiful twins, the CEO of We Al-li, founder of the Northern Rivers Community Healing Hub (an Indigenous approach to the healing needs of our community following the catastrophic floods) and an associate professor at Melbourne University.
‘Our culturally-Informed trauma-integrated healing approaches start from an understanding that Aboriginal-specific, vital cultural processes that enabled healthy social systems to function for overall wellbeing, must inform our response to the generational trauma continuing from first invasion.
‘Culturally informed’ means our healing must be communal and refers to the deep culture of conflict management and group healing in critical ceremonies on a regular basis to sort our conflict and restore lawful relationships, on our land and with each other. Such ceremonies were normal essential communal activities,’ explains Carlie.
Anger and grief
Carlie shares that in We Al Li’s work they often deal with two critical emotions, anger and grief. Anger is often compounded by self or medication with alcohol and other drugs, that comes from the generational layers of colonial dispossession and violence. Grief from the losses to land, deep culture, fractured kin relationships, rites of passage embodied in codes of ethical conduct, the essential ceremonies that defined law-lore with inner connectedness across these lands now called Australia.
‘A trauma-integrated approach refers to our understanding that trauma is multi-layered, communal, passed down across generations, experienced and expressed in the distress, pain and suffering that defines our incarceration on our own Country. Trauma is compounded and complex across generations.
‘Trauma integrated’ means we understand the experiences and symptoms of trauma experienced by our people are generational, compounded and complex in the seventh to eighth generations of colonial intrusion. Trauma-integrated services use the knowledge base about trauma and fuse these principles within our own purpose and vision of healing ourselves, our families, our communities, organisations, and contributing to the healing of a nation,’ outlines Carlie.
‘Healing approaches draw on the meaning of the word healing – curative, restorative, repairing in a return to wholeness, while we share our cultures of holding healing ceremonies, together. The main difference between this approach and mainstream approaches is that it treats the human as a whole including an understanding that we are part of the living environment, Country and understands that cultural ways have provided activities that actually work with and prevent trauma,’ Carlie continued.
Lara Lei is Indigenous programs coordinator at the Murwillumbah Community Centre, offering a holistic approach to service delivery including an Aboriginal family support worker, Kids Caring for Country After School Program (KCFC), Guyahyn early childhood playgroup and the Kinship Festival.
These programs are free for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and operate within strengths-based, person-centred and trauma-informed framework and offer advocacy, advice, case management, information and referral to Indigenous families in a culturally safe and supportive setting. These programs are part of a cultural framework which supports the return-to-wholeness approach and acknowledges the need for connection to Country, community, and cultural practice.
The Kinship Festival is an annual free community event held in Murwillumbah to celebrate National Families Week. The event engages Indigenous and non-Indigenous families in an event to connect families with community, culture, and Country and to link them to local supports through shared learning and participation.
Kinship Festival is directed by the Kinship committee, made up of Bundjalung elders, cultural leaders and service providers. It relies on volunteers and donations. The event celebrates community and offers a range of activities, workshops and performances aimed at children, young people and families. Kinship Festival is on 27 May 2023. To support the event contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ella Noah Bancroft is an Indigenous change-maker, artist, storyteller, mentor and founder of The Returning Indigenous Corporation.
The Returning offers programs designed to reconnect participants back to self, community, land and our more-than-human kin through a culturally safe lens that prioritises decolonised health and wellness.
The Returning is a charity that is built around inclusivity and especially access to Country, community and knowledge for First Nations people.
‘I think getting Mob back on country and being involved in Indigenous-led activities based around health and wellness assists in healing trauma. A huge part of us all healing is coming home to Country, resisting assimilation and returning to our health and wellbeing through a cultural lens. This means health and wellness built around our interactions with the natural world and not with the wellbeing industry, which is exclusive, expensive and often very white,’ Ella explains.
‘We are returning to a more holistic view of everything interlinked, that will allow us to see that self-care will never heal our earth, it’s community-care that will support in the restoration of our communities, both human and more-than-human kin,’ continues Ella.
‘We are always looking for support, including donations of funds, goods, services and also people can volunteer their time. You can also give us land back so we can set up our first east coast health and wellness retreat run by mob for mob,’ states Ella.
It is inspiring how these First Nations women (dubay) are serving community in providing holistic healing approaches for all of community healing. First Nations understand that we heal together as a community, not in isolation, and that wellness includes a connection to Country, community, and culture.