The sudden deaths of two Aboriginal men within weeks of each other earlier this year prompted three district residents to form a new support group, the Wollithica Traditional Owners.By Ivy Wise
A new organisation has been formed to empower Echuca and district Aboriginal residents to take control of their lives, create employment opportunities and stop the cycle of substance abuse.
Echuca’s Neva Atkinson, ‘Uncle’ Rick Ronnan and Darren George formed Wollithica Traditional Owners after the sudden deaths of two Aboriginal men, in their 30s and 40s, within two weeks of each other earlier this year.
‘‘That was the catalyst. We are tired of burying our young men,’’ Ms Atkinson said.
‘‘In our Aboriginal community, there is a high rate of death, due to drugs and alcohol, treatable and preventable disease and suicide.
‘‘The majority of deaths are people aged under 50, even 40. We’ve had enough.
‘‘We believe we can heal ourselves through culture.’’
Ms Atkinson said the cultural-based organisation would create alternative services for the local Aboriginal community.
‘‘There are a lot of local people missing out on employment opportunities and health services and there is a lack of programs for Aboriginal people,’’ she said.
‘‘We can do something about this by reclaiming our culture and identity.’’
Becoming an incorporated body in July, Wollithica Traditional Owners (Wollithica being the traditional owners of Echuca) is in the process of registering with the Office of the Registrar of Indigenous Corporations, so it can apply for federal funding and receive training and support.
Ms Atkinson said the group intended to run various programs, including a men’s cultural group, women’s healing group, voluntary support group and a program dealing with grief, loss, drug and alcohol issues.
Mr Ronnan, a Wollithica elder, and Mr George, of Tasmanian Aboriginal descent, will run the men’s group, teaching participants about Aboriginal history and language and holding barbecues, guest speaker events and cultural activities and trips.
Ms Atkinson will run the women’s groups, which will include workshops on domestic and family violence and women’s issues.
‘‘We need to reclaim our culture and heal the community through cultural activities,’’ she said.
‘‘We want people to create their own income and be able to secure small business loans,’’ she said.
‘‘We need to get rid of that welfare mentality and empower people to do it themselves.’’
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