Red Dust Healing was originally designed in response to issues within the contemporary juvenile justice system. Tom identified a model of oppression within the system by the removal of the four core values of identity, responsibility, relationships and spirituality from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (hereafter abbreviated as Aboriginal) people. The program addresses this oppression in ways that seek to reverse the colonisation process in terms of an individual’s self-image, their roles and responsibilities and their actions. The program offers an innovative approach to assisting men and women to heal and make better choices for themselves. Like other contemporary Aboriginal healing programs, Red Dust Healing explores the role of history and the associated trauma and invokes Aboriginal culture and spirituality as the core elements of the therapeutic process in an individual’s transformative journey.
Tom describes Red Dust Healing as a:
self-evaluating awareness program coming from an ancient Aboriginal perspective that gives individuals tools that empower them to be part of their own solutions.
Program personnel have delivered the program directly in response to community suicide and self-harm, as well as addressing the precursors of suicide such as alcohol and substance misuse, incarceration, family violence and poor wellbeing.
In addition to delivering the program in communities, the organisation trains former program participants to become community workers. After training, these workers receive the intellectual property rights to deliver the program within their community whilst emphasising the program’s aim to empower local communities and provide sustainability to the work of Red Dust Healing.
Red Dust Healing examines the intergenerational effects of colonisation on the mental, physical, and spiritual wellbeing of Aboriginal people and families and directly addresses the determinants of wellbeing. In particular, many Aboriginal men lost their identity, responsibility and relationships through colonisation2. In response, this program targets Aboriginal males in recognition of the disproportionately high suicide rate among this group due to their heavy load of oppression and loss. Because of the authority of the father figure in Aboriginal culture, addressing the high suicide rates of Aboriginal males encourages the establishment of family harmony.
This program provides a culturally safe environment, mechanisms for healing, a shared discourse, along with language and tools to enable participants to gain a sense of understanding and control in their lives. The program also encourages individuals to confront and deal strategically with the impact of rejection, hurt and anger in their lives and to understand that rejection is the foundation of all hurt. Participants examine their hurt and rejection and reflect on how this is manifested in their actions towards the people around them. Participants are also encouraged to examine their own personal hurt in order to heal themselves. This is seen as the first step in addressing the hurt they inflict on others within their personal relationships, their family and the overall patterns of violence and abuse in their lives.
Participants engage with contemporary forms of Aboriginal knowledge and reconnect with aspects of culture in order to strengthen their sense of self and their Aboriginal identity. This reorients participants to a new meaningful existence. Cultural knowledge is seen as a mechanism for Aboriginal people to understand their actions, their work and how to live their lives. Although the main target of the program is Aboriginal people, the program will also assist non-Aboriginal people. Red Dust Healing emphasises the importance of personal responsibility for making the best possible choices as essential to the healing process, an individual’s transformation and the generation of self-respect and meaningful connections to others.
The design of the program acknowledges the need to approach the healing journey in an individualised and personalised manner so that participants can apply their new tools and knowledge to their own circumstances. This is done using narratives from an individual’s life and encouraging them to reflect on their own situation whilst applying the program’s messages.
Red Dust Healing promotes an individual’s empowerment to find their own solutions. A tool has been developed called POUCH which is a solution-based, problem solving concept allowing participants to deal with issues in their own lives. The name, POUCH is an acronym for identifying what Problems U have, what Options U have, what Choices U have and How U are going to deal with them. Discussing this tool encourages participants to look at solving some of their concerns and gives them the responsibility without blame.