Well, Australia Day is fast approaching and we know that this is going to suck up a lot of media space with all kinds of protesters and social media warriors telling us how hurtful and upsetting that day is to Aboriginal people - if we only changed the date they would all feel so much better.
As serious as that issue may be to some, I want to discuss another issue affecting Aboriginal people that I believe is very important. The Weekend Australia reported on 12 January 2019 about Four Aboriginal girls have taken their own lives in a horror week. This can only be described as a tragedy. And one that affects the whole nation - not just Aboriginal people.
While solutions get plenty of talk, we typically hear the same worn-out offerings like “We need courageous governments to take bold steps to address Indigenous suicide rates.” Governments certainly have a role to play, but they can only do so much. Blaming government, while seductively appealing, is extremely disempowering – and let’s not forget who Australia’s most disempowered people are! Overemphasising the role of government communicates the message: “You are at their mercy. You are powerless to do anything to improve your own lives. You must wait for them to act.”
Another popular explanation for Aboriginal suicide in the 21st Century is that colonisation is to blame. Promoting this myth keeps some academics and self-styled leaders in clover.
A solution to the suicide problem must encourage the people to let go of the damning myth that they are doomed and instead promote strategies that endorse the internal message of: “There is hope, I’m worthy, and I can make a difference”.
Solving the suicide crisis will mean discussing issues like remoteness, unemployment, and alcohol abuse. Another crucial issue that too many are not comfortable discussing is the high rate of sexual abuse in Aboriginal communities.
Writing in The Sydney Morning Herald about another Aboriginal suicide in 2016 – a 10 year old girl!- Karalee Katsambanis, dared to suggest a possible link between suicide and child sexual abuse in Aboriginal communities, stating that remote communities can become a playground for all sorts of paedophiles. She also rightly said that fear of being called racist prevents us from pointing out some uncomfortable truths. Available research supports what Katsambanis and many others know to be true - child sexual abuse victims are at an increased risk of suicide.
Is there a common solution to the problems of suicide and child sexual abuse?
A successful intervention to both these problems must address the fundamental human needs of having a sense of purpose in life and feelings of connectedness with others. Meeting these needs will reduce many other problems that plague dysfunctional Aboriginal communities, such as violence, alcohol abuse, and self-harm, thus creating much needed stability. So how can these fundamental needs be addressed? The adults need to engage in activities that help others and give themselves a sense of purpose – and employment, though not the only way, is a very convenient way that allows people to contribute to their societies. Aboriginal politician, Alison Anderson, when discussing the importance of jobs has stated it is about status, respect, responsibility, and dignity. So having a job is more than just earning an income – it is a means towards meeting fundamental human needs and attaining sound mental health.
At this stage it is important to acknowledge that in some environments, often in remote communities, it is difficult for community members to bring about change in their lives. We need to question why people live in some of these places while so many of their city cousins live in locations with easy access to fresh food, education, jobs, and modern services. This is another tough issue that many prefer not to discuss. However, I believe that even in the most difficult of situations, people can often call on their internal strengths and make a positive difference if they feel supported. I like to think that in Australia, no matter what your circumstances, there is always someone willing to lend a helping hand – a hand up, not a handout.
Focusing on jobs contributes significantly towards gaining a sense of purpose, self-worth and the ability to care for others, resulting in safe, stable, and vibrant communities. Jobs will not save everybody, but they will contribute significantly towards ending despair and providing people with hope for the present and for future generations.
So for those preparing for your Australia Day protest with your slogans about genocide in the past, and whites living on ‘stolen land,’ spare a thought for those Aboriginal people who struggle today just to get a good night’s sleep and have faith in their future.