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When a young man committed suicide in 2005, in the remote community of Lajamanu, local Warlpiri elders said ‘Enough is enough’. Decades of western medical intervention had failed to stop indigenous suicides and, in 2005, Lajamanu’s elders took matters into their own hands.
With help from friends, Lajamanu established Milpirri festival to spread the traditional ideas of ‘Kurdiji’ among their young people and to foster a sense of belonging. They began to fight for every single young indigenous life in their community.
Now those same elders want to bring Kurdiji into the digital age, with a community created app based on stories, ceremonies and law. They want to fight for all aboriginal lives, not just those in remote or traditional communities.
They have partnered with an expert team including technologists, photographers and a leading clinical psychologist from The Black Dog Institute. Kurdiji 1.0 has closed its crowdfunding campaign now and thanks everyone who helped out!
Three aboriginal people take their own lives every week in Australia, and suicide is the leading cause of death for young indigenous people. Young aboriginal people are now four times more likely to take their own life than their non-indigenous peers, and the suicide rate for young indigenous men is the highest in the world.
But there hasn’t been a suicide in Lajamanu since 2005.
The ideas of Kurdiji belong to an initiation ceremony of the same name. For most of Aboriginal history, these ideas were only accessible through Kurdiji ceremony or directly from elders in community. Warlpiri people are changing their laws, giving wide public access to these ideas for the purpose of saving lives.
The creation of the Kurdiji 1.0 app represents a turning point in Aboriginal Australia and, we hope, will result in similar projects being launched in the future.
How will the app work?
Using audio recordings, video and text, Kurdiji 1.0 will provide some of the cultural nourishment provided by initiation in community. The app will reach out to young people who can’t live on country, or who feel cut off or isolated. By reconnecting people with language, skin name, ceremony and law, this app will increase resilience by creating a sense of belonging.
What is Kurdiji?
We are honoured to have legendary actor Jack Charles as our patron. He says:
“Kurdiji is a Warlpiri word meaning ‘to shield or protect’. For thousands of years, the idea of Kurdiji has been used to empower young people and prevent suicide. Lajamanu wants to bring Kurdiji into the digital age, with a community created app based on these stories, ceremonies and law. Designed to support young people build and maintain resilience and self-worth.”
Kurdiji’ (shield) is the Warlpiri word for ‘shield’, and it also means ‘to protect’, ‘to ward off’ or ‘to block’. ‘Kurdiji’ is also the name of certain initiation ceremonies for young women and men. These Kurdiji ceremonies teach young people about skin name, ceremony, language and law.
The basic principle of Kurdiji is that if ceremony, skin name, language and law are strong, then the individual is also strong. In this diagram, you can see the four pillars and, in the centre, ‘land’, or ‘home’, which is also the person themselves.
Kurdiji guards against youth suicide by reinforcing high self-worth before suicidal thoughts occur. It is the shield that keeps young indigenous people safe from the problems of living in and around white society. Kurdiji connects people to their culture, their community, and country.
Kurdiji teaches us to relate to each other, to the natural world and to other creatures we share the earth with. It teaches us how to care for country, how to talk to country, and how to listen when country talks back.
Dr Fiona Shand, from Black Dog Institute, says:
“One of the things that struck me when listening to Wanta Jampijinpa Patrick speak about Warlpiri ways was the complex systems of connection – between people, with country, with spirit. A strong sense of connection or belonging is very clearly protective against suicide. Kurdiji 1.0 also aims to build a stronger sense of identity, which we expect will also be protective for young people. It’s starting from a place of strength and building on that.“
The Kurdiji 1.0 app will provide a parallel approach to treating depression and suicidal thoughts by non-indigenous means. It aims to build people up before mental health issues become a problem – it will be a shield for people.
Who is creating this app?
Kurdiji 1.0 will be community-led, community-designed and community empowering.
Warlpiri communities have a long history of engaging with technology. They’ve recently produced a digital storybook, which communicates their ideas about land management, and have collaborated in the production of a large number of films. Working with others to create an app is just an extension of the Warlpiri way of reaching out to people through technology.
Warlpiri Elder Steve Wanta Jampijinpa Patrick says:
“Been working with these kardiya fellas on this app. It’s called Kurdiji, and Kurdiji means ‘shield’ for us Warlpiri, it’s initiation ceremony as well. It’s meant to teach people to look at life and really protect life - shield them off from all the elements of negative things of the world. This app will give hope through the way Kurdiji brings out the best in challenging life and in challenging ourselves too.”
“This app would try to challenge something like suicide within young people in indigenous communities. It will do really good things and bring hope to the communities.”
Kids from the local community will work alongside the technology team to create the app, and its content, learning technology and digital media skills.
The Kurdiji project will enable Aboriginal elders to trial their own approach to suicide prevention in their own communities. The app is aimed at all indigenous people, regardless of their background, language or community and non-indigenous people can also benefit.
While the initial version will be offered in Warlpiri and English language, we hope to create future versions in as many different indigenous languages as possible.
Who is working with us?
We have been fortunate enough to be helped by the marketing team from Flow Hive - Saadi Allan, and Binky Harvey-Jones and Mirabai Nicholson-Mckellar, who have created our amazing video and advised us on all aspects of our public presence.
About the Team
Steve Patrick (Wanta Jampijinpa) is a Warlpiri elder and artistic director of the Milpirri festival of indigenous music and dance. He has been a recipient of an Australian Research Council Discovery Indigenous Fellowship and has taught Warlpiri culture at the Australian National University and other tertiary institutions in Australia and overseas. Steve has published academic papers on Kurdiji ideas and indigenous cultural practice. A highly regarded musician and painter, Steve lives and works in Lajamanu community.
Dr Fiona Shand is a researcher and clinical psychologist. Based at the Black Dog Institute, her work focuses on suicide prevention, and particularly on e-health interventions to prevent suicide. She has published extensively in the alcohol and other drugs field and in suicide prevention. Her current research includes a large, community-wide suicide prevention trial being conducted in four New South Wales regions covering a population of 850,000 people. Using an adaptive research design, this research acknowledges the complexity of suicide and uses multiple, integrated prevention strategies. Fiona is also co-designer of an sms-based intervention to support young people following a suicide attempt. This intervention is being piloted in two large public hospitals.
Dr Judith Crispin is a Bpangerang photographer and poet. Her work is regularly published in newspapers and journals. She has directed cultural institutions, academic programs and research projects, and has taught in universities across Australia, France and Germany. Judith has written extensively on social justice, art, poetry and music and has regularly engaged the public through talks, symposia, and forums. Judith has been working with Warlpiri communities since 2010.
Drew Baker is a technologist working in cultural heritage and archaeology. Drew was born in the United Kingdom and developed a passion for cultural history and computers at an early age. He has worked with cultural material for over 20 years creating 3D virtual worlds of archaeological sites and museum artefacts as well as recording and preserving intangible cultural assets. Drew has taught applied 3D visualisation at King’s College London, UK and was the education work package leader for the flagship Virtual Museum Transnational Network (V-MUST) funded by the European Commission
The creators of Kurdiji 1.0 acknowledge that in some circumstances it will be appropriate for people, suffering from depression, to seek additional help. If you or anyone you know needs help: please contact:
Lifeline on 13 11 14
Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800
MensLine Australia on 1300 789 978
Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467
Beyond Blue on 1300 22 46 36
Headspace on 1800 650 890
(Video by Binky Harvey-Jones, Mirabai Nicholson-Mckellar, and Saadi Allan, with footage by Stewart Carter and photographs by Gary Sauer-Thompson,
Juno Gemes and Judith Crispin)
Media coverage of the Kurdiji Project can be found here:
National Indigenous Research and Knowledges Network
Rolling Stone Magazine (Germany)
Antro Blogi (Finland)
Nick Cave Website
The Guardian Australia
CAAMA (go to 31 March, 2017)
Ghost Cult Magazine
The Industry Observer
Social Documentary Network
Pro Bono Australia
Health Info Net
National Indigenous Times
Look to the Stars
Tone Deaf Magazine
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
Slideshare (Four Apps That Want to Change The World)
Ardina News (Portugal)
Novayagazeta Blog (Russia)
Click Life (Greece)
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