The breakdown of Indigenous knowledge systems and traditional roles as a result of colonisation and past government policies has resulted in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men suffering from trauma.

The symptoms of this include poor physical, social and emotional wellbeing, low self-esteem, poverty and unemployment, substance misuse, family and community violence, sexual abuse, offending, incarceration and suicide.

The challenges plaguing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men are complex and varied. The need for healing manifests differently for men in urban and regional settings compared to those in remote areas.

In remote communities where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander populations are more geographically connected, noticeable trauma in men is particularly widespread and its consequences are compounding. While strong cultural connection is evident in the use of traditional language, other cultural practices have been diluted. Group trauma is intensifying men’s pain, reducing opportunities for positive interactions and perpetuating intergenerational suffering. The geographical isolation of men living in remote areas means fewer resources are available and there is greater fluctuation in available services.

For men in urban settings, challenges include experiencing racism on a daily basis and ‘continual challenges to the authenticity of identity from mainstream society’ which ‘requires them to constantly negotiate and affirm their identity’. Often urban Aboriginal people are forced to argue ‘their rights as members of a marginalised and discriminated group’. According to Dudgeon & Ugle Aboriginal people in urban areas ‘may be more … resistant to dominant society because of a longer and more intense history of oppression’.

Healing our men

Men must lead the way in their own healing. In the past, projects supporting Indigenous men have typically taken mainstream approaches and overlaid them with Indigenous content.  This has been met with limited success. Men’s healing programs must instead be driven by Indigenous cultural authority and participants themselves. This will allow Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men to safely address painful subjects and implement strategies that create enduring change.

Evidence from The Healing Foundation programs designed in collaboration with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men, identifies eight themes to strengthen and protect our men’s spirits, families, culture, communities and roles:

  • 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.

For example, the Our Men Our Healing program is working to strengthen men in three remote Northern Territory communities and several Darwin town communities through cultural, educational and therapeutic healing activities. The program is assisting men to increase their confidence and capacity to gain meaningful employment and overcome issues such as family and domestic violence, incarceration, and poor health and wellbeing.

Further reading

Key resources



Pathways to Healing by Jenna Lee

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