Ballarat and District Aboriginal Cooperative chief operating officer says it is important to "dig deeper" into its own mob in tackling a shocking Indigenous suicide rate.
Indigenous Victorians have died by suicide at twice the rate of the state's non-Indigenous population in the past decade and almost 60 per cent of these deaths were in regional areas, a Victorian Coroner's Court report revealed this week.
The report found Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people experienced higher rates of contact with the justice system, substance use and interpersonal stressors before death, compared to non-Indigenous Victorians.
BADAC's COO Jon Kanoa said the continued fall-out from trans-generational trauma meant the gap in health, education and justice was bigger than before.
But, Mr Kanoa said it was vital for BADAC, the region's Indigenous health and social welfare hub, to focus on being more proactive than reactive for the whole community to move forward. Building cultural identity and bringing more cultural structure to families were keys ways he said helped open discussions on issues people were reluctant to speak about.
We see it that if you've got a strong cultural base and strong personal values, you might think twice about decisions that have a negative impact on your life.Jon Kanoa, BADAC chief operating officer
"We see it that if you've got a strong cultural base and strong personal values, you might think twice about decisions that have a negative impact on your life," Mr Kanoa said.
"...We're dealing with the fall-out from past-government policy. A lot of people might not understand how Indigenous people don't just 'get over' this but Indigenous people are still fighting for equality."
Key issues facing BADAC are mental health injuries and alcohol and other drug abuse, which often leads to issues in criminal justice.
BADAC caters to people from a wide range of Aboriginal communities, not just those with connections to Wadawurrung land. Mr Kanoa said this, coupled with the fact there was no data in the Coroner's report specific to the region, made discussions and cultural awareness even more crucial for suicide prevention.
There are about 2,500 Aboriginal people living in Ballarat. Mr Kanoa said there was a transient element in the population, as people sought out BADAC's services.
"We can see an increase the next five to 10 years as the city's population grows. We have to look at how we keep up with that demand," Mr Kanoa said.
"...Social and emotional well-being is what we're focusing on for the future."
Mr Kanoa said there was already a lot of good things happening in this space, including children's cultural awareness programs.
BADAC was aware there were challenges to change opinions, thinking and behaviour among both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. Mr Kanoa said this was also an opportunity for education and helping Indigenous Peoples to share how they felt about major social issues to help drive change.
For Aboriginal crisis support: Yarning SafeNStrong, 1800 959 563 (noon to 10pm); BADAC, 5331 5344 (weekdays, 9am-5pm). Lifeline: 13 11 14.
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