The Healing Foundation present at Lowitja Conference 2023
In mid-June, The Healing Foundation (THF) presented at the Lowitja Institute’s International Indigenous Health and Wellbeing Conference 2023, on collective healing, truth, and ‘living a good life’.
The conference was held at Cairns Convention Centre, on the lands of the Gimuy-walubarra and Yidi peoples. It is a biennial event attracting a global audience committed to sharing knowledge for the health and wellbeing of Indigenous communities. The sold-out conference ran over three days, from 14th-16th June, and featured keynote presentations from local and international speakers, daily concurrent sessions, exhibitors and poster presentations, a rich cultural and social program and opportunities to network and connect with others.
Fiona Cornforth, THF CEO, was proud to represent THF at the conference. “This conference is important for so many reasons,” Fiona explained. The conference brought together over 1,200 people on each day who work for the health and wellbeing of Indigenous peoples, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders, international Indigenous leaders, researchers, health professionals and practitioners, community representatives, policy makers, government and others working in First Nations health and wellbeing organisations, institutions and services.
Professor Catherine Chamberlain, attending from The University of Melbourne noted, “This conference is about the truth. Research is about finding the truth, and we want to not have that truth skewed through a lens of racism and discrimination…”. She went on to add that research is bringing to light evidence which confirms what has always been known: “trauma is driving a lot of the persistent health inequalities that we’re seeing and why we’re really struggling to close the gap. So, healing and recovery are really, really, important to be able to improve health across the whole life course.”
Fiona was at the conference to share that, “Stolen Generations survivors, against the all the odds, lead an intergenerational healing movement. They bravely and courageously show us every day what it looks like to try to show up, to recover, to protect, to keep ourselves safe and well. We’re able to live good lives because of the work of survivors, because of everything they’ve done to try to keep us safe and well, to protect us in many instances, but also to raise us, with knowledge of what it takes to keep ourselves safe and well.”
The Wednesday morning session was about ‘Living a Good Life’, with the theme of the day being ‘Truth’. “The truth is,” Fiona said at the conference, “is that we haven’t done very much as a nation yet to allow survivors live a good life. We’re fifteen years on from an apology to Stolen Generations survivors, yet they’re not living their best lives. We’re yet to help them recover from all the complex trauma and additional burden they carry. Sorry wasn’t enough. It hasn’t been enough because it wasn’t followed up with really good investment. And by investment, I mean coordinated, adequate, and across the country. There are wrongs that need to be righted.”
In her message to those gathered on Wednesday, Fiona shared that it is the Stolen Generations survivors who are leading the way, in truth telling, and on what is needed to ‘live a good life’. “Today’s conference theme is truth,” she acknowledged. “Survivors were the first of our peoples to formally participate in a truth telling inquiry, where they put into words the pain and trauma of being separated from their families, community, Country, culture, and languages. They forewarned what would happen if their experiences of accumulative complex trauma were not acknowledged, addressed, and responded to, and if there wasn’t that chance to recover.” Furthermore, Fiona pointed out, THF is working to see survivors and their families living good lives, feeling strong and keeping spirits strong. “It is time for all Stolen Generations survivors and their families to live safely and well, to age with dignity and with the V.I.P support they tell us that they need, and that we know they more than deserve.”
Fiona’s message went on to highlight that the best recovery from complex trauma is survivor and community led healing. Fiona highlighted that THF works with the network of Stolen Generations Organisations (SGO’s) who demonstrate this every day in their work. THF administers an annual grant to these SGO’s on behalf of the government for collective or community healing, which was further elaborated on later in the conference by THF’s Leonie Williamson and Royden Fagan.
Fiona explained in her presentation that trauma-aware, healing-informed practice that comes from survivors – is complex, specialised, and urgent. “It represents redress and justice,” she explained. “It looks like keeping survivors healthy, connected to culture, family, and community. And at the same time, doing no further harm.” Fiona spoke about the Star of the Sea Elders Village, and the community on Waibene, as “one of the guiding lights”. They provide an example of this type of healing. She explains that, “This Elder’s village was designed so that our Elders can age on Country and maintain their vital part in community and culture, and importantly, where their culture is and knowledge is respected and valued.”
In wrapping up her message, Fiona said, “This Country owes it to Stolen Generation survivors to do whatever it takes to make the rest of their lives better, and we can be led by them. We’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain.”
“More coordination, more investment, and just honouring what’s already been done by way of healing across the country. We know that what we need for a good life for our peoples, especially at the heart of good life, is connection. Connection to family, community, Country, culture, language, lore, joy, love, brilliance, abundance, knowledge that transcends all current structures and systems that we now are forced to interact with.”
Fiona concluded, “Survivors lead us in intergenerational healing, in the healing of this country. And so, if you haven’t yet, it’s time to take their lead.”