Opinion piece – Amy Thunig
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are warned that this blog piece includes the images of a person who has now passed.
A balanced society learns from the wisdom of Elders, and harnesses the strength and vision of youth. From our position of distance, Australia is watching a movement dawn in the United States, as an uprising collective of ‘extremely online’ youths emerge from the horror of a Florida high school shooting, actively making their voices and hearts heard as they protest the increasing gun violence being experienced within their schools and colleges. In considering this emerging movement, and the young people leading it, I was drawn to reflect upon the raw power that youth so often represent, and the way the positioning and treatment of a society’s young people, impacts the trajectory of a nation.
The strength of empowered youth, collective action, and focus is not new to this world, we remember and acknowledge young word warriors from around the world such as Sophie Scholl, Anne Frank, Malala Yousafzai, and consider how with the increasing accessibility of technology, and the ease and immediacy of communication via social media, opportunities for conversation and enduring action are increasing. Sometimes it is a legacy of words left behind that spark action, and understanding; at other times the words are the movement. Global action, and the opportunity to seek change from grassroots movements are possible now more than ever, we see this in the Black Lives Matter movement, the #MeToo movement, in the collective acknowledgement of the battle of the Water Warriors in the #NODAPL, and in the rise of the Indigenous academic bodies around the world.
In considering the power, and possibility that comes from youth I could not help but consider Tammy Solonec’s recent piece in IndigenousX on the treatment of Indigenous children in Australian prisons. Today’s youth are literally the leaders and voices of the future, and what future are we curating for broader Australian society if Indigenous children continue to be silenced, to be removed from family and community at alarming rates, over-policed, incarcerated in disproportionate numbers, and devalued to the extent that taking the life of an Indigenous child will only cost you eighteen months (if any) of liberty? As a community, we see time and again that justice is lacking when our children’s lives are taken, whether taken from community, from society, or from this Earth. This week we mourn, and we protest, as the killer of Elijah Doughty is looking to be released on parole. Eighteen months of lost liberty, for the taking of one of our children’s lives. This is not enough. It will never be enough.
It is clear from countless studies, and our own experiences as community members, that Indigenous youth have high aspirations, that Indigenous Australia in its diversity and variety demonstrates courageous and rich culture, beautiful hearts, and incredible capability. But the de-humanisation of our children through policy, through the use of language within media, and through the brutality often shown toward them at the hands of the authorities and systems which are supposed to protect them, are stifling the opportunity for some of our brightest young minds to develop to their full potential. The deficit is not within us, or within our communities. In such a short time, Indigenous Australians have moved from being denied education, to being leaders in education. There are currently over 300 full-time Indigenous academics in Australia, intelligent, educated academics who identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, so if an academic opinion is needed, we are here – there is no justifiable reason to talk about us, without us*. There are countless Elders, lore and knowledge holders, writers, and speakers. Our collective voices came together in the Uluru statement. The deficit is not within us. The deficit is within the belief held by, and expressed by the government when they reject the recommendations of our Elders, and when they fail to engage with the formal recommendations made by their own reports. The deficit is within the media content producers when they engage in de-humanising language when discussing Indigenous people, communities, and matters.
We know as a nation that right now there is a statistical ‘closing of the gap’ in terms of employment and salary when an Indigenous person attains a Bachelor Degree, but we also know that data is political, and in Australia, an Indigenous eighteen year old male is statistically more likely to be incarcerated than to attend University. And too often it has been demonstrated that when they do face the inside of Australian prisons, they do not receive culturally appropriate support, opportunity for personal growth and development, or even the meeting of their basic human needs. That is not justice, that is not a sign of a fair and balanced society.
If you are active on social media, or engage in media or community which provides platform for Indigenous voices, then you will be aware of the incredible existing leaders we have, as well as the increasing number of strong, educated, articulated Indigenous young leaders that are emerging as journalists, lawyers, academics, musicians, poets, writers, and more. They fight relentlessly to uplift, and amplify the voices of their people, and the struggles and injustices which are seen too often in our communities. We need to uplift these voices, to move them from the fringes, to the mainstream. To ensure that leaders in various sectors listen to our Elders, and support these young leaders, working to ensure that they are joined in the near future by more, and more empowered Indigenous youth. Whilst movements appear from the outside to emerge in a somewhat organic nature, often born out of extreme trauma or persecution, and we should not sit back and await some traumatic catalyst to be big enough. Rather let us encourage the growth of empowered Indigenous youth now, let us make it loud and clear that we as Indigenous people, and allies, will work collectively to protect, and uplift Indigenous youth, to embrace and support communities, and to demand transparency and consultation from our politicians, police force, and around any policies or programs they wish to implement on our people as we move forward. We can not allow our youth to continue to experience and witness such a deficit of justice for us and our communities. We must work collectively to move the voices of our Indigenous leaders, and activists to be seen and heard within the mainstream, to allow broader Australian community to understand and witness for themselves the strength, beauty, and wisdom which is here waiting to be absorbed and reflected within social and political conversations. We can do this, so let us do it together.
Want to see young Indigenous leadership in action? This is a small, random assortment of young Indigenous voices which I personally learn a lot from – Have a click.
Amy McGuire – Buzzfeed Indigenous Affairs Reporter
Evelyn Araluen – Indigenous literature and activism (also, poet extraordinaire)
Nakkiah Lui – Writer, Actor
Dameyon Boyson – Health and equality advocate
Nathan Sentance – Museum legend + aspiring academic
Wakagetti – Sharing knowledge and ways through dance.
* where the term ‘we’ or ‘us’ is used, this does not indicate that I am speaking in a formal capacity for my employer, or community. These opinions are my own, and do not represent those of my employer, or the academic body to which I belong.