By Janelle Brown, Aboriginal Community Engagement
Being a community based Aboriginal woman (and worker) can be a difficult experience. I see a lot of pain and hardship around me and more often than not, there is nothing I can do to change it. But I will not give up.
I love my community and I want to see change. But change isn’t happening. I still see the effects of the troubled relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australia. People think reconciliation has worked, and is working, but it’s not. We need a much more fundamental healing to take place.
We all know the stats. My people still do not live as long as they should. My people often experience social and economic disadvantage. We are more impacted upon by chronic disease and mental health problems. More of our people are locked up. More of our kids are locked up too. Alcohol, drug abuse and violence and their impacts still occur too frequently in our communities.
So what is going wrong? Why are Aboriginal people still so disadvantaged?
Despite what people say, this country is still racist. I still encounter the demeaning and degrading impacts of racism in my everyday life, despite the fact this nation belongs to my people. It cannot be underestimated how racism and attitudes that undermine my culture and my people strip away at our dignity and our ability to lead happy and fulfilled lives.
I am deeply proud of my culture and what my people have survived. It cannot be denied we are survivors. Despite the fact our culture and people have been fractured in many thousands of ways, the Dreaming lives on, and every Aboriginal person who has connected back knows in their heart our culture is alive and well. But we need more spaces, and support and resources in which to practice our culture, and to connect our people and our kids back in.
We also need to acknowledge the kind of fundamental healing that needs to occur more broadly in the community between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people. This isn’t a matter of the PM saying sorry and everyone moves on. There is 200+ years of mistreatment to be addressed here. But we live on, and we are not victims. We want more control over our lives so our dignity can be strong, and we want the space to practice our culture back. We want our culture to be respected.
To speak specifically about the impact on women over many years of mistreatment and discrimination – our women have absorbed the most negative impacts of the systematic destruction of our people and culture. Our women still cop the abuse and the hardship. But our women also stand firm.
Locally in the Illawarra, we are setting up a new Koori women’s group. This group will be a place where women come together to heal, to share stories, and to gain new skills. We want our women to take their rightful place as leaders in our community – and not just in the Aboriginal community – in the community in general. Our women hold the key to our homes and our community’s healing, and getting our people back on track.
We also need jobs. We need jobs for our young people in particular. We need a life trajectory for our kids that includes opportunities and self-respect. We want to walk forward with our heads held high as Aboriginal people – without having to sacrifice anything of ourselves or our cultural pride.
Aboriginal people and non-Aboriginal people can share what we all do best. We need a spirit of cooperation, openness, encouragement and respect. But our people must be given the space to do our healing first. And we must be given opportunities to move forward and to take control of our own destiny. Otherwise, all the stats that follow our communities so stubbornly will never really improve.