Why language and self-determination matters on this International Day of Indigenous Peoples
When we think of our indigenous peoples, we normally think of them in two ways. The first is through culture and the amazing amount of history and connection to the land they have. Their languages and stories, their ancestry and more. The second is poverty and economic deprivation; and it’s on that front that most of the conversation centers. The harsh reality is that the suicide rate amongst Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders is the highest per head of population around the world, they are more likely to have lower life expectancy, unable to afford housing, rank amongst the higher end of the long term unemployed and more. Addictions, mental health and primary health data is all against our first nations peoples and yet we rarely have a conversation about the most significant circuit breaker that can change all of this – self-determination.
It doesn’t matter where you go the challenges facing first nations peoples are largely the same and are often amplified through the negativity lens and yet, across the world and Australia, there are some amazing examples of where self-determination is taking hold at a community level, where people are taking charge and co-designing or leading design of solutions for them by them. But to address how that happens at a micro level we also need to be conscious of the need for self-determination empowered by the nation state. From an Australian perspective this is also contained within the Declaration of the rights of Indigenous peoples:
The right to self-determination has particular application to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as Australia’s first peoples.
Self-determination is an ‘ongoing process of choice’ to ensure that Indigenous communities are able to meet their social, cultural and economic needs. It is not about creating a separate Indigenous ‘state’.
The right to self-determination is based on the simple acknowledgment that Indigenous peoples are Australia’s first people, as was recognised by law in the historic Mabo judgement.
The loss of this right to live according to a set of common values and beliefs, and to have that right respected by others, is at the heart of the current disadvantage experienced by Indigenous Australians.
Without self-determination it is not possible for Indigenous Australians to fully overcome the legacy of colonisation and dispossession.
The right of self-determination for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples is in addition to the right which everyone has to freedom from discrimination (including under ICCPR articles 2.1 and 26) and which members of all ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities have to enjoy their own culture, profess and practice their religion, and use their own religion.
Coming back to the local aspect of self determination its also about acceptance by non-Indigenous and Government service providers that engaging and empowering Indigenous peoples to co-create, co and led design of solutions. In the case of ANNECTO, as an aged services provider, we live and breathe this as a strategy each day because we realise you can make significant in-roads when it comes to many of the social determinants I mentioned earlier. What does this look like? Respecting and understanding a person’s cultural identity is central to addressing their ageing needs. Instead of simply providing services, annecto engages meaningfully with communities so that aged care can be provided in a culturally-safe way.
This approach underpins annecto’s expansion to the mid north coast region of NSW. Our involvement in the area has been at the invitation of our partner Kinchela Boys Home Aboriginal Corporation, an organisation that was set up to support and connect KBH survivors and their families, and to address the trauma suffered by KBH survivors and the intergenerational trauma experienced by their descendants, families and communities. Kerry Wade, a local Aboriginal community leader with extensive experience in aged care and community services, became involved with the Kempsey project after attending a community meeting about annecto’s launch in the region. She remarked, “I liked what I saw. annecto was honest, grassroots and simple. With those values that’s why annecto is growing.” Kerry later became the Kempsey Practice Leader and Support Coordinator – the first staff member of the new office. Language is also about conversations and how conversations matter in both germinating and seeding ideas while also spreading the word.
The Kempsey office now employs four support workers, including three Aboriginal people, and works with 30 care recipients from the local Aboriginal community. annecto’s approach to service delivery involved creating meaningful relationships with the local Aboriginal families, listening deeply rather than presuming annecto knew the answers – and it is this approach which has provided a new choice in the area for individuals receiving packages. All we do is provide a supportive operating environment and the community, filled to the brim of amazing people alongside our workers.
Finally it is about the revitalization of language and culture, of being proud of the words and stories that our first nations people talk and tell. On the International Day of Indigenous Peoples its very much about empowerment – of turning those stories and languages into formative action that can really change the social determinants that hold our brothers and sisters back.
For more information: https://www.un.org/en/events/indigenousday/
About the author: Mike Hercock: State Manager NSW and the ACT for ANNECTO https://www.annecto.org.au/ annecto clients include people with disabilities, older people, families and carers who want advice, advocacy and support. We deliver personal services to help you feel safe and comfortable at home.
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