Heal Together

Healing empowers communities and individuals to take control of their lives by effectively addressing trauma and distress. It means people can rebuild and restore individual and collective wellbeing. For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, healing and culture are inextricably linked.

Research indicates that healing for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people must recognise the historical and societal causes of trauma while empowering people to overcome the impact of this trauma on their lives. It involves recognising the prevalence of trauma and the ongoing systemic disadvantage faced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and celebrating the resilience and strength with which people transcend this.

The Bringing them home report emphasised the importance of self-determination for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and communities in overcoming the legacy of forced removals from family and Country. Survivor led, community-based services and organisations must be supported to lead and develop their own healing programs to enable communities to overcome the trauma of removal and limit the intergenerational transfer of trauma. The report states that ‘Only Indigenous people themselves are able to comprehend the full extent of the effects of the removal policies. Services to redress these effects must be designed, provided and controlled by Indigenous people themselves.’

The social and emotional wellbeing and healing needs of those who were forcibly removed from their families and communities are distinct from the wider Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population. Healing needs to be led and developed by Stolen Generations members and recognise their need for connection with one another, their families, and their culture as critical to recovery.

Stolen Generation resource kit for teachers and students – Florence Onus and her granddaughter.

Healing can happen through many different ways and can be individual and collective.

Individual healing happens when survivors and their descendants have the tools and support that they need to lead their own healing journey. Individual healing can look like sharing personal stories, connecting back to culture and Country, connecting with family and community, and working directly with health professionals. It can mean being part of healing programs, truth-telling, and participating in collective healing.

When thinking about healing for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, it is important to remember that men and women might need access to different types of healing support.

The breakdown of traditional knowledge systems and roles has resulted in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men suffering from trauma, with symptoms including poor health, poor social and emotional wellbeing, low self-esteem, substance misuse, family violence, incarceration, and suicide. It is important that men lead healing programs to address unresolved trauma. Evidence from The Healing Foundation’s programs that have been designed in collaboration with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men identifies eight key themes to strengthen and protect men’s spirits, families, culture, communities, and roles, and helps them to heal:

  • education – taking their place as strong learners and teachers
  • employment – taking their place as strong providers
  • health – taking their place as strong men
  • identity – being stronger in themselves and their place as leaders
  • law – taking their place as positive role models
  • relationships – taking their place as nurturers
  • resources – empowered in their various roles
  • safety – taking their place as protectors.

Many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women have experienced high levels of trauma, including the grief and loss of having their children forcibly removed, and exposure to various forms of violence. This means many women experience symptoms of trauma including depression, anxiety, poor physical health, and substance abuse, which can keep them in cycles of trauma, and increase the occurrence of intergenerational trauma. Many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women also carry the burden of supporting their communities and families through child rearing, which carries with it not only family, community, and cultural responsibilities, but also the unresolved trauma associated with the historical dislocation of mothers from their children.

Healing for women needs to be led by women, where safety and wellbeing is fostered. Programs designed for women to support other women through healing journeys while reconnecting them back to family, culture, and Country can provide women with an intergenerational strength that supports their esteem, pride, and place in community, while improving their physical and social and emotional wellbeing.

Collective healing happens when Stolen Generations survivors, descendants, and their communities are supported and empowered to heal through group activities such as family reunions and participation in healing programs. This is particularly important for Stolen Generations members who were institutionalised, and who often share a kinship bond with people who were institutionalised at the same place/s.

Collective healing broadens the scope of who ‘does healing and who healing is ‘for’. It means moving away from a model where expert professionals work with individuals to a model where individuals develop their own skills and capacities to empower healing in themselves, their families, and communities. Collective healing engages all participants to grow circles of relationships that foster healing across communities.

Whatever form it takes, collective healing involves bringing people with similar experiences together, often with their children and grandchildren, in a safe space where they can share, get to know their own story, build understanding and skills, and take positive steps towards a better future.

Our Stolen Generations – Collective Healing

Healing Programs

Successful healing programs must be survivor led. Stolen Generations Aboriginal corporations work with survivors, descendants, and communities to promote healing in many different ways, including through healing circles, art programs, family history research and reunions, oral history collection, education programs, redress support, women’s healing spaces, men’s healing spaces, and social and emotional wellbeing support.

Since 2012 The Healing Foundation has funded healing initiatives for Stolen Generations survivors and descendants. Community-led, these programs have been centred on creating healing environments, which are fostered through four key elements:

  • coming together with other survivors to share stories of pain, hope, and renewal
  • reconnecting and strengthening culture and identity
  • trauma aware, healing informed services and responses
  • healing solutions led by and for Stolen Generations survivors.

Torres Strait Island Healing Forum – Saibai

The evaluation of healing projects has shown that healing occurs for individuals and communities through engagement in programs such as:

  • (re)connection) to Country and culture through art, music, song, dance, language and ceremony
  • healing gatherings, camps, and workshops
  • men’s and women’s gatherings/support groups
  • support for Elders to document their stories and knowledge
  • documentation of storytelling through art, poetry, song, writing, and drama
  • family reunions
  • empowering Stolen Generations survivors to develop and lead healing solutions.

Key facts provided by The Healing Foundation

Resources and further reading

Key resources



Pathways to Healing by Jenna Lee

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