Aiming to empower community voices and motivate community-driven change, the Torres Strait communities of Kerriri, Dauan and Saibai have participated in forums to lead conversations around healing.

Addressing trauma, distress and long-term impacts of colonisation upon the communities’ islands and their people, the forums were coordinated by Mura Kosker Sorority Incorporated and the Healing Foundation.

Mura Kosker Sorority Incorporated has been an advocate for Torres Strait Islanders for more than three decades, providing cultural, spiritual and emotional wellbeing support.

“We believe that the forums will provide Torres Strait communities a voice for creating their own healing solutions,” said Mura Kosker Sorority Incorporated Board President, Regina Turner.

A roadmap to healing will be co-designed by communities and forum facilitators, and will identify priority solutions.

“The forum discussions will ensure that we implement community identified strategies, delivered through a culturally appropriate and sensitive process, tailored to each island community,” Turner said.

With family ties to the Torres Strait, the Healing Foundation’s CEO, Fiona Petersen, understands the impacts of colonisation on community and culture.

“For generations our Torres Strait communities have experienced the devaluing of our culture, language and ways of life that had previously sustained us for tens of thousands of years,” she said.

Petersen noted the importance of healing spaces in discussions around change.

“There is so much that is often not discussed. Our communities try to, for the most part, just get on with things and hope for better conditions or outcomes in the future and that someday service providers and policy makers will just get it,” Petersen said.

“However, the Healing Foundation was set up to work alongside communities to talk about colonisation and its impacts and particularly trauma, and how trauma becomes a barrier to addressing the things we know need addressing.

“The idea behind the forums is to work alongside communities and provide that safe space and time to acknowledge that trauma exists, and it manifests in social issues in our communities.”

“Once it is addressed, once it is out in the open and people feel safe to discuss their experiences, we can move from acting in distress to strength.

“Then those options and possibilities become accessible again and we start discussing the amazing elements of our culture that have always sustained us and kept us safe and well. We can reconnect and prioritise them again.”

Forums took place in the last week with Kerriri having theirs on September 21, Dauan Island on September 23 and Saibai Island on September 24.

Although unable to be physically present at the forums due to COVID-19, Petersen has received positive reports.

“I can’t help but want to have daily updates … on [Kerriri] one of the amazing outcomes and examples there is that they want a Men’s Shed to reignite men’s business and a place where they can safely discuss their roles in family and in community, and how they can tap back into their warriorship again where they haven’t been able to,” she said.

“The other thing that is running through the forums is climate change, sinking islands. People want to understand what resources and communication channels are open to them.”

A history-making moment also occurred at the Kerriri forum, and is set to be recorded and remembered by those involved.

“There was an apology from the Catholic Church. A representative, I believe quite high up in the Catholic Church, has attended that forum with a statement apologising for the disruption they caused,” she said.

“It is really powerful and the Elders there have said that they would love for it to be word for word in our forum report. There were many tears, they were moved by it, it was amazing.

“There are always things that are unforeseen and mark the day, and that was really special.”

Petersen also acknowledged the role of Mura Kosker Sorority Incorporated.

“None of it would be possible without that beautiful collaboration, some of my Aunties that set up Mura Kosker Sorority Incorporated to advocate on behalf of women in their families, they have gone from strength to strength,” she said.

“It is our lighthouse, to use a Torres Strait analogy, what we can do now is go across the country and say this is what we have done here … and we’d like to see it done in every corner of Australia.”

By Rachael Knowles