Shellie Morris: This here gap looks like a great divide

In BlogX, Health, Justice, Politics by Luke Pearson

Author: Shellie Morris

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SHELLIE MORRIS IS A STRONG YUNYUWA WOMAN AND A MULTI-AWARD-WINNING SINGER/SONGWRITER. SHELLIE SINGS IN AROUND 17 ABORIGINAL LANGUAGES, PRESERVING AND PROMOTING FIRST NATIONS CULTURE. SHE HAS PERFORMED IN BLACK ARM BAND AND WAS PART OF THE INTERNATIONALLY AWARD-WINNING MUSICAL DOCUMENTARY PRISON SONGS.

You know, we hear all the talk about closing this gap.

What gap?

It’s more like a great divide where young people see it as normal to know someone who has taken their own life, have a family member in jail, accept that their Elders will pass earlier than their white counterparts and be told over and over that they are less in many ways to their counterparts.

I really believe it’s a Great Divide between cultures here in Australia.

Bill Shorten, you can tweet “A young Aboriginal man of 18 is more likely to end up in gaol than university. That should shock and shame us all. We’ve got to do better – and that starts with setting new justice targets as part of our Closing the Gap agenda.” But what in real terms is being done?

Non-Indigenous people are constantly centring themselves in the debates and discussions and deciding on the ways forward.

You’ve thrown your prescribed solutions at us for years now, we have the right to self-determine our futures.

Not to mention the audacity of media personnel with zero agency speaking on behalf of our people and communities (insert Sunrise and similar).

In my 20 years of visiting more than 60 remote communities and re-visiting these communities, again and again, I have seen poverty, despair and a sense of hopelessness regarding jobs, security and the general health and housing of our Indigenous people here in Australia.

I have seen over 40 people living in one home, these families wanting culturally appropriate housing and then insulted when a new teacher comes to teach at school and are given a brand new home.

One community was so angry they were up in arms and started to vandalise the already disheveled homes that they were living in.

Why you ask?

What are the options when your voice is not heard, you see the double standards between community and non-Indigenous people and you are constantly made to feel devalued and less than.

It seems community members are still the last ones to be asked, acknowledged or housed properly.

I have seen a whole mob of around 20 to 30 family members who live just out of town with no running water, sewerage or basic human needs met.

These mob wanted a place to call their own, where they are not overcrowded and live the best that they can on their own terms.

This is the truth and was very hard to see with my own eyes. Australia does not and cannot look at the truth, because the system has failed it, has failed us.

The recent Inquiry into the Incarceration rate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples recognises the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and recommends justice reinvestment programs on a number of levels, including meaningful consultation with communities.

This is great, but not new, the Greens have been lobbying for justice reinvestment programs for years, citing successful examples like in Texas where a prison was closed in 2012 after a five-year program that expanded “in-prison, residential and outpatient treatment, establish maximum parole caseloads, limit the length of probation for drug and property crimes, and provide funding to local corrections agencies for probation and parole supervision”.

You aren’t reinventing the wheel, our Elders and leaders have been asking to get programs to deal with the reasons people commit anti-social behaviour in the first place for many years.

In our old days, we were able to be self-reliant, and self-sufficient, so when the colonisers arrived they said: “Right, now all you just come and live here in this place don’t roam around because we will not be able to keep track of you, don’t worry about your language and culture any more. And we will set you up in our system – that doesn’t really work but hey we don’t want to acknowledge our lack of culture and our lack of family values. Where we place our old people in homes and rarely if never visit them again and we have funerals that last for a day and then it is just move along, get over it. Don’t grieve properly as we have no time in this new society we just all get back to it and push all of our emotions aside, and end up unhappy and often feeling unloved.”

Our way is not your way, and it doesn’t have to be.

We are strong, we know the land, our stories and our place in our society.

This has value.

I have seen the statistics of trachoma in remote communities being an Ambassador with Fred Hollows Foundation.

Australia is the only developed country in the world to have endemic levels of trachoma.

Yes, it is the Great Divide between the black and white of Australia.

The truth is that up in the top half of Australia where I have been travelling there has been very little if not any change at all.

My grandmother in Borroloola living in a run-down home with asbestos in the walls, you could imagine the outrage if this was the condition of a white home the home would be fixed accommodation would have been sorted not just ignored and forgotten about.

The great Aussie saying ‘she’ll be right’ well she’s not right and until these situations are addressed and acknowledged I really don’t think that we can move forward as a nation.

If we truly as a nation would like to see change and close the great divide we need to start communications with each community and treat each clan group or clans that are happy to talk with each other and ask the questions about how they can fix their own problems.

Now wouldn’t that be nice; the right thing.

This would start a whole-of-community approach to the problems we are facing.

This would have saved time and money if this approach was a part of Closing the Gap but it has not worked as of yet.

I am sure that we can all live together in this great nation but first you would have to take the time to understand properly about who we are, and that takes time.

Maybe it’s time you don’t have, but now is the time this nation finally heard the truths and started to open its hearts and stop whining and whinging about things they know little to nothing about.

I suppose I am asking for a miracle and change of heart.

Might be just too much to ask for but then if I don’t ask, you may never receive.

In my language we say:

Together we are strong

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