Luritja man, Martin Jugadai, is a Ngangkari Aboriginal mental health worker in the Northern Territory.
Carving shields, boomerangs and spears, Martin is part of a movement that is giving culture back to young men, and tackling mental illness.
It’s called the Men’s Tjilirra Movement (MTM), and it’s based on a tradition that western desert men have lived by for thousands of years.
MTM is run by psychological wellbeing organisation, Creating a Safe and Supportive Environment (CASSE), and it’s supporting young men to get out of cycles of violence and alcohol abuse.
For the last few days the MTM has been at the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention Conference in Alice Springs.
It’s where more than 350 people are thinking up community-driven solutions to the suicide crisis confronting Indigenous people – a tragedy that has touched the lives of every member at the conference.
MTM took the opportunity to call on the government to fund their program.
“We would really like more funding, because what we’ve been doing has worked. And it is continuing to work.” Martin says.
Making a difference
Tjilirra is the Pintupi word for the traditional tools they make, but the healing comes out of the process of making the tools, where elders can pass on traditional carving methods to young men, while yarning about difficulties they might be facing.
“The young people in these communities have a lot of problems,” Martin explains.
“But by sitting with us and learning these things, they’re rediscovering themselves. Learning their culture is a real empowerment tool.”
Martin says it’s a break for young people from ‘whitefella influences,’ such as PlayStations and phones, which can often make them feel alone and lost.
Passing on culture, he says, is not just continuing tradition, but healing minds.
“They’re really excited to get with the old men, because that hasn’t happened in the past. They’re learning their own skills.
“And to be able to take pride in Aboriginality and see that this is theirs is a really important thing.”