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Learning about Aboriginal trauma and healing

Staff and students working together for our Aboriginal trauma workshop

07 July 2017

“...thank you to my ancestors and elders for the journey they have walked to make my journey easier.”

Data gathered by our client service areas show up to 10 per cent of people accessing our services identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.

In the lead up to NAIDOC Week, held the first full week of July, Janine Cattanach Director from The Cultural Consultancy GroupThe Cultural Consultancy Group spent some time with Sacred Heart Mission staff and students, teaching us about Aboriginal history, culture and achievements.

More importantly Janine taught us about Spirit and the fluid journey between a broken, wonky and strong Spirit. We learnt about the underlying trauma impacting the Spirit, how this affects a person, and what actions we can undertake to help heal and support the Spirit.

What is intergenerational trauma?

Trauma, which is caused by a shocking, terrifying, or devastating event, can be passed down from generations. This is referred to as intergenerational trauma, and can be passed on through parenting practices, behavioural problems, violence, harmful substance use and mental health issues.

Why and how does it affect Aboriginal Australians?

Aboriginal people in Australia have experienced trauma as a result of colonisation, including the associated violence and loss of culture and land, as well as subsequent policies such as the forced removal of children. In many Aboriginal families and communities, this trauma continues to be passed from generation to generation with devastating effects.

Research shows people who experience trauma are more likely to engage in self-destructive behaviours, develop life-style diseases and enter and remain in the criminal justice system. In fact, the high rates of poor physical health, mental health problems, addiction, incarceration, domestic violence, self-harm and suicide in Aboriginal communities are directly linked to experiences of trauma. These issues are both results of historical trauma and causes of new instances of trauma which together can lead to a vicious cycle in Aboriginal communities.

Once we understand how history and policies have negatively impacted Aboriginal people, can we then understand underlying trauma and the intergenerational impact experienced by Aboriginal people. Then we can learn the different ways of helping Aboriginal people through their trauma and onto a healing journey that is culturally appropriate and safe.


What is being done?

Sacred Heart Mission feels it is important not just to be welcoming; but to prepare to be better able to offer culturally suitable responses, take culturally informed actions where appropriate; and to develop these responses and actions in consultation with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

In 2012 Sacred Heart Mission formed a project group to work on a Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP). The aim of the RAP is to acknowledge the need for the organisation to build stronger relationships and trust with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.  

Sacred Heart Mission wanted input from these diverse cultures to learn how to make our services more accessible to peoples of these communities, who have experienced trauma including cultural genocide and displacement and the social exclusion and disadvantage caused by predominant white European settlement of Australia.

To echo the ethos of the RAP program: we need to turn our good intentions into informed and real actions.

During NAIDOC Week, we remember all the Aboriginal people - Elders, fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, friends - who have lived through trauma and walked the long and hard journey to fight for equality and recognition, to make the journey for their future generations easier.

By embarking on the journey together with Aboriginal people, and working in partnership with Aboriginal people, we can better progress towards improving health and social outcomes.

The Aboriginal Trauma Informed Care Workshop was full of insightful information, generated a lot of questions and discussions, and had everybody engaged to better understand Aboriginal people, the impact of trauma, and how we can better help them through their healing journey.

Sacred Heart Mission acknowledges the Yalukit Willam clan of the Boon Wurrung, part of the Kulin Nation, as the Traditional Owners of the land on which we operate. Sacred Heart Mission commits to providing accessible and culturally appropriate services to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People.   pdf Read our Reconciliation Action Plan here (445 KB) .


Sacred Heart Mission respectfully acknowledges the traditional custodians of the land on which we operate our services. We pay our respects to the ongoing living cultures of Aboriginal peoples, and to Elders past, present and future.
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