This chapter is not designed to invoke guilt but to tell a story based on fact and lived experiences. Readers may find it challenging and may even feel a sense of responsibility, but responsibility in contemporary terms is to provoke empathy and understanding from an historical misguidance of people who were ignorant of the actions governments and individuals had taken that would have such a negative effect on Aboriginal people, and with devastating effects. Two examples of government policy directed at Aboriginal people that may be seen to have the greatest effects on mental and physical health were the Assimilation Policy and the Child Removal Policy.
The contributors to this chapter are Aboriginal women who, while they have led diverse lives, have in common certain similarities that can be drawn from the effects of colonisation and the challenges that have shaped many lives. Many Aboriginal Australians live with the challenges that stem from the colonisation process (that is, past government policies) on a day-to-day basis, and it is not us who live in the past, but rather the past that lives in us.
‘Aboriginal’ is a term used to refer to individuals of Aboriginal descent and who are recognised by the community in which they live, or who identify as Aboriginal. While there is a scarcity of national data that specifically measure the social and emotional well-being of Indigenous Australians, data that are available paint a consistent picture: one of much higher rates of use of mental health services by Indigenous Australians, compared to other Australians (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2009). To gain an understanding as to why Aboriginal people have higher incidence of mental distress. we must examine the historical and cultural factors that have and continue to affect the lives of Aboriginal Australians.
This chapter sets the context for further discussion regarding Aboriginal people and explores issues relating to social and emotional well-being and mental health. Colonisation and its history are discussed, as well as the subsequent decimation/devastation that followed and continues today. Government policies that were specifically designed to control the lives of Aboriginal people are discussed and the effects revealed. The resilience and struggle that has taken place, along with cultural recognition and renewal, ultimately shapes the present.