Recognising BMD Group

A national group of companies engaged in engineering, design, construction and land development, the BMD Group services clients and partners in the urban development, transport, infrastructure, resources and energy sectors. Cross Cultural Consultants is proud to have the BMD Group as one of our return clients, and would like to take a moment to commend them on their dedication to ensuring their staff have access to the broad range cross cultural training we offer.

The BMD Group operates five companies, including BMD Constructions, BMD Urban, Empower Engineers & Project Managers, JMac Constructions and Urbex. Across these companies are some 1,700 staff at all levels. The BMD Group has always prided themselves on seeing the strengths of their staff, encouraging high quality and genuine relationships with all their clients and stakeholders. This is embodied in their company motto: “Our Business is Our People”. This mind set is something that the team at Cross Cultural Consultants have seen clearly during our time working with the BMD Group, and that people-focused approach has served them well in their cross cultural training endeavours.

While some large companies become caught up in the day-to-day management of business, CCC feels the BMD Group has always tried to go further, with a future-focused attitude on matters of cultural importance. They have a strong vision for reconciliation in their ranks, aiming to “create a diverse and inclusive workforce that is respectful of differences, recognizing that reconciliation forms part of our past and future”. It is heartening as an Indigenous business, to see the passion with which the BMD Group has approached reconciliation, and how they are aspiring to “create a culture that values and utilises the contributions of people from different backgrounds”. They have a genuine and honest commitment to the delivery of positive outcomes for their Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff, clients and communities, they recognise the power that they have as a larger company to drive opportunity, and seek every chance to do so.

Cross Cultural Consultants have worked extensively with the BMD Group in these goals, and have been a part of the process of the company rolling out cultural awareness training at a national level. We recognise, as they do, that this kind of training has an enormous impact on helping the company to achieve their goal of improving opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, both within their project and corporate workforces. Our own role in this has been, over the last 18 months, providing the BMD Group with over 45 courses delivered across Australia that have involved more than 1,000 of their workforce. The incredible success and positive impact of these courses has left the team at Cross Cultural Consultants more than eager to see what 2019 will for our two companies in continuing to work together to build a future of improved outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Thank you BMD Group for choosing Cross Cultural Consultants as your cross cultural training partner!

Photo by Christopher Burns on Unsplash

Celebrating Our Work With CareFlight

As we approach our milestone of 30 years in operation, Cross Cultural Consultants has realised that there are some things worth celebrating in the world of business. One of these is good relationships, which is why we’re taking a moment to talk about CareFlight today.
You may already know that CareFlight has been a key player in Australia’s aeromedical services industry for more than three decades, including more than 10 years operating in the Northern Territory. What you might not know is that CareFlight is also a key client of Cross Cultural Consultants and has been an important part of our journey in the last few years.
Cross Cultural Consultants have worked with CareFlight for several years, delivering cross cultural training to CareFlight employees at all levels of their organisation. CareFlight has been entirely committed during this time to learning how to effectively engage and work with Aboriginal people in a meaningful and mindful way, particularly involving patients in need of emergency flights to access medical attention. They operate in in some of the most remote locations in the Northern Territory, across all situations and encountering a variety of day-to-day challenges.
Working cross cultural is always a complex undertaking, as anyone who has operated in this space can confirm. CareFlight deals with this at a further level again as their staff often deal with patients in a state of distress and high emotion, struggling to make rational decisions. In these situations, there is a higher risk to both patients and staff, which is why it is so important to target potential increases to risk where possible. CareFlight have dedicated themselves to this in their commitment to cross cultural training, which is universally recognised as one of the core foundations in transforming how services are delivered by cultural outsiders into often minimally understood cultural environments.
There are confronting issues of Aboriginal health in the Northern Territory, as in many parts of Australia, despite continued efforts by governments on all sides to ‘Close the Gap’. It is a constant challenge for service providers working in these fields to recognise the unique nature of Aboriginal culture,and acknowledge the connections and strength that Aboriginal people can bring when it comes to solving their own health problems.
As a cross cultural training provider, and as an Aboriginal business, we are proud to have worked with CareFlight, and hope to continue to do so into the future. Their extended commitment to embracing cross cultural ways of working should be commended, along with their dedication to working with Aboriginal businesses like Cross Cultural Consultants to offer authentic and informed cross cultural training programs to all of their staff.

Photo by Avel Chuklanov on Unsplash

More Than October Business Month

 

October is here again. In the South, Spring has well and truly sprung with new life and new opportunity. In the North, the Dry is winding to a close and the build-up has begun.

As many of you probably know, October is the time that businesses the Northern Territory come together to celebrate October Business Month. The premier event of the N.T.’s business calendar, October Business Month provides businesses in the region with a chance to undertake networking, promotion and the development staff and skills. It also allows them to embed themselves into the vibrant N.T. business community.

But did you know that October is also the time for something else?

Many people in the Northern Territory forget that while in our Territory it’s all about October Business Month, the entire country also celebrates Indigenous Business Month in the month of October. This national event is in its fourth year in 2018, and is an initiative of the MURRA Indigenous Master Class Program (MURRA) alumni. Indigenous Business Month is all about promoting the variety and depth of Indigenous business across Australia, and providing Indigenous businesses with the voice they should have in a national business conversation. It is also intended to provide visual positive role models for young Indigenous Australians.

This year’s Indigenous Business Month is particularly special because of its focus on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women in business. The theme of this year’s events has been chosen to coincide with the 2018 NAIDOC theme ‘Because of Her, We Can’. For the third year in a tow, PwC Indigenous Consulting is working in partnership with MURRA to offer one female Indigenous business owner the PwC & MURRA Boost Initiative, a grant for skills and expertise training to the value of some $30,000. This year also celebrates the very first international Indigenous Business Month event, which will be held in Wellington, NZ.

So we know it’s easy to get caught up in October Business Month in the N.T., with so many events and so much on offer, but let’s not forget something truly incredible that is happening at the same time. There are many exciting and innovative Indigenous businesses that make their home in the Northern Territory as well, of which Cross Cultural Consultants is just one. Celebrating these businesses, and using Indigenous Business Month as a chance to network, grow and get to know local Indigenous businesses in Darwin and further abroad, improves everyone’s lives. This month of events allows Indigenous businesses to show off what they can do, and acknowledges that just as Indigenous people have a place in the fabric of Australia’s social and cultural future, so to do they have a place in her business future.

Have a look at the Indigenous Business Month website, or check out October Business Month and keep an eye out for Indigenous Business events in the calendar.

Photo by Alessia Francischiello on Unsplash.

The Passing Of That Music Man

Img via Sam Karanikos

Img via Sam Karanikos + ABC

In the vastness of the Northern Territory, it takes an incredible voice to connect the people to an ancient culture and tradition. These voices are so important, not just to Aboriginal people but to anyone who calls themselves Australian. So, we were greatly saddened to hear of the passing of such a voice this week. This music man, who’s name we will not use, passed away from complications relating to an illness he contracted as a child. Born blind in the remote East Arnhem island community of Galiwin’ku in 1971, he had a beautiful tenor and a talent for music across genres. He mastered a variety of instruments in his youth, even learning to play the guitar upside down as he was left-handed. In his family he was influenced by another famed Indigenous musician, his uncle, who was the singer of the acclaimed Yothu Yindi band.

This blind singer first experienced the world of music outside of Galiwin’ku in 1989 when, just a teenager, he became a part of Yothu Yindi as a keyboard player. At the time, we could hardly have anticipated the road his journey would take to him becoming the most significant Indigenous musician of his time. He released a debut self-titled album in 2008, and immediately connected with listeners around Australia, singing in his native language. His first album went on to achieve triple platinum, and this Northern Territory music man became the unforgettable voice of our generation.

Sadly, illnesses the singer had lived with since childhood began to have an impact on his health. He appeared at the National Indigenous Music Awards last year in a wheelchair, and it was confirmed that he was having renal dialysis treatment as a result of hepatitis B. He passed away on Tuesday afternoon in Royal Darwin Hospital, aged just 46.

At a time like this, it’s easy to get caught up in the discussions about Aboriginal life expectancy in Australia, particularly when many remote Aboriginal people consider any year after 50 a blessing. It’s a difficult reality we live in, but today there isn’t anything we can do about that. Instead, we will look over the sea and remember an Elcho Island man with the voice of an angel who brought together people not just in Australia, but around the world, with music that spoke volumes about his life, his people, and his culture.

Rest in peace music man.

The Impact Of Inaction – Why Aren’t We Listened To?

Aboriginal Flag

In the 200+ years since the ‘white settlement’ of Australia, various government has accomplished a fair bit. They’ve built a country from the ground up, conquering what they perceived as a harsh land and providing the citizens with the luxuries of Western civilisation. To achieve this, they’ve attempted to decimated an entire thread of humanity, wiping out tribes and language groups in the never-ending march of progress. They’re removed children from their mothers, abused power and left Aboriginal people, the First Australians, so much the worse for their coming.

Now, the government likes to think they can make amends, by apologising for the past and consigning it to the filing cabinet of history. They’ve muttered their apologies, as though a single sorry might act as a panacea, a Band-Aid on the pulsing artery of Aboriginal trauma. Unfortunately, the two hundred years of government policy have left a terrible legacy. PM Rudd acknowledged that the 50 years of policy preceding his 2008 Apology statement had been a failure. He promised a new beginning. What Aboriginal people got instead was an intensification of the intervention, rebadged as ‘Closing The Gap’. Rather than that new beginning, Aboriginal people have come to realise not only is it ‘business as usual’, but the pressure on them to assimilate is greater than ever.

Quality And Quantity

Let us give you an example of one of the many places governments have failed to properly engage with Aboriginal people towards their aim of improving them. In the march towards closing the gap, past and present Governments have been data focused. Unfortunately for Aboriginal people and service providers, their point of focus has been overwhelmingly the longevity, or life expectancy, of Aboriginal people. Don’t get us wrong, we feel that it is shocking that Aboriginal Australians do not live as long as their non-Aboriginal counterparts. However, we have to wonder whether, instead of quantity, we should be focusing on quality of life.

Improving the quality of life for Aboriginal people is almost guaranteed to have the knock-n effect of increasing its quantity. The key thing to remember when we’re thinking about quality though is the cultural space through which is it measured. The simple fact is that quality of life must be considered from an Aboriginal cultural space, even if that means something different to policymakers. Quality of life is, after all, a lived experience, and not something that can just be transplanted onto an Aboriginal setting.

Inaction In Action

To those looking in at our governmen, it’s quite clear what is going on. They are quite frankly paralysed by their own misunderstandings, and their inability to enact positive change through meaningful and engaged approaches. What we are seeing now is inaction in action. That is, a government operating in a risk-adverse environment where policymakers and advisors are unable to do anything that doesn’t fit into their comfort zone. As a result, everything they put forward is entirely cemented into their own cultural framework, and is unlikely to allow Aboriginal Australians operating within different cultural parameters a chance to be positively impacted by that policy.

In fact, even when Aboriginal people do talk to the government about what they want to do and what they hope to achieve, through community engagement, they are often ignored. Usually this comes down to an inability within the government to make an Aboriginal perspective on life fit into our current system. They are culturally strangled by their own rules, and what they believe to be appropriate. As they say, you can only know what you know.

That means that if you’re working in a different cultural mindset, and you aren’t making the switch when dealing with other cultures, you’re only going to get poor results. This is why our governments have wasted excessive funds, and caused serious damage, to people trying to achieve a quality of life that it outside of the parameters of a white Australian cultural setting. This isn’t just about health either. We’re seeing the same story in housing and education as well, all because community engagement is being done as a side-thought, a box to be ticked instead of an opportunity to get the voice of the community into its own future.

So, What Next?

We believe that the way forward will come from engaging in a more meaningful way with Aboriginal people in their first language, to get a true understanding of what communities want and need to succeed. This means that most of the community engagement undertaken needs to be done by Aboriginal people themselves. Yes, we do need to be prepared that this won’t be a smooth process with a guaranteed win every time. The history of government interaction with Aboriginal Australians is littered with failed projects and funding black holes, and we have little to show for it. Now it’s time to pass the torch of ‘improvement’ where it belongs: in the hands of Aboriginal people.

We feel that the only positive solutions for Aboriginal people will be for them to approach their own problems from within their own cultural framework. Not only must they be heard, but they have to be able to articulate and proceed in to an action that they feel will result in positive outcomes for their community. Only through this kind of community engagement are results even on the horizon, but the process will be a long one. After all, successive governments have progressively worsened the state of Aboriginal people, under the guise of improving them. Perhaps now we should allow the people to improve themselves, as only they can know how.

Saving The Children – Whose Responsibility Is It?

Aboriginal child

Any time the subject of foster care and government child protection policies is raised with Indigenous people in mind, it creates ripples in the wider community of experts, carers, and people themselves. There has been a proven history of long-term failures in this country when it comes to proving Aboriginal children with Out-Of-Home Care, and although the government would like to continue as if saying sorry were enough to heal the traumas of the past, it isn’t. While the harmful and traumatic child removal policies of the Stolen Generations are now over, current policies meant to serve the betterment of the next generation of Aboriginal Australians continue to fail, and we need to do something about it.

What We Aren’t Arguing With

The right of every child to be raised in a loving, safe environment is not disputed. All the evidence, over decades of varied studies, have indicated that children who are subject to trauma or stress in four significant areas of development – physical, emotional, intellectual and social – are unlikely to grow into well-balanced adults. What also needs to be considered, particularly when dealing with children from Traditional Aboriginal backgrounds, is the spiritual aspect of development. Here we aren’t talking about religion so much as tradition, an important part of life for Aboriginal people.

Also not disputed, is the fact that there are growing instances of individuals and communities across Australia being subjected to varying degrees of stress in all five areas, regardless of race and background.

Of course, Aboriginal Australians are no exception.

There is no doubt that many Aboriginal Australian children are subject to conditions throughout childhood that no child should experience. Unfortunately, the mainstream response to this is potentially causing an even greater level of stress.

The current primary aim of our child protection system is to “protect the children”. It is a maxim that makes sense right up until the point it is enacted. See, there’s more to protection that what’s on the surface. Our dedication to keeping children safe is doing more harm than we can imagine, because making sure children are physically safe is not enough. There are other areas of the child development equation that are being entirely forgotten, but at the moment child removal is about the only move the government seems to have in its repertoire.

The Facts As They Are

There are currently over 15,000 Indigenous children in Out-Of-Home Care in Australia [1], a number that has risen 65% since 2008 [2]. In fact, despite making up just 5.5% of the population of children aged under 17, Indigenous kids represent 35% of the number of kids in the foster system2. Kids aged 1-4 who are Indigenous are 11 times more likely to be living in out-of-home care than a child not of Indigenous background [3].

Some suggest that the numbers of children being removed from their families is greater than at any other time in our recent history. As records were either destroyed or poorly kept in the decades leading up to the 1990s, this is hard to confirm, but certainly numbers have risen dramatically since the early 1990s [4]. Significant attention was drawn to this issue in the 1997 Bringing Them Home report [5], which showed that Aboriginal kids are dramatically over-represented in both child protection and Out-Of-Home Care, thanks largely to decades of forced removal and assimilation policies. The intergenerational effects of those removals, combined with cross-cultural differences in child rearing, are having a devastating effect on contemporary Aboriginal lives. Other studies have noted that family violence, substance abuse, overcrowding and inadequate housing also play a part [6].

Fixing The Current System

The current foster system in Australia, based on recommendations from the Bringing Them Home report, places Indigenous children removed from their homes first with extended family, then within their community, then to other Indigenous people, before placing them with a non-Indigenous family. This system seems, on the surface, to work well, but the children emerging from it are still suffering from the same dysfunctions of previous generations, and we need to ask why.

The fact is that the families these children are coming from, as well as many of the families they are placed with, are still suffering from high degrees of familial stress. Indeed, removing children from one traumatic environment and placing them into another similarly stressful home setting is just as traumatic. Unfortunately, placing Aboriginal children with non-Aboriginal carers can be equally traumatic for these children, and cause them to lose touch with their Aboriginal identity.

We would suggest that where Aboriginal children are placed in non-Aboriginal family settings, those children should be connected with Aboriginal organisations and networks, so that individuals in these networks can become something akin to mentors for these children and the foster carers. In this way, children outside of their home cultures can be connected to their original identity and have a strong foundation from which to grow. Unfortunately, our government doesn’t see the benefit of this because it’s goes beyond physically and emotional caring, into something that governments don’t understand, and can’t quantify.

At the end of the day, all children from all backgrounds have the right to be cared for in an environment that is safe and secure. That might not look the same for everyone, and our system needs to account for that. We also need to understand that if the current issues with the Australian foster care system aren’t addressed history will be repeating itself. Instead of having a Stolen Generation, we will be creating a Lost Generation, with the same trauma and identity issues that many Aboriginal Australians struggle with today.

[1] Child protection services, 2016 Report on Government Services, www.pc.gov.au
[2] Children in Care, Australian Institute of Family Affairs, www.aifs.gov.au
[3]Child Protection Australia, Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. www.aihw.gov.au
[4]Bringing Them Home, Chapter 21, Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission Report. www.humanrights.gov.au
[5]Bringing Them Home Report. www.humanrights.gov.au
[6] Child protection and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children. Australian Institute of Family Services. www.aifs.gov.au

Racism In All Its Forms

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Racism is very much present in Australia, despite what continue to assert. In our history, Australia has always had a kind of “culture of denial” about racism in Australia, claiming that it doesn’t happen, or that racist comments are meant in jest, not to be taken seriously. However, we know that denying racism only perpetuates racist behaviours [1], and that to truly tackle it we must be able to understand and identify it.

Racism In Australia

In the past year, around 1 in 5 people who call Australia their home were the target of some kind of racial discrimination, an increase from the 1 in 8 the previous year [2]. Putting that into perspective, we’re talking about around 4.6 million Australians, dealing with racial discrimination. For Indigenous Australians the numbers are even more worrying, with some 3 in 4 Indigenous Australians regularly experiencing racism [3].

So, let’s talk about racism, and the main kinds of racism you see in our society. There are three that we consider to be at play in Australia and elsewhere: Overt, Covert, and Institutional.

Overt Racism

Overt racism is the kind of racism that most people are familiar with. It’s the sort that yells obscenities in the street, that makes hurtful judgements and criticisms, that explains itself poorly. It’s premeditated hate. In terms of definition, we might call it the “unfair or unequal handling of a person or a group on racial grounds”, but essentially it is direct racism. This is the kind of racism that most of us can easily identify, and it involves deliberate and conscious acts of hate and intolerance, shown obviously and publically, by either individuals or groups.

Often, society feels that if there are little, or no, examples of overt racism, that racism doesn’t exist at all. However, there are other kinds of racism that aren’t so obvious, but insidiously exist in an underbelly of our society, generally only seen by those who experience it.

Covert Racism

As the name suggests, covert racism is the hidden or secret expression of racist beliefs, attitudes and ideas. It’s covert because it’s so indirect, and as a result it’s often not seen as being racist, not identified, and rarely called out. This is the sort of racism that people like to shrug off as misunderstanding or coincidence, when it’s really anything but. Where overt racism is considered clearly politically incorrect, covert racism often flies under the radar, and is actually thought to be the most common form of racism [4].

Institutional Racism

Institutional racism, sometimes called systemic racism, is the racism that exists in what at first appears to be commonplace rules of procedures of governments and other organisations. These systems treat certain racial or ethnic groups differently to others, putting them at a disadvantage if they aren’t able to meet rules or expectations. Often, an individual or group can’t meet those expectations because of a situation that is out of their control. In some cases, institutional racism is entirely unintentional, happening in situations where the organisation wasn’t intending to discriminate. Despite this, institutional racism does exist, and although subtle it can have much further reaching effects than other kinds of more obvious racist behaviours.

Institutional racism is often seen in the justice system, where minorities are much more likely not only to be charged with a crime, but also more likely to be convicted and serve jail time. In the Northern Territory, some of the policies associated with the much-maligned Intervention have regularly been accused of being a clear example of institutional racism, by limiting Aboriginal people from the freedoms that we enjoy [5].

The Future For Australia

Modern racist attitudes, particularly those towards Aboriginal people, have direct links with the way that Europeans de-humanised the First Australians as they colonised this country. These events are a part of shared history for those of both Aboriginal and European descent, but while white Australians celebrate the resilience of colonists, Aboriginal people mourn the massacres and invasions of their people. We often forget that the things we do in the past inform and affect our future. So, try though we might to reframe or simply ignore our history, we remain a product of it.

Australia’s future can be a bright one, but not if only some of our population benefit from it. Racism isn’t just harmful to those who are victim to it, but to all of us in society. It causes damage to community, limiting the individuals from truly realising their potential and upsetting both the collaboration and community of different groups. A racist Australia is one where social injustice and division are the norm, and that’s not the Australia we’d like to leave for our children.

[1] ‘Denial of racism and its implications for local action’,  Nelson, J.K., 2013, Discourse Society
[2] ‘Racism In Australia’, All Together Now, 2017, alltogethernow.org.au/racism/
[3] ‘Racism Undermines Health’, The Lowitja Institute, 2008, lowitja.org.au
[4] ‘What Is Racism’, Racism No Way, Department of Education, racismnoway.com.au
[5] ‘The current state of the Northern Territory intervention’, Amanda Midlam, 31/01/2012

PTSD And Its Impacts In Aboriginal Australia

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We often associate PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder, with soldiers returning from combat, but in fact it can develop and be experienced by anybody who has been through a traumatic event. It’s just now that the general public is starting to realise that PTSD isn’t just a ‘war condition’, but a life condition. Over the years those living with PTSD have struggled for recognition, helped partly by the fact that they knew what they faced, and how they may begin to combat it. Imagine then, an entire group of people suffering PTSD across generations who do not have a good understanding of their condition, and who are unsure of how to tackle it.

Such is the reality of Aboriginal Australia.

A survey from 2008 indicated that almost one-in-three Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults have “experienced high levels of psychological distress” [1]. This is more than twice the rate that was reported for non-Indigenous Australians at the same time.

In more than two centuries Indigenous Australians have suffered at the hands of colonists, missionaries and politicians, all sure they were doing ‘the right thing’. They have been subjected to “unprecedented levels of political, social, economic, environmental and physical violence” [2].

As Paul Keating said in the Redfern Address:

“It was we who did the dispossessing.
We took the traditional lands and smashed the traditional way of life.
We brought the diseases. The alcohol.
We committed the murders.
We took the children from their mothers.
We practised discrimination and exclusion.
It was our ignorance and our prejudice.
And our failure to imagine these things being done to us.” [3]

Massacres, exclusion, colonial law and white privilege have left Aboriginal people broken, and dealing with the effects of PTSD not just as individuals, but in an intergenerational way. We’re talking about more than the psychological trauma of an individual, which is a challenge of itself, but the trauma that runs across generations, referred to by Atkinson as trauma lines:

“These trauma lines show the increase of so-called mental illness, alcohol and drug misuse, sexual and physical abuses and suicide attempts that reflect the pain of people’s lived experiences today.” [4]

Now we have two options in looking forward to a future Australia, where equality is a foundational right, not just a political catchword. Either go the way policymakers currently lean, seeing Aboriginal people as a failed group, or we see deeper than that, and recognise the long-term effects that PTSD can have on physical and mental health and wellbeing.

Currently, Australian politicians and those charged with protecting Aboriginal welfare have failed to apply what we know about PTSD to Aboriginal Australia. Our denial is hubris, but it’s not us that we’re failing: it’s Aboriginal people. This denial is one of the primary reasons that many programs specifically targeting First Australians aren’t getting results. It’s why schooling programs, mental health programs, wellbeing programs, and many other ‘closing the gap’ initiatives are doomed from the get-go. Essentially, it’s the real life version of forcing square pegs in round holes.

It’s Only Getting Worse

Unfortunately for Aboriginal people, intergenerational PTSD isn’t something that goes away with time. In fact, with each generation of people the issues faced are worse and worse, the trauma lines run deeper, and it’s hard to see a way forward. As older generations work to fight their demons, they are often caught up in substance abuse [5], leading to newer generations suffering with conditions like foetal alcohol which further adds to the trauma. We’re in a cycle that has to be broken, and now is the time.

What Can Be Done

The intergenerational trauma suffered by Aboriginal people isn’t something that white Australia can fix, and that’s probably the biggest hurdle for us to accept. Like so many other times in the past, we feel that we were the answer, but the truth is that the answer has lain with Aboriginal people from the beginning.

It is only Aboriginal people who can heal the wounds of the past, because we simply can’t understand the trauma that has been suffered by them, individually and as a group, for the last two centuries. We cannot understand the blatant murder and massacre of their ancestors, the denial of their cultural identity, the removal of their children, the separation of families, and the crushing of their spirit. It is a trauma that white Australia wants to wipe from the history books, because we are that guilty. But as Keating said, “guilt is not a very constructive emotion”, only opening our hearts and embracing practical solutions will net the future we hope to have for our great nation.

It’s time to stand up and accept that white Australia has done a number on Aboriginal Australia, but it’s not too late. It will take years for us to overcome the past, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t able to reach for the future.

[1] Australian Indigenous HealthInfoNet, 2013, healthinfonet.ecu.edu.au
[2] Havemann, P. Denial of Modernity and Exclusion: Indigenous Placelessness in Australia, Macquarie Law Journal, 2005; 5:57-79
[3] Keating, P. 1992. Redfern Address – Year for the World’s Indigenous People. antar.org.au
[4] Atkinson, J. Making sense of the senseless: feeling bad, being mad, getting charged up. Problematic Drug and Alcohol Use and Mental Illness. Conference Proceeding, 1999; 37-49.
[5] Nadew, G. T., 2010. Exposure to Traumatic Events, Prevalence of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and Alcohol Abuse in Aboriginal Communities, Primary Health Care Research and Information Studies. phcris.org.au

Why Are We Still Talking About A Treaty?

via http://www.nedmartin.org

via http://www.nedmartin.org

In May of 1967 Australians went to the ballots in a referendum to amend the constitution and include Aboriginal people in the census and allow laws to be created for them by the Commonwealth.

In May of 2017, Aboriginal leaders gathered again on culturally significant ground in Uluru, 500km from Alice Springs with a clear goal: to be recognised legally as the First Australians though inclusion in the legal framework on which modern Australian is based, and to be truly heard through an elected representative body.

The 2017 National Constitutional Convention brought together Aboriginal people from all over Australia. They met for days of talks about the current state of Aboriginal Australians and their hopes for the future. What emerged was something they called the Makarrata Commission, announced in the Uluru Statement.

“We seek constitutional reforms to empower our people and take a rightful place in our own country. When we have power over our destiny our children will flourish. They will walk in two worlds and their culture will be a gift to their country.

We call for the establishment of a First Nations Voice enshrined in the Constitution.

Makarrata is the culmination of our agenda: the coming together after a struggle. It captures our aspirations for a fair and truthful relationship with the people of Australia and a better future for our children based on justice and self-determination.

We seek a Makarrata Commission to supervise a process of agreement-making between governments and First Nations and truth-telling about our history.

In 1967 we were counted, in 2017 we seek to be heard. We leave base camp and start our trek across this vast country. We invite you to walk with us in a movement of the Australian people for a better future.” [1]

Constitutional reform that will involve getting a First Nations voice in parliament and moving towards a treaty is on the agenda for Aboriginal leaders. While we welcome further discussions and actions on a treaty, we remain surprised that after decades of poor Government policies and promises there remains any doubt at all that a treaty is absolutely necessary. Australia is the only Commonwealth nation that does not have a treaty with its Indigenous people, and frankly that’s not good enough [2]. We agree that Aboriginal people are “voiceless and powerless” as Pat Anderson notes, and that there does need to be “substantiative change; structural change that will make a difference” [3].

Touching On UNDRIP

In 2007 a meeting of the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). The declaration was adopted by a majority of 144 states, with four – including Australia – standing against it [4]. A new Australian government went on to adopt the declaration in 2009 [5], with the then Indigenous Affairs minister Jenny Macklin saying the adoption was an important step towards closing the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is something that was 20 years in the making. The declaration was intended to set out basic standards relating to the protection and recognition for Indigenous people all over the world. It talks about their rights, including the right to land, resources, identity, freedom from discrimination, culture, traditions, language and self-determination [6].

When Australia refused to adopt the UNDRIP in 2007, the government of the time – led by John Howard – claimed that UNDRIP would risk raising Aboriginal traditional law over national law. This was despite the fact that UNDRIP is not a binding document, but rather a promise that nations make to work harder to improve the lives of their Indigenous people through policy and action. As Mick Dodson, the 2009 Australian of the Year put so succinctly:

“Human rights do not dispossess people. Human rights do not marginalise people. Human rights do not cause their poverty and they don’t cause the gaps in the life expectancy and other life outcomes. It is the denial of rights that is the largest contributor to these things. The value of human rights is not in their existence; it is in their implementation.” [7]

Addressing Structural Issues In Australia’s System

The reason we want to talk about UNDRIP is because, while the document is not legally binding, any treaty that is negotiated between the Australian government and the First Australians must represent the values contained within this document. UNDRIP should be considered the fundamental scaffolding on which any future treaty may be build.

We fully support a treaty and believe that one is long overdue, but understand there are some Australians still in denial. If you don’t believe there needs to be a treaty, consider this:

The entire system – from legal to social and economic – on which Australia stands is based on a lie. That lie is that Aboriginal people did not exist in Australia at the time of white settlement. That lie is that they had no structure, no significance and no value, meaning settlers were free to dispossess them in total ignorance of the most basic fundamentals of British law. Now that needs to be resolved.

Australia needs to understand that you cannot own something that you have stolen. It must always belong to those who possessed if first. Of course, now it’s much too complicated to simply give Australian land back to Aboriginal people. There are so many other things to consider, from ownership to past traumas. As a country, such an action would result in social and financial collapse, which is why a negotiated settlement must occur.

A treaty is, and always has been, the best way to accomplish this kind of settlement. It allows Australia to acknowledge the constitutional rights of our Indigenous peoples, and the importance they have and will continue to have in our cultural heritage. It allows these people to have a voice, a say in their future and control of their destiny and that of their descendants. Yes, there needs to be some kind of body that speaks for Aboriginal Australians in all matters effecting sovereignty, land and so on, but it cannot give away the fundamental right of non-Indigenous Australians to exist.

Any treaty that is negotiated needs to be undertaken respectfully, and with an open heart. This isn’t about winning and losing, it’s about securing a bright future for all Australians, and moving forward with a better respect and understanding of the immense value and importance of Aboriginal culture and heritage to all of our lives.

via www.greenleft.org.au

via www.greenleft.org.au

[1] Sovereign Union – First Nations Asserting Sovereignty, ‘Uluru Statement from the heart’, 2017, nationalunitygovernment.org
[2] Australians Together, ‘Why Treaty’, australianstogether.org.au
[3] ABC Q&A On Twitter, Pat Anderson, twitter.com/QandA
[4] Indigenous Law Bulletin, ‘The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples’, 2007, austlii.edu.au
[5] Rodgers, E, ABC News, ‘Aust adopts UN Indigenous Declaration’, abc.net.au
[6] Australian Human Rights Commission, ‘UN Declaration on the Rights Of Indigenous Peoples’, humanrights.gov.au
[7] Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organisation, ‘Aboriginals of Australia: Government Praised’, unpo.org

So, Noel Pearson Swore?

Picture from Nick Cubbin

Picture from Nick Cubbin

In the matter of the recently reported ‘tirade’ between Noel Pearson and our honourable Prime Minister by the ABC News on Monday, here are a few of our thoughts.

First off, we certainly don’t condone the actions of Noel Pearson. Whether you agree with someone’s view or not, it is important to remain respectful. That said, we are sympathetic to the feelings of an Indigenous man driven to improve the current and future circumstances of his people who comes up against the brick wall of politics. The First Australians have not only been traumatised and driven into the ground by myriad governments and their failed policies, but also shelved and ignored at every possibly opportunity. The actions of governments, past and present, have shown quite clearly how little they care for community-driven action that may yield actual results. Instead our policy-makers trade laws between elections like playing cards and any positive outcomes get lost in the quagmire of administration and opposition.

It’s enough to drive anyone quite mad.

So, we certainly understand what might have driven the, as yet unsubstantiated, claims that Noel Pearson dropped a few choice insults at the PM and some others present. The mission to which Pearson has dedicated himself involves seeking inclusion in the Australian Constitution of an Aboriginal representative body. It is proposed this body will actively scrutinise legislation to ensure its full impact on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is well considered. As we understand it, the Prime Minister said in few uncertain terms that, while he meant no insult, the pragmatist within suggested that Noel’s model was “highly unlikely to be supported”.

There is obviously a marked divide between what Aboriginal people want to achieve in terms of constitutional recognition, and what the Australian government is willing to give ground over. As it stands, Aboriginal people want more control over their future, and the future of their children, and the Australian government wants to stick with old ideas and white gatekeepers (because god-forbid we let Aboriginal self-determination come into the equation).

Are We Being Distracted?

It is also worth noting that the alleged tirade reported by the ABC on Monday the 5th of June actually took place quite some time earlier. And by some time, we mean late November of last year. In this case we feel there may be something sinister at play in the ABC’s report. Can it really be coincidence that they seek to pull the carpet out from under Noel Pearson’s feet as he, one of the well-recognised faces and public orators of the recently ground-breaking convention in Uluru, speaks for his people? We don’t believe it is, and it’s frustrating that the media seeks to confuse the public, drag down the reputation of Indigenous leaders, particularly with claims that barely stand on their own two feet.

Allow us to explain. For one, the ABC report offers no direct quote from anyone actually present at the meeting to substantiate the claims of Noel Pearson’s tirade. Instead they print a few groundless statements from Liberal MP, and known Pearson critic, Warren Entsch who claims to have heard what happened from “witnesses who were there”. Labor MP Linda Burney, herself a well-respected Aboriginal leader, admits two men present told her that an exchange of words took place. She herself wasn’t present”. This game of whispers is underhanded, and frankly quite disturbing.

The End Game

At the end of the day, we can’t say for sure what happened in a private meeting between the PM, Noel Pearson, and other Indigenous leaders. Perhaps a tirade really did take place all the way back in November, but there’s no saying now what is truth and what is a media beat-up. With dignity, and perhaps understanding, the other participants have chosen to act honourably.

What’s important to us, and to all the people in our communities near and far, is that the ultimate message and mission of Noel Pearson and other Aboriginal leaders doesn’t get lost in the media distraction. Tirade aside, this is an exciting time for Aboriginal people, and for Aboriginal leadership. There is a thought revolution happening all across Australia, and we welcome it. Now is the time to stand together in realising that the only way for Aboriginal people to move forward is with strong self-determination and governance, not junk policy and overarching control. Instead of choosing to tear down a great Australian, with a true passion for his First Australian heritage, let us practice some forgiveness and honour also.