A chance to stop the next stolen generation

Shawn Andrews, Yugambeh, Mununjali

They call it stolen generations because it has been occurring for generations. Once seen as a method of deliberate state organised assimilation is now an epidemic that is out of control. This epidemic occurring in Australia is so well hidden, so normalised that we as a country do not see it happening although it is occurring right under our noses. We assume that it is what needs to be done and that it is a normal part Aboriginal life and could even be seen as a necessity. The reality is that its normality is disgusting and the lack of general discussion on the topic will lead to more generations of stolen children, children who are important, children who need culture and connection, children who have a family.

When I visit our young people in juvenile detention it concerns me. When I watch reports on violence against children in the care of the state, like I did on the recent Four Corners report on the ABC, I am disgusted and sickened. It hurts to see our kids being mistreated and tortured. I hope that the Australian government and the Australian people finally put a stop to it, although I doubt we have the wisdom and leadership in our current governments to do it.

When I see the young Aboriginal people in detention I am worried. My worry is for their welfare and their future. I also worry about how the young people got into detention in the first place, why is it that they are so marginalised and so vulnerable. How come it is acceptable to continue to lock up our young people when we know from evidence that it is not the answer and is not working. The fact is, that everything we see occurring today is a result of our horrible past. A past of invasion, colonial mass genocide and of assimilation.

The stolen generations are horrific and they are still occurring. I know…. Some people have read that previous sentence and thought, ‘generations, not it was just one generation, still occurring, no surely I would have heard about it if it was.’ If you are that person you, like many others have been neglected of the truth about Australian history. My advice to you is to start by researching Bennelong, the assimilation policy, the half-caste act, the Constitution of Australia and listen to Uncle Archie Roach’s song “Took the Children Away.” If you want to know the truth, you can, and once you do you will understand how the government gifted us all prejudice and racism.

I could write all day about the historical context of stolen generations. I could write from the white and the black perspective. I could explain the pain and suffering of our people and explain the privileged, incorrect views of Aboriginal ways, and how that view lead to Aboriginal children being taken. I could describe the exclusion policies and segregations policies that aimed to divide Aboriginal people. The history of which would give you a greater understanding of why we have so many of our young Aboriginal people in jail and why we now have a crisis, one that should not be occurring, a generation of stolen children being taken from their culture and families right now in 2016.

Currently, there are approximately 6,000 young people living in out of home care in Victoria. These young people are there for various reasons, family violence, neglect and incarceration being the main contributors. Out of the 6,000 young people, approximately 1,600 of them are Aboriginal young people. That means that Aboriginal young people represent approximately 27% of all young people in out of home care, a staggering proportion when you consider that Aboriginal people only represent 2.9% of Victoria’s population. If that number does not represent a crisis, then I do not know what does.  

Let’s put this into perspective. From a western point of view, it is alarming as it is a huge number of young people who may not be connected to family and are at risk of lower standards of education, health, life expectancy and employment outcomes. Let’s add to that, the historical proof that these children are at high risk to have their own children who inherit the same problems. So in Victoria, that is 6,000 children who are at risk right now and at risk of continued disadvantage for generations to come. The number of Aboriginal young people in out of home care from my point of view is more concerning. The first question that needs to be asked is why are there so many? How can we possibly have that many disrupted families? And why are we letting this happen?

Now to bring this all together and help fill in the gaps let me explain why this number is so high. The number is high because of the systematic, government driven, assimilation and genocide of Aboriginal people. It stems from the fact that tens of thousands of Aboriginal people of many generations have been stolen from their families. Those people grew up without connection to family, with a loss of identity and a belief that Aboriginal Culture is less than Western Culture. Now if your culture and identity are stripped from you then there is no chance you will grow up stable and very little chance that you will grow up happy. Unstable and unhappy people often find it hard to keep jobs, have meaningful relationships, and often have poor health. I have no doubt the loss of culture and identity have lead to the huge numbers of Aboriginal young people in out of home care, this has to stop and it has to stop now!

There are many Aboriginal organisations in Victoria who are working hard to turn this number around. Taskforce 1000 along with leadership from community leaders have started to implement strategies on how to reduce the numbers of Aboriginal young people in out of home care.  They have formed partnerships with out of home care organisations, pushed for kinship care and created training packages to up skill community volunteers and workers. One of the more creative ways of making positive changes in the lives of Aboriginal young people in out of home care was the offer to run a program that focuses on a camp’s program that takes the young people out on country, to connect with country and culture. This program was tendered earlier this year and Indigicate in conjunction with Winda-Mara Coop won the tender.

The camp we have created will take 24 Aboriginal young people in out of home care on a seven-day outdoor education and cultural education program. The groups are split into boys and girls, they will participate in a journey that will see them spend some time hiking and canoeing. The entire program is built upon the foundations of Aboriginal pedagogies and Aboriginal knowledge systems. The young people will be taught about connection, will participate in circle time yarning and be given the opportunity to discuss identity and culture. The program is complemented with cultural activities with elders and community leaders, and will have an emphasis on understanding that Aboriginal culture is beautiful, sophisticated and is something to be proud of. There will also be programs that focus on transitioning out of out of home care and each of the participants will receive units towards certification in canoeing and outdoor education.

This is a pilot program, and personally I see great benefit in helping these young people. I see a program like this being able to connect the young people with their culture and help them establish a sense of pride in who they are. I hope that they want to work in outdoor education themselves, as I believe that Aboriginal people are the best at teaching connection of place and country. I see an opportunity for us to demonstrate that we Aboriginal people are the best people for the job of helping our own, that we have the answers for complex problems because we are highly intelligent people who can adapt to change and create solutions to problems. Because that is what we have always done.    

Yes there is an epidemic occurring and it is horrible. Yes we are in the midst of another stolen generation. But yes we can fix it. Our culture is strong and our young people are resilient. Just like Uncle Archie Roach’s song says, ‘the children will come back’ and when they do they will strengthen all of us. All we need to do is to continue to teach the real history of Australia and connect people with the beauty of our culture.

Photo credit: Nada Aldobasic

                                                                                                               

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