Findings from an online survey conducted by the Marumali Program on behalf of the Healing Foundation have demonstrated the ways Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were impacted by COVID-19 public health orders around Australia.
Retraumatisation amongst Stolen Generations survivors was one of the negative outcomes of effective, however harsh, public health measures to control the local spread of COVID-19, the survey found.
More than 90% of Stolen Generations survivors reported feeling disconnected from family, community, and culture, while 77% felt disconnected from country.
Fiona Cornforth, CEO of the Healing Foundation, said the results were concerning given the degree to which connection to family, community, culture, and country enhances health and wellbeing for the Stolen Generations survivors and descendants.
“The pandemic created unprecedented disruption to cultural practices and the normal relational and collective practices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples,” Ms Cornforth said.
Being prevented from attending community functions or cultural gatherings, such as NAIDOC Week, had been challenging for the Indigenous community generally but especially Stolen Generations survivors, Cornforth added.
“Physical distancing restrictions meant traditional celebrations and ceremonies such as births and funerals could not occur.
“Being disconnected from family during Sorry Business […], isolation and loneliness, the inability to be with family, and strict government controls brought disturbing memories back for some survivors, and retriggered trauma,” she said.
Ms Cornforth pointed to a heightened sense of vulnerability; significant disconnection from family, community, and country as stressors that contributed to the reported decline in wellbeing.
The online survey of 60 people addressed different social and emotional well-being indicators to establish that at least 20% reported having no support during COVID-19.
The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Advisory Group on COVID-19 was established by the department of health last March, following the omission of Indigenous peoples from the 2009 National Action Plan in response to H1N.
According to Marumali, evidence suggests that work of the advisory group resulted in effective public health responses to reduce transmission in the general population also kept COVID-19 infection rates low in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander populations. Their efforts saw the implementation of legislative changes; national guidelines; health services and workforce planning; health promotion and advocacy; and rapid testing in remote communities.
Ms Cornforth said she hoped the survey findings will help the government with future pandemic planning measures.
“The excellent work of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Advisory Group on COVID-19 – as part of national efforts guided by the National Cabinet – ensured that infection rates were very low in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander populations,” Ms Cornforth said.
“There were only minor outbreaks, and they were quickly contained.”
“[Our] research results will assist governments and authorities in future pandemic planning to build on Australia’s world-leading public health efforts to ensure the most vulnerable in the community are protected.”