Our next generation will be formidable. Their identity will not be denied.

22 Feb 2020

I spent so much time walking the streets fighting an enemy I couldn’t see, so I struck out at everything.

When Captain Cook anchored, he knew there were people on the land. He could see the smoke billowing out all over the Country. Seasonal burning. We looked after this country generation after generation after generation. It is our law and our responsibility. We burnt the Country in cooler months to prevent catastrophe in the summer. It’s called a preventative model, an upstream model. The history of burning off the land, clearing it, and making it better for the next generation is exactly what is needed for the land, but also for our people. Regeneration.

As Chair of Children’s Ground I am dedicated to prevention and regeneration – burning the decaying imposed policies and empowering our families to back their knowledge for our next generation. From our land we are reforming education and reinvigorating culture and identity, health and wellbeing.

This month in Australia, people will be able to watch the film In My Blood It Runs, a story told by young Arrernte boy Dujuan Hoosan. I joined the film team because I could see the potential for it to show why systems change is needed. It’s a story that had to be told. I sat, watched and listened and when I needed to, I reminded them along the way that the story has to be about giving Aboriginal people choice and agency.

My people don’t desire to be second class citizens, ‘unwanted problems’ on the landscape drifting with the currents of prescribed solutions. My people don’t desire or deserve educational and economic failure because education is designed to fail them. Recognise our strength, our culture. Give our people power, choice, options and the means. They will participate, they will lead and the whole community will flourish. This is our story, and it’s the story behind this film.

My experiences were similar to Dujuan’s.  50 years on and we see the same issues. But Dujuan had family. The story of In My Blood It Runs, shows the power of families’ solution to a very complex problem.

I spent so much time walking the streets fighting an enemy I couldn’t see, so I struck out at everything. Like Dujuan, I walked the streets of Alice Springs into the night, drawn into the promise of something better, a feed, some fun, the safety of my own company. Alice Springs is an international tourist town, but Aboriginal kids don’t belong to the picture.  Dujuan was walking a thin line between peoples view and his own. There’s very little in the way of activities, events and meaningful opportunities for Aboriginal children. If you can’t afford or access the services your space is the streets. Under scrutiny and surveillance and monitoring of your everyday life that is unbearable. You’re a prime target. I was angry. I was the end product of where Dujuan could have ended up.

In the film welfare comes knocking for the children. Dujuan sits with his great grandmother Mrs Abbott on the town camp who tells him about how close she was to being stolen as a child – like the kids removed and taken to Croker Island. That was me. The stolen generation.

When I was a kid in Alice Springs, welfare would continuously patrol the Gap Area for Aboriginal kids. Mothers would see the government cars coming and grab all the kids and run into the houses. When we were taken, my aunties went to court to try and keep us, but they lost and we were sent to Croker Island. I am the product of forced assimilation, travelling through the length and breadth of Australia through the penal system in my search for identity and family and belonging.

How can it be that welfare is a primary strategy of control by the system? Families fear the  cutting edge of the sword. This one stays and this one goes. Dujuan was close to that edge. History runs straight into him and he must carry that history.

Burning, Healing and Regeneration. Prevention.  In my situation, I would have loved to have stayed with my family with help put around my family in order to support us. Instead, government determined we were not worthy – a problem to be controlled – they spent copious amounts of money sending us 1000 kms away and destroying our health and future. That decision cost me so much – it cost me growing up in a culture, language and identity that I wanted and was mine.

Dujuan is rejecting education that has little meaning to him, denies his truth and fails to see him as a person. He is trying to pick a road through his own life exploring his environment. It’s when he brushes up against a society that doesn’t really want him that he feels the pressure.

We must remember watching the film, that Dujuan is not in need. I don’t think he needs to be fixed. There is nothing wrong with him. He doesn’t fit into the system.

The best part of the film is that Dujuan is offered a solution – a solution I would have loved. Dujuan is very much in the eye of the grandmothers and mothers, the fathers and the grandfathers. They saw the need to rescue him and both families came together for the betterment of the child. They found a solution that was far more powerful than what the draconian society was offering him. The road I was put on was circumvented for Dujuan at an early age.

One day, when I was much older than Dujuan, I said, “I’ve had enough”. I know that road now. I made a conscious decision to try and break the cycle even though the stakes were stacked against me. I was determined to succeed in any way shape or form. It was just sheer determination that pulled me through against many odds.

I had no culture, family, language but I had a pen from the mission. In the film, Dujuan says “We have to learn their ways, use their tools, then once we learn their ways, we can smash down their buildings and turn it back into the rocks.”

You have to take the tools, and then turn around and teach them how to paint. A classic example of the water colour artist, Namatjira. He learnt the tools and turned around and told them how to paint. Dujuan is that kind of person. He has the confidence, the ability to talk, combined with his knowledge and a bit of the right education – formidable. Someone who can talk up for their people and families and communities.

Being an intellectual through western education is one thing, but our people have both a cultural knowledge and a learning through a life of injustice that gives us a different depth.  Just as Dujuan does at the end of the film, we are burning our landscape to regenerate.  Burning in the right way is not destroying – we are removing the risks and encouraging new growth.

Through Children’s Ground, for the first time in our colonial history, we are creating places of education that privilege our cultural language, identity and knowledge. We are also including academia in white mans terms. Our next generation will be formidable. Their identity will not be denied.

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