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Strategies for caring for our community during Invasion season

Invasion Day, ‘Australia’ day or Survival Day, no matter which way to you choose to acknowledge 26 January, there is no denying the impact this day has on the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Like tinsel in December and pumpkins in October, January is a time that racism lingers in the air. The Australian flag, a weapon of white supremacy, hangs from buildings, propped up on cars and even draped around sunburnt necks.

Across the continent, the sentiment towards Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is one of hostility, we are confronted with the views of the very people who would do us harm, people with little regard or sympathy for the struggles we endure since the colonization of our lands.

The Australian media likes to adorn its airwaves and newspapers with debates and opinions of ‘change the date’, while Aboriginal voices and representation is often left out of the conversation allowing for racist rhetoric to often go unchallenged and promoted.

We are constantly shouted down, ignored and erased, “get over it, move on… you got your apology.”

Enduring this racist abuse is exhausting, it something I have to mentally prepare myself for. I usually begin in early January, I limit my social media interactions, I don’t watch Australian TV or read the papers – This isn’t recoiling, its preservation. I still remain active in my activism, attending protests, engaging in face to face discussion and most importantly protecting Aboriginal spaces. I choose to avoid interactions that will have a deficit outcome for our movements and my health.

I often wonder how mob are feeling after Invasion Day, how their mental and physical wellbeing is during this time and shortly after. How they are coping with such an intense flood of racism. I  know the constant exposure simultaneously fuels and motivates my resistance, while also drains me off time, creativity and healing – January is probably the most toxic time of the year for us and just a reminder, we have never consented or volunteered to any of this, yet we have to continuously shoulder the burden of the colony every January (and all other times of the year)

I have worked 17 proud years in Aboriginal Health and have often been met with resistance from within the sector whenever I raise the issue of Invasion Day and how we should choose to respond to it. Often talking about political issues is shied away from in Aboriginal Health Services because of the fear of being reprimanded by government funding bodies, the fear of being  labelled a trouble making organizations. But I believe the negative impact of being silent on Invasion Day to be more of a detriment to our health than the repercussions of an unconfirmed government scolding.

It’s important and necessary for Aboriginal people working in health services (and any other Blak spaces) to be able to talk about their experiences during this time. Given the entire Aboriginal community-controlled sector was built out of protest and self-determination, it should be a given that these conversations should be happening. I would go as far as say that we owe it to the elders who create our services to continue their fight and legacy.

These conversations should not just be held within the ranks of staff, but also frontline services need to be checking in with mob and community to see how they are coping. I know of many services who already do this, but it would be good to see more of collective effort at a national level.

It’s particularly important this not be seen as a clinical or individual health issue, but rather be approached from population health, harm minimisation and health promotion models of health care and health education. Ignoring communities needs during this time would be counter- productive to these models and sends a message of ‘deal with it’ mentality.

So how can Aboriginal health services challenge themselves and support community during these times; we’ll here are some of my suggestions.

  1. I want to encourage Aboriginal community-controlled health services to bring the uncomfortable conversations into their spaces, allow Blak staff and community to speak freely without fear of repercussion
  2. Create health promotion campaigns and resources to address the impacts on our health during this time, particularly our social and emotional well-being
  3. Make sure staff are aware of the heighten stress that community maybe experiencing during this time and host yarning circles for community to come and speak about this impact collectively.
  4. Check in and support your local activists and protest organisers, see how they are
  5. Allow your building to be used for organising, hosting community meetings, banner painting sessions and so fourth
  6. Allow your resources to be used, social media to promote protests and technology to create campaign materials, videos and

As a past organisers of protests on Kaurna Yerta, alongside other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisers and allies, we created protests by ourselves with no support from health organisations.

It is sad to see the burden of self-care or community care, too often falling on those without the professional skill set to do so on the frontlines of the movement working hard to advocate for our people at the expense of their own physical and mental health. I hope this year and future years, we see more community health organisations receive adequate funding to allow them to think about their involvement and support of these members of our community giving so much.

I applaud those organisations that do stand up, speak up and support their community organisers and activists. We need more to follow suit and need to push for adequate funding so this is able to be a key priority.

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