Sovereign Perspectives (Part 2)

Nawoola Loonmi Miriwoong, Kununnura, Western Australia

Cont. from Part 1 in issue 6

What are your views on the Healthy Welfare Card roll out?

Even speaking to the Premier and cabinet last week, they said there was going to be all these services in place around the Healthy Welfare Card roll out. So I’ve said to them ‘OK, so is there going to be funding to allow people to address their alcohol issues or their gambling issues or their drug addiction issues.’ And they said there would be services provided, but they’ll all be volunteer-based if people want to seek help.

I’ve also questioned what strategies are going to be put in place to help people with employment because the only way out of the Healthy Welfare Card is going to be to get a job, but we lack jobs around here. There aren’t enough jobs and there aren’t enough people with skills to take the jobs that there are. The Department of Premier and Cabinet said to me ‘Oh yeah, but we’re speaking to Coles to give people employment.’

I said ‘So what? Are you going to line everyone up to be checkout chicks and trolley boys? What about other industries?’ And I said when we’re talking about Coles, which is a massive business in this country, I feel it should be mandatory that any business that comes on board to help with employment does appropriate cultural awareness training through the Language and Culture Centres, otherwise you’re just setting people up to fail. You’re putting people into big businesses with minimal work experience, minimal education. They’re not going to have that appropriate support there to have that sustainable employment.

My understanding is that there is no guarantee of community funding beyond 30 June 2018. All responsibility for community funding has been handed over to the WA government and Barnett has taken an especially aggressive approach [declaring the likely closure of up to 150 communities out of 247 across the state]. How do you think things are going to go in the next little while?

I just feel that there is absolutely no commitment from government in helping us empower our people. I feel the government is just working more and more towards stripping us of our rights even further. The government will sit there and say that they’re committed to helping us in bridging the gap, but at the same time, they bring out things like the Indigenous Advancement Strategy and cut billions of dollars from the Aboriginal funding sector. So it’s just a total contradiction of everything they’re saying. So now under the Indigenous Advancement Strategy, if organisations don’t come under the Empowered Communities model then they have no funding.

And in recent months there’s been an increase in the number of young people committing suicide. It looks like WA politicians don’t even stick around to hear the discussion in parliament, because they’re actually not interested in reading through the reports and recommendations that were written a long time ago. It seems they’re deliberately using suicides as a weapon against communities in mourning and crisis.

Straight up. It needs to be stated as well that the Kimberley has the highest rate of suicides of young people in the country and one of the highest rates of suicide of young people in the world. We also have the highest rate of incarceration of young black men in the country and one of the highest rates of incarceration of young black people in the world. As a community, we feel that the government doesn’t care that we’re losing our young people to alcohol, drugs and suicide. And there are a lot of people that don’t even want to discuss these issues, because, like you said, the government uses it as a weapon against us.

In the last month, we’ve had two suicides of people under 25-years-old. In the last six months, I’d say we’re looking at a number of around 10 young people that have suicided. We had a young person that was 13 suicides last year as well. It ranges from quite young. For a 13 year-old to commit suicide is really heartbreaking for communities and how is the family ever going to recover from that?

There are no support mechanisms in place to be able to help families with their grief. There has been one new position made in town to work on suicide prevention, but that’s one person. There needs to be appropriate funding to have a team of people working in this area, and there needs to be appropriate resources to be able to help people. Yes, it’s all about prevention and we need to be working tirelessly to prevent these kinds of things, and helping families and communities to address these issues with a holistic approach. If you’re not working on prevention, you’re just working from the back foot. What about the families who have lost people? There needs to be help for them, because sometimes we see a pattern with the families, as well. There are families up here that have had more than one suicide. That’s even more heartbreaking. Where is the help and support for those families that have already lost somebody? They’re just dealing with post traumatic stress and there’s nothing there to help them with their grief. There’s not enough services up here to be able to help grassroots people. There’s all these kind of tick-the-box things that are happening around town, but it’s not really helping people at a grassroots level.

And the Homelands Movement was largely about people becoming safe, trying to get away from the problems of being close to the cities, with alcohol, drugs and violence. It’s like the politicians are in denial about the protective aspects of remote communities, the reason so many made a point of returning to homelands.

Yes. And when I first started going to these meetings about Empowered Communities, all they were talking about was nutrition and getting kids to school. We’re all aware that that’s really important, but what I kept vocalizing there was that’s all well and good to want that child at school, but if you’ve got that child at home that’s had no sleep, in an overcrowded house, there’s alcohol abuse happening, there’s domestic violence happening, there’s no food in the fridge and you’re making that kid go to school with no clean clothes, no shoes, no food in his guts then you’re just straight out isolating that child from the rest of the class anyway, setting them up to fail. If you really want to strengthen and empower people, you bring them back to their culture – it’s documented that it helps heal them from the inside out.

Just finally, Nawoola, are there any messages that you feel are important to get across to East Coast mobs and supporters?

I think everybody out there across the country needs to be aware of what the real issues are at a grassroots level. I think people need to take their blinkers off and see what the government is trying to do. This is not new; it’s just spelled out in another way. We feel that the Healthy Welfare Card is going back to the models of the 1930s and ‘40s. It’s basically taking people’s rights away Controlling people with their lifestyle is not going to help them address their issues. It’s not going to help bring families closer together. The only thing that it is going to bring is our families closer together and strengthen our communities is to support us in our culture.

Thank you, sister. In the last year, I’ve certainly noticed a lot of young people stepping up…

Well we have to. We’re in a different era to our old people, so it’s our job as young black warriors or young black people, however you see yourself, to use the education we have to speak up for our old people and to make people aware that we need our culture and we need to strengthen our culture.


Photo credit Micheal Butler

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