Last night I had the deep privilege of sitting and listening to a brother talk about the weight of carrying around the abuse and trauma he experienced from being stolen from his family and community during the Australian Governments Stolen Generations era. These stories are so personal, and so painful for our families and communities, so much intense harm caused by colonisation, successive governments, and the white supremacy ideology and lies thrust upon this land and people. I deeply admire the courage and heart it takes for someone to stand in front of a lecture theatre and share the journey of not only experiencing such horrific abuse, but then going on to work at unpacking that trauma. Choosing to share the pain inflicted upon you while vulnerable, in order to educate and help others to understand, that is a powerful gift to give. It was an honour to have our cohort learn about the impact of trauma, and importance of healing, so they may go on to better communicators and educators.
Having people come in and share their experiences with our students is valuable for many reasons, but I’ve found the most significant impact is that the students realise from listening to a first hand account that terms they may have only previously heard of in clinical, removed ways, such as The Stolen Generations, are not remnants of a long distant past. This is more recent than either World War. We are only in the first and second generations since this was still formal policy in this country. The trauma is present, the impact is now.
And yet, although the trauma has not been redressed, progress and incredible work has been slowly achieved, due to constant work by Indigenous people. As a whole nation we need to learn about and share in the stories of harm and trauma, to then truly understand the way forward – but we need to also celebrate the incredible achievements, and work which has been done and is being done. Somehow it often feels that the trauma is not acknowledged, the progress not celebrated, and instead we are actively dismissed, positioned as less-than, as incapable, and needing to assimilate.
My area is education, and I couldn’t be more excited about the incredible things happening in this space! With more ethical research developing, and genuine partnership increasingly taking place in recent decades, we are now reaping the fruits of this, with fantastic research gathered, wonderful programs being created and delivered which bring culture into the formal education space.
Importantly it is increasingly acknowledged that 60,000 years of survival on this land doesn’t happen by accident, this climate is harsh, yet the First Nations people THRIVED here prior to invasion. There is so much knowledge still to be harnessed, whether this be in education, or for land management, social engagement, whole wellbeing etc. Where we see pedagogies move away from purely Eurocentric frames, broadening in lens to include various perspectives and knowledges, we see incredible things start to happen. We do not need to dwell in deficit mindset when we are thinking of Indigenous people. Acknowledgement and redress is needed for healing, and then collectively we can begin to move forward. Check this out as one deadly example of ways in which Indigenous culture and history is being well utilised to teach STEMM in New South Wales thanks to the AECG (of which I am a proud member).
Learning about structural, systemic, ongoing trauma is key to understanding why we need to work on healing, as well as developing great programs for progress. With sharing like we had last night during the lecture there were many tears among the cohort, and as I looked around at these adults, these students, who are the future teachers, politicians, business people, and leaders of our society, I wondered what kind of impact this kind of truth sharing could have. Will they hear of the trauma and the impact this institutionalisation brought, and realise that paternalistic and dehumanising intervention has no place in Indigenous community? Or would the message be over taken by the bombardment of media and politics which consistently sells us short?
This week we saw the powerful report on the ongoing generational effects from the stolen generations, which can be read here.
We know that while only being 3% of the population, 50% of people on the NSW police secret watch lists are Aboriginal. We are over policed.
We also saw the incredible new data compilation that maps and reveals further information about the staggering 147 Indigenous deaths in custody which have taken place since the Royal inquiry into Aborigial deaths in custody.
As a people we remain over incarcerated, over policed, under resourced, and continually blamed for the position we have been forced in to.
Where there should be healing and positive progress, instead First Nations people of this land are treated as a political football. It has happened for two centuries, and it continues. Even though there have been so many enquiries, reports, and stories of horrendous abuse experienced when removed, perpetrated against vulnerable children and youth by these ‘white saviours’, somehow this lie that black kids are safer with white people continues to be peddled. Rates of removal are higher now than when removal was formal policy.
How can the media and politicians keep selling and relying on the white saviour narrative when it’s been shown beyond a shadow of a doubt that institutional ‘care’, interventions which rely on Eurocentric approaches and measures, and removal of children from kinship and community, has been one of the most disgusting and unforgivable blights on this nations history?
We are better than this.
Among hearing about excellent resources and approaches for classrooms, we also sit and hear first hand the horror and trauma of being taken away from community, from family, from identity, to being enveloped in abuse. We should be embracing truth telling, moving toward positive future, but then today I see article after article about the newly appointed ‘envoy’ to Indigenous communities… Tony Abbott.
Abbott’s history, and the history of these forms of roles, is so well established as coming at a significant negative cost – financial, physical, emotional, cultural – to both Indigenohs people and tax payers and yet here we are. The colonisers keep on colonising.
Dont talk to me about the ‘gap’ needing to be closed while putting Abbott in as a figure head. Nothing will improve without healing, and healing won’t progress while the government continues to build its policies and approach on white supremacy values. Abbott is ill equipped, under qualified, and has a terrible history of ‘working’ near and in our business. The only real grounds here for his appointment are he’s a white man, because he certainly is not appropriately qualified, worthy, or wanted, for the role. Indigenous communities weren’t consulted.
kick, kick, kick… our position as football continues.
Abbott is already talking out dated, unsupported approaches to school engagement, assessment and ‘results’. He is continuing with his condescending and inappropriate rhetoric. He immediately honed in on ‘remote’ communities as though that’s the only space we exist in, and ‘school attendance’ demonstrating he hasn’t bothered looking at the ample data and research which exists in the educational space. His evidence, apparently it’s from the few weeks he has spent in a couple of remote communities. So his biased anecdotes and feelings are informing him, rather than data, research, speaking with leaders in education and community… he is completely on the wrong path – But what would I know, I’m just one of the many black academics that work in education. Abbott has no right, and yet he is in a position of power, granted to him as a white man, by other white men, to ‘envoy’ (oversee) black communities.
For me this is where so much of the frustration and harm comes in – there are Indigenous people who are knowledge holders, who know their communities, who are accepted and respected as representative of their communities. But we get no voice, and we get Abbott. If it’s white qualifications they want, there are over 400 Indigenous academics currently employed full time in this country (as one clear cut example) but no need to stop there, there are also countless Indigenous lawyers, teachers, politicians, business people, and health professionals – many of whom embody being members of the Indigenous communities whilst also having the university degrees. At what point will one of us, all of us, any of us be ‘enough’?
Our people’s cultural rights apparently aren’t enough, yet neither are our western qualifications. We still get Abbott. No one wants Abbott as their rep, even the Libs gave him the boot!
I count my privileges daily, I am grateful for so much, but I am growing increasingly frustrated, as I hope you are too, that while as a society in grassroots ways and in many formal spaces we seem to be slowly moving forward in our belief in human rights and progress – but structurally and politically there seems to be a very persistent pull backwards. There is so much amazing, wonderful, powerful progress made in the area of education (for example) – many deadly Indigenous researchers, educators, and allies have worked collectively for DECADES and the tools and resources are growing, are there and in action. But evidence based research seems to mean nothing to today’s politicians in power?
Whether its climate change, human rights, asylum seekers, health, education, they ignore the people, and research, and instead go on their own limited understanding or agenda, even though we have a lot of great data and great people that can lead us in to progress. I don’t believe that the majority of Australians genuinely support oppression of Indigenous people, and as a society we aren’t the ones profiting from the destruction of the earth, but for many the only information they receive about us is from their nightly news, and as we see the new Morrison team roll out their branding and advertising, with slogans and pretty little pins, I don’t trust that the small group of people are interested in truth sharing.
Little by little, one travels far, and with Morrison delegating and assigning Abbott as ‘envoy’, we will be heading in the wrong direction.