Securing our agency will require changing systems and structures
March 13, 2017
Author: Fiona Hamilton
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“There is little difference between being caught in a violent relationship and the relationship we must have with structures and systems.”
Fiona Hamilton is a Tasmanian Aboriginal woman of the Trawlwulwuy Nation, a writer, artist, family violence educator and activist and a survivor of family violence.
Incursions of male structural power upon my agency and status as a Trawlwulwuy and Tyrelore Aboriginal woman of Tasmania are usual. Nothing is so detestable to me than casual encounters with structures and systems so set against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women that our lives and the lives of our children are of little consequence.
I didn’t always feel this deep contempt for incursions of male structural power in my life. I was otherwise engaged. But that engagement almost cost me my life in 2009, and so began my long, agency-crushing journey of experiencing, escaping and surviving domestic violence as an Aboriginal woman.
My eyes are open now and the truth is that for a good many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, there is little difference between being caught in a violent relationship and the relationship we must have with structures and systems, and their agents, to save our own lives and the lives of our children. We’re caught between the rock and the hard place.
It’s said that misery loves company, but I know that cruelty knows no equal like moving into a “priority-one” public housing home with nothing, and as night falls so comes the terror of every shadow and movement at the edges of your windows. Trips to the local supermarket were anxiety-stricken. I became obsessive. I cleaned, kept the house immaculate. I kept a garden. I cooked. I made sure my daughter was happy, and faultlessly clean. Because as Aboriginal mothers at rock bottom, there are other risks we are keenly aware of. Our agency as parents can just as quickly be removed from us and our children whisked away.
Who I am, as an Aboriginal woman is continually cut down by the litany of ways in which systemic violence, oppression and its agents – conscious or otherwise – seek to control me and usurp my ancient and continuing agency. The systems Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women must navigate in this country places us and our children under great pressure and duress.
We are thoroughly mocked by colonial systems. I’m talking about white male privilege. I’m also talking about white female privilege. And non-Indigenous male and female privilege (yes, these are different). But I’m also talking about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander male privilege. All these are agents of structures and systems that are killing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and children. Before the onslaught of opening and closing gaps that I almost certainly will have to endure for daring to state this, let me shed some light.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are the cultural underpin of this country, so if we aren’t safe, how can anyone else be? The precious gift of our unencumbered status and agency should be a national treasure. We offer kinship to all that is within our cultural realm. Our continuance, as Aboriginal women is critical.
Let me explain. The consequences of colonisation and all that it has brought to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples cannot be ameliorated by reducing the status and agency of our peoples. It’s that simple. Structures and systems that do this are further damaging us, even when they are pre-supposed or designed to empower us.
Fiona Hamilton with Tennant Creek women at a family violence education and training course. Photo: Fiona Hamilton
What is important to us as First Nations peoples is continuance. This is the conditions of systems and structures being set right to enable us to continue culturally, spiritually, socially and economically. This is equity for us.
Aboriginal women and children cannot secure “continuance” under the current conditions, and this situation plays out across the country. We cannot free ourselves from family violence whilst we are co-opted into systems and structures that model it, sustain it and in many cases drive it.
And so my spears are up for our agency as Aboriginal women to be restored, for our status to be restored, and for colonial systems and structures to rid themselves of what I have termed “sisogyny”, which exemplifies the hatred and fear of our strong and resilient Black women, our Aboriginal sisters.
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Luke Pearson is a Gamilaroi man, and is the founder and CEO of IndigenousX.