NACCHO Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Health News: Data research on family and sexual violence

protest in Alice Springs with Aboriginal women holding banner with Aboriginal art and text 'Town Camp Women Say Stop the Violence'

The image in the feature tile is from an ABC News article Domestic violence in Alice Springs town camps prompts march to raise awareness published on 11 July 2017.

The NACCHO Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health News is a platform we use to showcase the important work being done in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health, focusing on the work of NACCHO, NACCHO members and NACCHO affiliates.

We also share a curated selection of news stories that are of likely interest to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health sector, broadly.

Data research on family and sexual violence

The Albanese Labor Government is investing $15m in First Nations-led research on domestic and family violence, as part of our concrete action towards ending violence against women and children within a generation. This targeted investment is the next stage in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Action Plan under The National Plan to End Violence against Women and Children 2022-32 and reflects the need for concrete action by culturally informed data and evidence eco-system, created and managed by First Nations peoples.

Target 13 under the National Agreement to Close the Gap is to reduce the rate of all forms of family violence and abuse against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and children by 50% by 2031. Current data collection is insufficient to measure progress on this target. The first step to reducing these disproportionate rates of violence is to fully understand the scope of the problem. The $15m research investment will be delivered over five years and aims to develop a data set that can show a national picture for First Nations women and children, whilst being nuanced for community differences and embedding culturally sensitive data collection and reporting practices. An improved evidence framework will also allow the Government to better track progress.

Minister for Social Services Amanda Rishworth emphasised the importance of First Nations people leading the approach to data collection in communities, “It is vital that First Nations peoples lead and own the research that helps to understand the nature and extent of experiences of violence for First Nations women and children. This not only means that we can gain a much stronger picture of the nature and extent of family violence, but that First Nations people have sovereignty over the research and resulting data that will help shape solutions and strategies to end violence against First Nations women and children.”

To view media release First Nations-led data research on family, domestic, and sexual violence, issued yesterday by the Minister for Families and Social Services of Australia, the Hon Amanda Rishworth MP, in full click here. The below video is a trailer to the documentary Not Just Numbers about the a group of inspirational women, the Tangentyere Women’s Family Safety Group, and their work towards preventing family and domestic violence.

Waterloo housing for mob welcome

The CEOs of the Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council (MLALC) and the Aboriginal Medical Services Limited (AMS) have welcomed the NSW government’s commitment to a minimum of 15% of all social and affordable housing in the Waterloo South redevelopment being for Aboriginal people. The Redfern Waterloo Alliance of ACCHOs and Allies arranged a media event, with Warren Roberts speaking as the chairperson and campaign organiser, and Siobhan Bryson, the CEO of Weave, speaking on behalf of the allies.

In announcing changes to Waterloo South, Housing Minister Rose Jackson increased both the amount of social and affordable housing in that redevelopment as well as the proportion that would be dedicated to Aboriginal people. The changes guarantee there will be at least 135 Aboriginal social housing homes and 90 Aboriginal affordable housing homes delivered in Waterloo South through an Aboriginal affordable housing provider.

“This is an opportunity to show a commitment to the Aboriginal community remaining in the area that is famous for Aboriginal people, and where our rights movement commenced and is based,” said Nathan Moran, MLALC CEO. “The Aboriginal Medical Service Redfern considers housing a major component toward improving better health outcomes for Aboriginal people in our community,” said LaVerne Bellear, AMS CEO.

To view The South Sydney Herald article Aboriginal housing for Waterloo welcomed in full click here.

Warren Roberts, Siobhan Bryson, LaVerne Bellear and Nathan Moran standing outside building with 'Matavai' written on it

Warren Roberts, Siobhan Bryson, LaVerne Bellear and Nathan Moran. Photo: Geoff Turnbull. Image source: The South Sydney Herald.

Language at heart of community health

Roughly 250 kms NE of Alice Springs is a place called Utopia. Composed of a loose collection of sparsely populated clan sites in the inland desert, the area is the traditional homeland of the Alyawarr and Anmatyerr peoples, roughly 500 of whom still live in Utopia today. A small body of relatively new scholarship has identified Utopia – where 88% of the population  speaks Alyawarr, and just 3.5% speaking exclusively English at home – as the site of an intriguing phenomenon, the link between the wellbeing of a language and the wellbeing of its speakers.

‘Language is medicine,’ state the authors who explore precisely this nexus in The Oxford Handbook of Endangered Languages (2018). Collectively, these authors are involved in documenting, teaching, researching and maintaining a diverse array of languages across what is now North America. Their striking observation, informed in many cases by scholarship in the authors’ own communities, crystallises the central claim of a small but growing body of research that insists that the declining health of a community’s language does not merely occur alongside sickness in a community but is itself the root of this sickness. If true, the opposite holds as well: namely, that strengthening the use of Indigenous languages offers a path towards physical and emotional healing for their speakers.

At a time when minority languages around the world face continuing pressures from dominant cultures to assimilate – something we witnessed clearly during the COVID-19 pandemics, when vital medical information was literally unavailable across the United States’ big cities in numerous languages spoken by minority groups – what can these perspectives tell us about how we define wellness? What might they add to our understanding of where the tongue ends and the body (corporeal and politic) begins?

To view the essay Language is medicine written by Erica X Eisen and published by Aeon in full click here.

Amnesty International urge greater scrutiny 

Amnesty International Australia (Amnesty) has expressed sorrow and anger following the death of a 41-year old Indigenous man remanded in custody in Hakea Prison, WA. Amnesty noted that coming “just weeks” after Indigenous teenager Cleveland Dodd died by suicide inside Casuarina Prison’s Unit 18 juvenile wing, “the fact that yet another Indigenous life has been lost is outrageous and unacceptable, and highlights a system that is fundamentally broken”.

Amnesty’s Indigenous Rights Advisor, Palawa Elder Uncle Rodney Dillon, said there needs to be a higher level of scrutiny and culpability when it comes to Indigenous deaths in custody. “Each case should be investigated independently by a criminal investigator, and not rely on a government coroner. Our mob are dying inside these prisons. No one has been found responsible, and there are no recommendations coming from the coroner that are stopping deaths in custody,” he said.

Amnesty International Australia’s Community Engagement Associate Campaigner, Rachael McPhail, said “These are preventable deaths that are caused by systemic racism, unconscious bias and a justice system that is heavily stacked against First Nations Peoples.” Amnesty International Australia has repeatedly called for the prevention of Indigenous deaths in custody, by urging governments to implement the 339 recommendations made by the 1991 Royal Commission into Deaths in Custody.

To view the National Indigenous Times article Amnesty International urge greater scrutiny after another Indigenous death in custody in full here.

Hakea Prison, WA

Hakea Prison. Photo: Justin Benson-Cooper (The Sunday Times). Image source: National Indigenous Times.

Research into illicit drug use in regional Victoria

Associate Professor Bernadette Ward, from Monash Rural Health, is helping lead a huge expansion of research into illicit drug use in rural Victoria, collecting information on what’s now the largest active group of people who use drugs in Australia. The new study, called MIXMAX, combines two established projects – the SuperMIX study of people who inject drugs, and the VMAX study on methamphetamine (ice) smoking in metropolitan and regional Victoria.

MIXMAX is a partnership between Monash Rural Health and the Burnet Institute. It will initially focus on the Mildura region after receiving new funding from the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC). SuperMIX began in 2008, and is a Burnet Institute study based in Melbourne. VMAX began in 2016, focusing on Melbourne, Bendigo, Shepparton and Gippsland.

A community event by Monash Rural Health and the Burnet Institute will be held in Mildura tonight, 8 November 2023, to explain the expansion. Researchers will also meet healthcare workers and a regional Indigenous health group ahead of the study. Associate Professor Ward said “We do know that in Mildura, anecdotally, there are lots of reports of people and family members and friends who’ve experienced some of the harm related to illicit drug abuse. Traditionally, in places like Mildura, small rural towns, there may have been some research done, but it’s usually a one-off. And what we’re now launching into is a five-year study in Mildura. We’ll be recruiting several hundred research participants and following them over time and talking to them about their illicit drug use, their mental health, their support services, their family, who they live with, what support they get, their involvement with the criminal justice system, and their behaviours around things like driving, how they use the drugs, and the frequency. We’ll also be seeking permission from them to collect some blood to look at their bloodborne virus status, so their hepatitis C, and HIV.”

To view the Monash University LENS article Shining a light on illicit drug use in regional Victoria in full click here.

wooden bench with tablets, spoon with white powder, syringe & alfoil

Image source: Monash University LENS webpage.

New LGBTQA+ youth suicide prevention program

Content warning: This article contains reference to suicide. Please refer to the services at the bottom of this article for support.

Funding for the first ever Elder-led intervention to support young Aboriginal LGBTQA+ people will bring new hope for the youth group most at risk of suicide in the nation says Edith Cowan University (ECU). ECU’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Students, Equity and Indigenous) Professor Braden Hill and colleagues from ECU, Murdoch University and the Telethon Kids Institute have been awarded an NHMRC/Medical Research Future Fund grant entitled, Pride Yarns: Development and trial of an inter-generational intervention for supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander LGBTQA+ young peoples’ wellbeing.

The $624,000 of funding over two years will enable researchers to develop and test the feasibility and efficacy of an Elder-led intervention for improving the social emotional wellbeing (SEWB) of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander LGBTQA+ people aged 14-25. It’s based on positive findings from the Pride Yarns with Mob (PYWM) pilot project – which provided opportunities for Aboriginal LGBTQA+ young people to connect meaningfully with Elders. The pilot resulted in young people expressing an increased level of cultural connection and feelings of acceptance and social inclusion of the LGBTQA+ identity within Noongar culture.

10% of Aboriginal young people aged 16–29 years report being lesbian, gay or bisexual and four per cent as trans and gender diverse. Professor Hill said despite a comparatively high rate of suicide and mental health difficulties among Aboriginal LGBTQA+ youth, they remain one of the most under-served groups of youth in Australia in terms of tailored psychological support. “The urgency for interventions such as this cannot be underestimated,” he said.

To view the OUTinPerth article New suicide prevention program for LGBTQA+ [I]ndigenous youth article in full click here.

If this article brought up anything for you or someone you love, please reach out to, call or visit the online resources listed below for support:

13YARN – 13 92 76,

Lifeline – 13 11 14,

Beyond Blue – 1300 224 636,

MensLine – 1300 789 978

Kids Helpline – 1800 551 800

Suicide Call Back Service – 1300 659 467

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