JUDITH CRISPIN. Indigenous Elders to Tackle Youth Suicide Using Mobile Technology

A groundbreaking collaboration between Walpiri Elders, cultural historians, technologists and a clinical psychologist aims to tackle youth suicide using traditional knowledge and mobile technology.  

Suicide is the leading cause of death for young indigenous people, and Walpiri elders from the Northern Territory community of Lajamanu want to do something about it.

Hosted by Black Dog Institute, Australia’s peak body on depression and suicide,

Kurdiji 1.0 is a community led suicide prevention project that draws on the traditional concept of Kurdiji; meaning ‘to shield, protect or ward off’, which has been used to empower young people and prevent suicides for thousands of years.

As a community led initiative, the project is using crowdfunding to make the project a reality, and is seeking $280,000 for it’s launch via GofundMe on April 4th. The project is honoured to have legendary actor Jack Charles as it’s patron.

Jack Charles Says:

“Kurdiji is a Walpari 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.”

This will be a true community effort, with elders guiding the creation, and the young people working with an expert team to create the app, learning new skills and learning from their elders.

Warlpiri Elder Steve 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.”

The Kurdiji project will take it’s guidance from community elders, but is designed to engage young people from the outset. Kids from the local community will work alongside the technology team to create the app, and it’s content, learning technology and digital media skills.

The pilot Kurdiji app will form the basis of positive psychology research, evaluating the effectiveness of this kind of community-led approach to suicide prevention. The team will work closely with the Aboriginal Medical Service and community medical centres to make the project as responsive and relevant as possible.

Dr Fiona Shand 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.“

Kurdiji 1.0 is crowdfunding on Gofundme until Thursday 4th May and asks that you chip in $5 to make the project a reality.

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. Fiona has worked with Kimberley communities to create iBobbly, an app aimed at reducing suicide risk for young Indigenous Australians. 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 cultural historian, photographer and poet. Together with Drew Baker, Judith has produced large scale 3D virtual reconstructions of a destroyed Armenian cemetery in exhibitions across Italy and Australia as part of an Australia Catholic University research project. Judith’s work is regularly published in newspapers and journals. She has directed cultural institutions, academic programs and research projects, and has taught cultural history in universities across Australia, France and Germany. Judith has written extensively on social justice, photography, poetry and music and has regularly engaged the public through talks, symposia and forums. She has published monographs of photography, literature and scholarly research. Judith has been working with the Warlpiri people for five years and spends several months each year living in community.

Drew Baker 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. Baker 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 

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