What are we going to do?
A reflection on ways forward for non-Indigenous South Australians to
respond to Indigenous South Australian concerns
Summary of speeches
- The Context - Professor Lowitja O'Donoghue
- Health - Dr Peter Ford
- Higher Education - Professor Michael Rowan
- Tourism - Ms Jane Sloane
- Social Barriers in the Legal System - Commissioner Ted Mullighan QC
- Mr Elliott Johnston AO, QC
- Questions and statements from the audience
- Summary of suggestions for action
The forum was chaired by Ms Leanne Liddle (Aboriginal Partnerships, Dept of Environment and Heritage)
The Context – Professor Lowitja O’Donoghue
- Recent changes in indigenous affairs have made heavy the hearts and broken the spirits of indigenous Australians; indigenous Australians have lost their voice.
- It is difficult to see how to go forward into the future.
- Self-determination has been dismantled.
- Mainstreaming has resulted in indigenous affairs being run by a majority of non-indigenous people who have little or no understanding of indigenous history and needs.
- Aboriginal people are seen as being too emotional, but someone needs to show emotion
- Aboriginal people do not ask for sympathy but for understanding and action.
- Aboriginal leaders should not be asked to find the solutions to their people’s needs because they can no longer carry the burden.
- The key issues are:
- Less rhetoric, fewer words and more action are required.
- Lowitja’s 10 point plan exists
- We need the fire in the belly and to light the flame for action.
Health – Dr Peter Ford
- Disadvantage and poor Aboriginal health is not genetically
predetermined, but it exists; disadvantage includes:
- lack of hope.
- Needs include:
- health services
- psychological well-being
- a vision of success (celebrate the successes)
- maintenance of culture
- Possible solutions include:
- more resources – political and financial
- being unprepared to accept failure as the natural outcome (this applies to both indigenous and non- indigenous people)
- a Health Treaty for indigenous people wherever they live
- greater indigenous representation in health bureaucracy and infrastructure
- recurrent, rather than non-recurrent funding (over 10-15years)
- greater coordination between state and federal health departments and organisations
- funds (which the states and federal government actually do have)
- the will to spend funds in this area
- a realistic appreciation of the size of the problem (only 250, 000 indigenous people across Australia, 10,000 in Australia, 4% of national indigenous population in SA)
- self-funded indigenous projects such as scholarships for education
- incentives to attract more and ‘fresher’ (less exhausted) people to work in frontline indigenous health
- $400 million to achieve parity in primary health care
- $52 million to address shortage of indigenous health workers over 10 years
- only $18 million needed in SA to achieve the above (much o fit afederal obligation)
- ideas – everyone has them and some have succeeded
- successful models to emulate
- coordination across the spectrum of social determinants
- more indigenous teachers
- mentoring and advocacy
- long term commitment
- Indigenous lifespans are reduced by 20 years compared with Caucasian
counterparts and have not improved over 10 years
- 90% chance for non-indigenous people to reach 65 years
- 35 % chance for indigenous women to reach 65 years
- 25 % chance for indigenous men to reach 65 years
- These statistics pertain throughout the country where indigenous
- 31% in cities
- 20% in inner regional areas
- 22% in outer regional areas
- 9% in remote areas
- 18% in very remote areas.
- Death rates
- 25-54 year olds 5-8 times higher rate
- mortality 3 times the non-indigenous rate
- children twice as likely to have low birth weight
- Chronic illness much more prevalent in indigenous people:
- hospitalisation rates 2.5 times higher
- Health expenditure
- For every $1 spent on non-indigenous health, 33 cents is spent on indigenous health – particularly under-funded in primary health care and pharmaceuticals
- In 2002 the likelihood of being in prison was 15 times higher for indigenous people
Action is required
- Making indigenous health a national and state priority
- Setting up a representative taskforce to drive the priority (using previously successful models in transport, communication, aged care and higher education
Higher Education – Professor Michael Rowan
Using UniSA’s goals and vision as a model, higher education for indigenous people should:
- encourage indigenous people to study in a broad range of programs
- reflect the proportions of indigenous people in the sa community in its numbers of staff & students
- encourage and improve access, participation, retention & success
- have strong support systems in place for students
- offer cultural training to non-indigenous staff
- ensure that students feel welcome and experience no racism
- include coverage of indigenous issues (compulsory and assessable) appropriate to the relevant program in every undergraduate program
- set benchmarks that reflect indigenous values.
- Listen to indigenous elders and heed their advice.
- Don’t be afraid to make mistakes.
- Set realistic and worthwhile targets and work over reasonable timeframes. This means that if you don’t achieve results in the short term won’t see the program/project written off as a failure.
- Ensure that senior staff in the organisation provide leadership and are held accountable.
Higher education is not the most critical area for indigenous culture, but higher education institutions must be supportive of indigenous students.
Tourism – Ms Jane Sloane
- Non-indigenous people need to slow down and listen to indigenous people; they need to stop looking for solutions – but to work from here and now; they need to engage in dialogue rather than debate.
- Long term problems require long term goals for solution. There must be flexibility with timeframes, management and cultural obligation. Partnerships must respect differences and be mutually beneficial.
- When organisations or companies fund the establishment of successful [tourism] projects in indigenous communities, then withdraw funds, the results are cynicism, anger, despair, frustration , an increase in violence and suicide. Such decisions must not be taken on a whim or because of changes in management personnel. Safeguards must be built in to ensure viability/sustainability of programs. The best thing we can do is to support a manageable project and stay with it for the long haul.
- Non-indigenous people must be culturally sensitive before entering
indigenous land – only indigenous people have the right to introduce
others to their culture.
• Indigenous tourism should be expensive/exclusive and hard to access to make it more desirable – the Garma Festival in Arnhem Land is a good example. The APY lands could be ‘sold’ to exclusive visitors at the annual Education Travel Conference in Washington. There are also ways of exporting indigenous culture, eg Bran Nu Dae, selling exclusive textiles and fabrics.
- We must honour indigenous culture and timeframes, styles of consultation and let decision making be managed by elders, not outsiders. We must listen to what indigenous people say they need.
Social Barriers in the Legal System – Commissioner Ted Mullighan QC
- Walks across bridges etc offer hope – symbolic gestures are not unimportant.
- There is growing shame and a desire to act among non-indigenous people, but it is not enough.
- Aboriginal people treat us with kindness, generosity, respect and a willingness to teach.
- The white community must look at traditional Aboriginal systems of
- Social relationships.
- In order to talk about what to do in future, we must take from indigenous people what is good for us and find out how we can change to allow them to accommodate our intrusion in their 70,000 years of peaceful, successful life.
- White society imposes obligations on indigenous people but does not give them the same rights as non-indigenous people.
- They are 450,000 people out of 21 million. In SA 34% of people in gaol are ATSI. Our justice system – punishment and locking up doesn’t work for white people – it certainly doesn’t work for indigenous people. Punishing people for matters such as petrol sniffing is totally inappropriate.
- We need to know how indigenous people deal with criminal justice issues but they don’t trust us enough to tell us. But it is swift, fair, widely understood, not forgiven but forgotten – not dragged on for years. And it rarely includes banishment.
- We talk about people not to them. We need to understand restorative justice.
- Ask Indigenous people - don’t make judgments for them
- Make study of indigenous culture compulsory in all levels of education and award no degree without its successful completion.
- Don’t talk about skills shortages and import workers from other countries; train indigenous people, youth in particular.
- Take affirmative action across all sectors so that indigenous people are 2.4% of everything in both urban and remote areas.
- Think about what we have done and what they deserve.
- What skills do we as individual have that we can offer indigenous people?
- Consider respect, self-esteem and appreciation of inappropriate behaviour.
Mr Elliott Johnston, AO QC
- Aboriginal people have not achieved their rights and are a long way from achieving their rights. It will be the effort of non-indigenous people that will determines whether they achieve their rights, but what those rights are must be determined by indigenous people
- They have lost:
- Cultural background
- But they have not died out because they fought to retain all these things.
- Indigenous people have the right
- We have the right to
- ATSIC or its successor must be re-established
- While there is a high degree of support in the non-indigenous community, it is not widespread
- Good things happen but are not publicised or celebrated (3 SA universities and excellent support units; Kaurna agreement with several local councils)
- More should be done across all sports to encourage indigenous players
- The white community (individuals and organisations) must assist indigenous young people to train at whatever they want to do
- We need to demonstrate
- It is our duty to assist because of our history; and it is a decent thing to do
- Everyone has a key role in developing relationships
Questions and statements from audience
- Since reconciliation has been sidelined by the government, which will only do it in a whitefella way, is there a place for the kind of work and subsequent impact Circles of Friends and refugee activist groups have had on the refugee/detention issue?
- Letter writing – adopt a politician
- Reconciliation may be sidelined by government but it’s kept alive by people. It must be achieved incrementally – in sport, in schools.
- There must be public focus on reconciliation activity – eg one positive indigenous story in the media each week.
- Reconciliation requires
- Acknowledgement in the Constitution
- Writing down all languages
- We should acknowledge benefit (from resources) for non-indigenous people on stolen land as well as country.
- The word ‘listen’ has been used many times but people aren’t hearing.
- Gaining consensus (eg about what is to replace ATSIC) among indigenous people is no easier than gaining consensus among non-indigenous people. But it is for indigenous people to decide.
- Easier to gain consensus on indigenous issues than on European issues. (one vs 250+ constructs)
- This difficulty has to be faced. Aboriginal people must agree on enough things in order to create a representative elected body – some concessions will need to be made.
- There must be concessions made by both indigenous and non-indigenous sides in order to achieve reconciliation.
- Collaboration means non-indigenous people giving up some of their power
- We need to protect indigenous culture
- from academics
- from tour operators
- in health
- Legislation is needed to protect indigenous culture from exploitation
- We have the right as citizens to ask organisations, incl NGOs what they are doing
- We must respect culture but we must move forward – we can’t have ‘segregated’ communities.
- There is a discourse of whiteness (as a problem) which white teachers reject.
- Human rights require a benchmark for respect:
- Bill of Rights
- National symbols – flag, Australia day
- Basic rights are
- Who we are
- The right to peak up for ourselves
- Acknowledgement in the Constitution
- Deborah McCulloch summarised Georgina Williams’ protocol of three tiers of governance which requires:
- a place for indigenous people to meet that is their own
- a voting system (i.e. an indigenous AEC)
- Disillusionment with government processes – Australians are at heart a conservative, racist people.
- State legislation about APY lands has been passed despite Anangu objections – citizens should object.
- Indigenous people must have input into legislation that affects them
- Resourcing is a major factor
- Governments must attend to their priorities in spending.
Practical things that individuals can do
- Letter writing
- Adopt a politician
- Emulate the homeless (and now disabled) lobby groups
- Keep pressure up at federal level
- Seize the opportunity presented by the SA election
Summary of suggestions for action
At the symbolic level
- It will be the effort of non-indigenous people that will determine whether they achieve their rights, but what those rights are must be determined by indigenous people.
- Revise the Constitution to include reference to indigenous people.
- Achieve a Bill of Rights
- Have a vision of what needs to be done and envisage its success.
- Celebrate successful programs and people.
- Have a positive media story about indigenous issues each week.
- Stop placing all the responsibility to find solutions onto a few indigenous leaders.
- Engage in dialogue rather than debate.
- Listen to what indigenous people say rather than tell them what they need.
- Continue symbolic activities such as the walks across the bridges, as these symbols are not unimportant.
- By all means acknowledge country at public meetings, etc, but also regularly acknowledge the extent to which non-indigenous people have benefited from inhabiting stolen land.
- Acknowledge what non-indigenous people have done to indigenous people and accept that this imposes a great responsibility on non-indigenous people to allow indigenous people to determine their own future.
- Changing exclusive symbols: eg the flag, Australia Day
At government and bureaucratic level (including NGOs)
- Continue the Reconciliation process which the current federal government has dismantled.
- Reinstate ATSIC or a similar successor, with indigenous people determining how it will be set up and how it will operate
- Allow indigenous people to decide how they will manage their own affairs.
- Do not permit indigenous affairs to be mainstreamed and managed by people without understanding of indigenous issues.
- Practise affirmative action across all sectors until the proportion of indigenous employees in all enterprises, departments, etc reflects the proportion in the community.
- Set up structures which allow appropriate coordination between state and federal departments and NGOs.
- Provide adequate, long-term funding.
- Make indigenous health a national and state priority.
- Train more indigenous health workers
- Stop talk and begin action.
- Don’t accept failure; have visions of success.
- Publicise successful programs, especially those which can be models for others.
- Adopt appropriate long-term flexible time frames for both funding and action.
- Take action to improve:
- Train more indigenous teachers
- Mentor indigenous students in school so that they are encouraged to become doctors, teachers, etc working with their own people.
- Make higher education a place in which indigenous students feel safe and welcome.
- Ensure that education at all levels accepts alternative views of history/society/colour and whiteness.
- Make education about indigenous history and culture compulsory and assessable at all levels of education from primary to tertiary.
- Provide appropriate support systems for indigenous students
- Provide cultural training for non-indigenous staff.
- life expectancy,
- infant mortality and birth weight
- over-incidence of chronic disease
- the relationship between health/illness and lifestyle and social environment (including education, employment)
- the mental health effects of over-incidence of imprisonment of indigenous people
- Establish a Health Treaty for indigenous people wherever they live.
- Achieve greater indigenous representation in the health bureaucracy and infrastructure.
- Emphasise recurrent, rather than non-recurrent funding (over 10-15years at least).
- Require greater coordination between state and federal health departments and organisations.
- Locate and spend funds (which the state and federal government actually do have).
- Persuade politicians and bureaucrats to have the will to spend funds in this area.
- Employ more indigenous health workers.
- Involve local people in projects that will attract sensitive tourism.
- Make indigenous tourism ‘exclusive’ and desirable.
- Take indigenous product overseas to introduce other cultures and countries.
- Adopt appropriate long-term timeframes.
- Do not allow non-indigenous people to introduce tourists to indigenous culture.
- Honour indigenous culture and timeframes, styles of consultation and let decision making be managed by elders, not outsiders.
- Respect differences between indigenous and non-indigenous cultures.
- Legislate to protect indigenous culture so that decisions cannot be made, unchallenged, by companies and organisations.
In the law
- Examine, respect and use (especially when dealing with indigenous
people) traditional Aboriginal systems of
- social relationships.
- We cannot continue to impose obligations on indigenous people without giving them the same rights as non-indigenous people.
- Stop locking up indigenous people; find other ways of dealing with them when they do wrong.
- Stop using punishment as the only tool; look at underlying issues that cause people to commit crimes.
- Find ways to give young people self-respect, self-esteem and, thus, hope.
- Speed up the processes of the law, so that the outcome of justice is more immediate and relevant to the offence.
- Practise restorative justice, i.e. restore the community to what it was before the misdemeanour.
- Find useful ways of dealing with petrol sniffing that are not simply white punishments.
- Provide employment for indigenous people.
- Work with youth courts like the man at Salisbury.
- Teach skills to indigenous people to overcome ‘the skills shortage’.
- Encourage and support young indigenous people across all sports.
As individual citizens
- Write letters.
- Set up and sign petitions.
- ‘Adopt a politician’ and keep asking them what they are doing about indigenous issues.
- Emulate the homeless (and now disabled) lobby groups.
- Keep pressure up at federal level
- Seize the opportunity presented by the SA election.