Healing the wounds of colonisation

3 August 2022


- by PACFA College of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Healing Practices Project Officer Thaedra Frangos (pictured 3rd from left, with (L-R) Emeritus Professor Judy Atkinson, Gavin Morris and Glenda Kickett)

'The most important thing we can do in our lives is to listen. Listen to our children; they are telling us what is happening in their lives in ways we struggle to understand.’

Convenor of PACFA’s College of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Healing Practices Emeritus Professor Judy Atkinson reminded participants at the 4th International Childhood Trauma Conference, held in Melbourne, of the power of listening, as she facilitated a Masterclass Talking Circle of First Nations thought leaders on ‘First Nations Ways of Healing Trauma and the Connections with Neuroscience.’

Aunty Judy opened the Talking Circle on 1 August with an acknowledgment of the late musician Uncle Archie Roach, whose song ‘They Took The Children Away’ - which amplified the voices of the Stolen Generation - was played at the beginning of the day-long event. This was a recognition of the healing nature of Uncle Archie’s music and the commitment to honour his legacy by continuing this healing work.

Aunty Judy followed with a quote from Lewis Mehl-Madrona, First Nations American Associate Professor of Family Medicine and author of Healing the Mind Through the Power of Story.

 ‘We live storied lives. We organise experiences into stories as we share lives interactively with others. The plot, characters and morals of the stories we hear influence our synaptic connections, they change our brains. Stories also live through us. We are born into stories, those of our families, nations, religions and cultures.’

 Each of the panel’s First Nations thought leaders: Gavin Morris (Australia) – also a member of the CATSIHP Leadership Group, Joe Williams (Australia), Cindy Blackstock (Canada), Alayne Hall (New Zealand), Lewis Mehl-Madronna (USA), and Glenda Kickett (Australia) shared insights about storytelling and how stories live in individuals, in the collective and in the land. The panel held hope that stories will change with healing.

Healing will occur through connection to Country; Indigenous knowledge, language and cultural practices; relationships; deep listening and truth-telling. All these elements are antidotes to the traumas of colonisation and its reverberating impacts - the theft of land, the displacement of peoples and the sexual assault of women and children.

The panellists emphasised that Indigenous Healing Practices are Indigenous-led and self-determined by communities but are for everybody. They involve the physical, emotional, spiritual and community.

The need for truth-telling encompasses talking about the wound of the colonising assault on First Nations women and children. Healing starts with truly listening to the children, who, in the words of Cindy Blackstock, teach us that any real justice ‘has to be done on the basis of love and truth.’ 

All who participated in the Masterclass had an inspiring and connecting day.