THUNDER BAY – Though nearly a full world apart, Alvin Fiddler sees similarities between Indigenous peoples in Canada and Australia.
The Nishnawbe Aski Nation grand chief is travelling Down Under this week, accepting an invitation to be a keynote speaker at the second National Indigenous Mental Health and Wellbeing Forum in Perth.
“We just want to share our experiences with them and let them know that no matter here you are in the world, there are people who share a similar history and similar experience,” Fiddler said last week while preparing for the 36-hour flight.
“Some of the things we’re doing here at NAN, I want to be able to share that with them in the hopes they can learn something from what we’re doing here and at the same time I know they’re doing a lot of work there.”
There are efforts in both countries to emphasize getting youth back to the land and reconnecting with their traditional culture, Fiddler added.
Both Canada and Australia’s Indigenous populations share disproportionate rates of incarceration and children in the child welfare system, along with high rates of diabetes, heart disease, cancer and mental health challenges.
Both nations have similarly dark chapters in their past, with Canada’s residential school system nearly mirrored by a century-long practice of Australian Indigenous children being removed from their families, a practice that later became known as the Stolen Generations.
“We share almost the same history,” Fiddler said. “The colonizer acts the same way. A lot of times that involves trying to extinguish their language, culture and even their existence.”
Fiddler’s address will focus on the suicide crisis in NAN’s communities, where he estimated 500 people have taken their own lives since 1986. The presentation will highlight the causes to poor mental health, developing long-term strategies to address the root causes, discussing the government’s role and looking at future initiatives to better deliver effective services on the ground.
“What’s different about the suicide epidemic (Australia is) facing is that the average age over there is 30-35, where for NAN it’s much younger and it’s getting more and more younger,” Fiddler said. “Over the recent years our average age for people that we’ve lost to suicide is around 17 or 18.”