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Healing the Spirit

Since the National Apology to the Stolen Generations in 2008, the Healing Foundation has been engaging with communities and funding healing initiatives, but there is more work ahead, Chair of the Foundation Florence Onus says.

In 2012 the Healing Foundation supported The Deadlys’ Lifetime Contribution Award for Healing the Stolen Generations. The award is designed to focus national attention on the impacts of colonisation on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

The founder of Marumali Healing and a member of the Stolen Generations, Aunty Lorraine Darcy Peeters, accepted the award from Florence and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Mick Gooda in front of a capacity crowd at the 2012 Deadly Awards.

“When I found out that Aunty Lorraine was the recipient, I became quite emotional through happiness,” Florence recalls. “She is so well-known within the community and a leading healer who has shared her knowledge and experiences, as well as being a highly respected Elder. I felt quite honoured to present the award to her and The Deadlys Academy chose well.”

The Healing Foundation was set up post apology and has been operating for three and a half years with the aim of supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people through their healing journeys from the damage caused by colonisation, with a particular focus on the Stolen Generations.

Defining ‘healing’ is complex, according to Florence. It encompasses social and emotional wellbeing, reconnecting with identity, culture, country and community, as well as healing the intergenerational trauma caused by colonisation.

“It is healing of the spirit, the mind, the body, and the social and emotional wellbeing of our people. It’s a whole range of things and healing is a journey.  It is healing the layers of grief and hurt and some people’s journeys can take longer than others,” Florence says.

“For many of our people, they have just begun their healing journey and many of our people haven’t started that journey – suffering and trauma have become a normal part of their lives and we see the result in alcoholism, substance abuse, anger and domestic violence.

“Part of the Healing Foundation’s role is to encourage and support the awareness of the need for healing.”

The Healing Foundation has funded 94 projects across Australia since inception and established a Stolen Generations Reference Group in April 2012 to better meet their needs. Aunty Lorraine is also a member of that group.

“We have also being doing a lot of community engagement across the country with Stolen Generations groups and the feedback from Elders was that they had quite specific needs. We then looked at our priorities. Many of the Stolen Generations have passed carrying their hurt and grief to the grave,” she says.

“We wanted to get to the 50 years plus group and target them, so they can heal and do not have to take their trauma and pain into their twilight years and to the grave.”

The Healing Foundation’s work was funded over four years and one of its priorities is to secure further and additional funding.

“When we were established in 2009, we received $26.6 million over four years to 2013-14 but the needs are far greater than that. In 2010 there were 100 projects asking for a total of $100 million – so one of our priorities is to do some major fundraising to meet the needs of our people,” Florence says.

The Healing Foundation also undertakes extensive research and has completed a feasibility study in the establishment of healing centres across Australia to complement the work of Aboriginal Medical Services (AMS).

“AMS’s just do not have the resources for a holistic approach as they are working with the primary health needs of our people. The community is telling us they want healing centres, but they require extensive funding.

“Our research and evaluation is also a major priority for us because Australia in the past hasn’t conducted comprehensive research into healing. For example, the Canadian Aboriginal Foundation has looked at the cost around incarcerating Indigenous people and compared that to the cost of healing – it is no surprise that the costs of incarceration are higher.”

According to Florence, the Healing Foundation’s work has just begun.

“We are just at the beginning of the work that needs to be done. We have done a lot to establish a framework for the Healing Foundation, build relationships with the community and forge partnerships, but there is so much more to be done.

“My message is to encourage all of our people, both our young people and our Elders, to seek support. If you’re suffering and in pain or grieving, seek support.

“We want to walk beside our people, and particularly our young people, and guide them to the resources they need to heal. It just takes the first step to start your healing journey.”

For more information on the Healing Foundation go to

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