SYDNEY — Inter-generational trauma and poverty are being blamed for a series of suicides by young Aboriginal people in Western Australia. The Kimberley region has one of the highest suicide rates in the world and a coroner has published her report into more than a dozen deaths, including that of a 10 year old girl who took her own life in 2016.
The coroner blamed a cluster of suicides in the Kimberley region of Western Australia on “the crushing effects of intergenerational trauma”. It is the catastrophic and lasting impact of European colonization, as well as the loss of tribal land and culture. Five of the victims investigated by the inquest were Indigenous children aged between 10 and 13. They often lived in dysfunctional homes, and were exposed to alcohol abuse and violence.
Western Australian police sergeant Neville Ripp hopes the coroner’s report will help authorities recognize the danger signs.
“It is a wake-up call for everyone to protect your children for us as police officers to pick up on these warning signs,” said Ripp.
The coroner has made 42 recommendations, including restrictions on alcohol sales and screening babies for fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. Drinking during pregnancy can cause lifelong mental and physical problems, and is thought to have been a factor in the Kimberley suicides.
There have been several official reports into Indigenous self-harm in Western Australia in the past two decades, but little has changed.
Rob McPhee from the Kimberley Aboriginal Medical Service hopes that communities will have a greater say in how these tragedies can be prevented.
“I think the coroner this time has taken a much broader approach in terms of looking at things like self-determination and empowerment. They are things that are hard to do and they are things that governments struggle with because it is about shifting control and power back to community and governments really have a lot of trouble doing that,” McPhee said.
Community leaders, however, doubt that this new report will save lives.
Benedicta Pindan is an elder in the township of Looma, where a ten-year old girl took her own life.
“It is just someone coming out to tick the boxes to say I have been to Looma to speak to them about suicide, mental issues,” Pindan said. “I am telling you that is what we call them tick the box people’.”
The Western Australian government said these are “complex issues that would not be solved overnight.” It insists alcohol is devastating Aboriginal communities and that tougher regulations are urgently needed.
Indigenous Australians make up about 3 per cent of the population. They suffer high rates of poverty, ill-health and imprisonment.