Megan Krakouer: 'Suicide rates in First Nations communities a major concern'

July 9, 2024
Megan Krakouer at Ecosocialism 2024
Megan Krakouer speaking on the 'No justice, no peace: Achieving First Nation sovereignty' panel at Ecosocialism 2024. Photo: Pip Hinman

Megan Krakouer, Menang woman of the Noongar Nation, told the Ecosocialism 2024 conference recently that not only is the rate of incarceration “out of control”, First Nations suicides are also rising at an alarming rate.

In Victoria from 2018–2023, 134 Indigenous people died by suicide compared to 4183 non-Indigenous people. The highest proportion was young people aged 25–34 (29.2%), followed by 45–54 (26%) and 35–44 (21.9%).

A March report showed this is a rate of approximately 28.4 suicides per 100,000 First Nations people, compared to 10.8 per 100,000 non-Indigenous people — almost three times higher 

These are sobering facts to reflect on during this year’s NAIDOC (National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee) week.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare said on July 2 that suicide is now an “issue of major concern” for both First Nations communities and governments.

The Australian government acknowledges on its website that suicide and self-harm behaviours “arise from a complex web of personal, social, and historical factors”.

However, it also said “they can be prevented”.

Data from 2018–2022 shows the rate of suicide deaths among First Nations people nationally was more than twice that for non‑Indigenous people.

Deaths in custody

Krakouer, the director of the National Suicide Prevention and Trauma Recovery Project, told the Boorloo/Perth conference the current rate of First Nations people being incarcerated is “out of control”.

She said there is a link between incarceration rates and the number of First Nations people committing suicide.

“So many people take their lives in a prison setting: Three times more [than] non-Indigenous people.

“One in 12 Aboriginal men are in prison today in Western Australia,” Krakouer said. "One in six [Aboriginal men] across this country have been to prison."

Krakouer said in just the last 10 years, suicides have gone from one in 23 First Nations people to one in 16.

“This means that [suicide] is a leading cause of death for our people.

“We’ve had two people in the last two weeks, bless their souls, take their lives in Noongar country.

“But it’s not just happening in Noongar country, it’s happening in Yamatji country. It’s happening in Yaree country. It’s happening in Koori country. It’s happening right across the country.

“Is it getting better? Absolutely not! That’s the truth of it.”

Governments not listening

Krakouer criticised governments for not listening.

“They say they want to 'truth tell'. The thing is when we talk about truth, and a lot of our people have been truthful from the very beginning, there has been deaf ears.”

Governments don’t want to hear the truth, or “learn the truth”, she said.

This has a deadly flow-on effect. As long as governments do not want to “ensure that those that are telling the truth are being validated, so that traumas can be disabled” things will continue to worsen.

To illustrate this, she said there were 2000 First Nations children in care in 1997. When former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd apologised to the Stolen Generation in 2008, “8000 Black kids in care — a bit of an increase. Today there are 24,000 Black kids in care.”

“The statistics do not lie.”

Krakouer said governments must “massively invest” in the most marginalised and vulnerable communities, in ways that communities decide.

“When you see lives being lost unnecessarily, prematurely, it does nothing but break your heart because things could have been done better.”

Referring to the death of 16-year-old Cleveland Dodd, who died in the controversial Unit 18 youth detention wing of Casuarina Prison last year, Krakouer said the inquest finding of no serious misconduct on behalf of the authorities was a “joke”.

She said Cleveland’s grandmother, Aunty Glenda, had told her the community would mobilise from Meekatharra to fight this.

Cleveland died after he had threatened to kill himself eight times between 8pm and 1.35am on the night he was found in the cell. The teenager was being held in an adult section of the maximum security adult prison, despite not being convicted of any crime.

“The rule of law has to be equal for everyone: but it was not.

“Money speaks; as do position and titles. They choose not to listen. But what do we do? We stand up. We fight back and we change the narrative.”

The Australian government website states that life expectancy is “widely used as an indicator of population health”.

If we understand “health” as being more than the absence of illness or disease, but includes physical, social, emotional, cultural and spiritual well-being, for both the individual and the community, there is an urgent need to listen to and act on the advice of truth-tellers such as Krakouer. 

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