To help raise awareness of the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children being removed from family, Family Matters asked leaders from across the country to share their reflections during the National Week of Action – on what a new government should prioritise, on what a national strategy to solve this issue should look like, and on what future they’re working to help build for our children.
The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community today is disadvantaged. Our people die twenty years too young. Our people do not feel safe. Our people do not feel at home.
Today, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are 11 times more likely to be removed from their family and community than non-Indigenous children. In spite of this we see more and more of our people and programs dedicated to turning this around and ensuring our children can grow up knowing who they are.
I believe an emphasis on prevention, community capacity building and cultural competence will go a long way to reversing the tragic increase in Indigenous child protection referrals.
I want to see our people strengthened in their ability to care for their children, not punished for being of a culture different to the mainstream white culture.
Before invasion, Indigenous communities had the capacity to live fulfilling lives and look after their children. However, this capacity was diminished by the process of colonisation.
Economic capacity was removed by changing the environment to make it suitable for colonial economic exploitation.
Societal capacity was diminished by forcing Indigenous communities to live on the outskirts of colonial society.
Capacity for looking after children was diminished by taking them away.
I implore the incoming Federal Government to have the courage to take up this mandate and to do things differently.
The complexity and depth of the issue requires a holistic national strategy if we are to make any real dents.
The incoming Federal Government has a responsibility to set an example by starting this process.
The path to a strategy that properly supports children and families, as well as the path to true reconciliation, must be navigated side by side, with mutual respect and meaningful partnership.
I know that bridging the cultural gap is an evergreen challenge.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in this country are constantly struggling to build that cultural bridge in order to survive and I value the experiences I have of those times when Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-Indigenous people try to build and walk over those bridges together.
But those bridges often fall down.
Many of us walked over bridge for reconciliation in the year 2000 only to have them fall down.
We need to have the courage and strength to continue to rebuild them.
The Family Matters campaign, developed to eliminate the unacceptable over-representation of our children in the child protection system, is a shining example of what trust, commitment and partnership from Aboriginal and non-Indigenous people can achieve. Family Matters seeks to foster an environment where there is wellbeing, safety and stability for all children. For Aboriginal children this means fostering a greater sense of belonging by growing up in family and community, and in a society that respects and values who they are as Aboriginal people.
If this goal becomes a reality we will have gone a long way in addressing the injustices and misunderstandings of the past. If we succeed in creating this new environment for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, we will have also succeeded in weaving together of our stories as both Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples living on this land.
Because of them, we must try.
This article originally appeared on Croakey, a supporter of Family Matters and the 2019 National Week of Action.