Established in late March 2020, Gayaa Dhuwi (Proud Spirit) Australia is the national leadership body for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander social and emotional wellbeing, mental health, and suicide prevention. It is governed and controlled by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander experts.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples belong to the oldest living cultures on Earth. These cultures sustained Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, families and communities for tens of thousands of years, and remain a source of pride, strength and wellbeing in the present.
In common with Indigenous peoples in many countries, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples connect their mental health to strong Indigenous identities, to participation in their cultures, families and communities, and to their relationship to their lands and seas, ancestors, and the spiritual dimension of existence. This holistic concept of health that includes mental health is referred to as social and emotional wellbeing.
Nine key principles of social and emotional wellbeing were identified in the 1989 National Aboriginal Health Strategy, expanded in the 1995 Ways Forward Report, and summarised in the National Strategic Framework for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples’ Mental Health and Social and Emotional Wellbeing 2004-2009. These enduring principles are adopted in the Gayaa Dhuwi (Proud Spirit) Declaration and appended to it.
These Guiding Principles are:
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health is viewed in a holistic context, that encompasses mental health and physical, cultural and spiritual health. Land and sea is central to wellbeing. Crucially, it must be understood that when the harmony of these interrelations is disrupted, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ill-health will persist.
Self-determination is central to the provision of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health services.
Culturally valid understandings must shape the provision of services and must guide assessment, care and management of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ health problems generally, and mental health problems, in particular.
It must be recognised that the experiences of trauma and loss, present since European invasion, are a direct outcome of the disruption to cultural wellbeing. Trauma and loss of this magnitude continues to have inter-generational effects.
The human rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples must be recognised and respected. Failure to respect these human rights constitutes continuous disruption to mental health, (versus mental ill-health). Human rights relevant to mental illness must be specifically addressed.
Racism, stigma, environmental adversity and social disadvantage constitute ongoing stressors and have negative impacts on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ mental health and wellbeing.
The centrality of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander family and kinship must be recognised as well as the broader concepts of family and the bonds of reciprocal affection, responsibility and sharing.
There is no single Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander culture or group, but numerous groupings, languages, kinships, and tribes, as well as ways of living. Furthermore, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples may currently live in urban, rural or remote settings, in traditional or other lifestyles, and frequently move between these ways of living.
It must be recognised that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have great strengths, creativity and endurance and a deep understanding of the relationships between human beings and their environment.
Gayaa Dhuwi (Proud Spirit) Australia takes its name from the Gayaa Dhuwi (Proud Spirit) Declaration as it contributes towards the shared goal of “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leadership across all parts of the Australian mental health system to achieve the highest attainable standard of mental health and suicide prevention outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples."