A day of meetings in Mount Isa, held recently at the National Indigenous Australians Agency (NIAA) office, uncovered some heart-wrenching stories about loss and trauma during the recent COVID-19 pandemic.
Not only were community members lost, but many felt very isolated and abandoned, and many families were split apart during lockdowns. With very few mental health services available, it has been a particularly challenging time for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities around the Mount Isa region.
Getting the Queensland Human Rights Commissioner involved
The day was organised by National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Women’s Alliance (NATSIWA) CEO Adjunct Professor Sandra Creamer, who invited Fiona Cornforth and officers from The Healing Foundation to attend along with others, including Queensland Human Rights Commissioner, Scott McDougall.
Sandra Creamer had been hearing many stories of trauma and loss in the Mount Isa area that she felt the Commissioner and other organisations should also hear, in an attempt to draw attention to the many needs in that local community.
One of the particular challenges exists among young people in Mount Isa, who have a distinct feeling of hopelessness, and this was demonstrated time and time again as we heard heart-breaking stories and a theme that “no one cares about us.”
Finding love in the community
Later, our delegation met with service providers in the region working to re-engage young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in Mount Isa. In place of hopelessness, The Healing Foundation team started to find real community care initiatives with lots of hard work, love, passion, and purpose.
That led us to start advocating for more resources and services for young people in Mount Isa. There is a real need for trauma-aware, healing-informed care, and even a healing centre in the region.
Youth justice system that fails young people
Meeting with the Mount Isa magistrate, it struck our team that the court system seldom witnesses the love, care and work of Elders and other community leaders done among the youth in cities and regional towns like Mount Isa. Magistrates and other justice officials only see young people interacting with the court system, a system that generally frightens them, leads to shame, and very often results in poor outcomes.
We had a difficult day, but we returned from Mount Isa determined to think through ways that influential authorities like the Commissioner’s office could support a better understanding of the purpose of healing, and the role it plays in addressing trauma and unmet needs.
The need for a healing centre
A healing centre and an understanding of how healing can positively address crime and crime rates in towns like Mount Isa would go a long way to lessening tensions in the community, re-engaging youth and changing outcomes for so many young people.
If the Mount Isa community could resource and fund an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander healing centre, in the same way mining companies have funded community initiatives like the Mount Isa Lead Alliance, we believe Mount Isa (and other places) could be a very different place for the young people and wider community of the region.
Stay tuned – there’s more work to be done!