I always doubted myself before completing any given task at school because I was Aboriginal. I was growing up in a society where hearing the words “abo”, “boong”, and “unemployed” at school was completely normal. I was a little Yamatji-Badimia girl in a racist education system who begun believing those words. They imprinted inside of me, creating all sorts of self-esteem issues, self-doubt and a complete lack of self-determination.
Is it because I’m an “abo” that I can’t do it? Is it because they called me “boong” that I can’t do it?
These words weren’t just said by students, but by teachers. Teachers from privileged academic backgrounds who are meant to be educating students. They were preaching equality, yet holding personal biases against a certain race. That isn’t teaching, it’s bullying.
However, these moments do not define me. I was taught to be resilient from my father who learnt it from his father, who learnt it from his father and so forth. Resilience is one of the many beautiful traits that is a part of Indigenous people. It is who we are. It is how we have been for thousands of years. Resilience is a part of us. With resilience and family support, I persevered through school and onto university.
I did not think I would make it to year 11 or year 12, let alone university. Completing my final two years of school in Melbourne, away from the rest of the family, away from Western Australia was difficult. Being the only Aboriginal girl in school, always having to prove myself and my Aboriginality to peers and teachers in Melbourne was a daily struggle.
Why do Aboriginal people always have to prove themselves to people? Why have we always been forced to prove ourselves to society? I made it through high school and went onto study at university with the sole purpose of giving back to my community. I had always desired to be a part of changing the state of our people’s health. Coming from a family where a dozen of my fathers siblings have diabetes, where kids between the ages of eight and 14 years old in my community are committing suicide, where so many lives in my community have been lost from preventable illnesses has pushed me to into the health field.
I have seven weeks left till I finish my nursing degree, but I am scared. I am scared because throughout the three-and-a-half years it has taken me to complete the degree, I have faced endless counts of racism in hospitals as a student nurse. Whether it was racism directed at me or directed at Indigenous patients, it fills me with fear. I am scared to enter a workforce where racism is prevalent. I am scared because Indigenous people are expected to live 11.7 years less than non-Indigenous people. Why are we expected to live over 10 years less than the rest of this country’s population?
In my community in Mount Magnet and Geraldton, WA, many mob members don’t access health services because we don’t feel safe in an environment where being treated for an illness means facing racism, being judged for being at a health service , and a blatant lack of cultural awareness. Our people aren’t comfortable going to health services to be treated by non-Indigenous health workers because there’s a lack of trust based on not just what happened in the past, but what still happens every single day.
Racism is in the health workforce is real and alive. Why is it still happening?
My uncle passed away five days after being mistreated for a common cold. It wasn’t a common cold. It was meningococcal disease. It is no wonder that our people are dying when we are being so poorly diagnosed due to a lack of cultural practice. It is no wonder that the government is well behind on the Close the Gap targets. The “one-size fits all approach” is not working, it never has. Every Indigenous community is different and the needs for every community are different.
After reading through the 2017 Close the Gap report, the only words I could remember were the negative ones: “These targets weren’t met”, “This was not achieved”, “This target is not on track”.
Government mob need to understand that only community-based interventions and community-controlled organisations will reduce the health, education and employment disparities and finally meet Close the Gap targets. Do not perceive us as people with problems. This isn’t an “Indigenous issue”. It needs national urgency. This is the health of our people. We are people. We are human.
How are we going to achieve this? Sit with us, yarn with us and listen to us. In community, diabetes education is provided through visual aids because Aboriginal people are known to be visual learners; it is how we have been learning for thousands of years. It is the evidence of culture in modern day society and is adapted in health services to treat illnesses.
I recently collaborated with Oxfam for a Close the Gap video series. This is a step towards reducing disparities, and paves the way for our youth to be strong in their identity.
If there are any words of advice I can give to our young malyus and buwas, it is is to be resilient and stay resilient. Do not doubt yourself because you are Aboriginal, but rather use your culture, traditions and identity as a strong source of empowerment. Your identity is your strength. We have the longest living culture in the world and we are still here, we are still proud and we are still strong.
This story was first published on 11 April 2017 by Guardian Australia as part of their collaboration with IndigenousX. Produced with assistance of IndigenousX & Guardian Australia staff.
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