Wednesday, April 28, 2010

straight to the top

An Intervention prepared by Jenny Fraser, Panangka Production, for:

9th Session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, 19 -30th April 2010, NYC, USA.

* Special Theme – Indigenous Peoples: development with culture and identity; Articles 3 and 32 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

I would like to congratulate the Australian Government for following through on the official Apology to the Stolen Generations with the announcement that an interim team would assist with consultation towards the development of a Healing Foundation. The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Healing Foundation Development Team recognizes cultural renewal as part of a spiritual process towards healing. “For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples to properly heal, they will need to re-connect to, and strengthen their sense of cultural identity. This may involve language, dance, song and custom, but this does not have to be only in a “traditional” context.”
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Healing Foundation Team Discussion Paper, 2009, FaHCSIA,

Australia looks to Canada, where they already have a Healing Foundation and importantly, it was established as an Aboriginal-managed, national, not-for-profit private corporation that was independent of Government, yet representative of Aboriginal Organisations. If Australia is genuinely interested in “Closing the Gap” on the appalling health statistics that exist between Indigenous and Non-Indigenous Australians, the Government may look at relinquishing control to let us be the masters of our own domain, allowing Aboriginal management to drive the proposed development of the Healing Foundation.

So far however, Australias current commitment of $26 million to be used only towards a consultative process for the Healing Foundation (with no further investment towards infrastructure or programs) follows on from extensive reports over the past decades including the Womens Taskforce on Violence Report, The Gordon Inquiry Report, The Victorian Indigenous Family Violence Taskforce Final Report, The Western Australian Child Health Survey, The Little Children Are Sacred Report and The Bringing Them Home Report among others. The findings in these reports should be enough to provide the basis for the alarming need for commitment towards considerable compensation, especially given the importance of “moving-on” in the public discussion about the Apology.

As Chairperson of the Townsville Indigenous Human Rights Group, Gracelyn Smallwood has commented post-Apology “My expectation was that culturally appropriate programs would be put in place to address the trans- generational trauma that has been passed down. That day opened up a lot of wounds. If you’re going to make such an incredible statement you’ve got to have infrastructure in place to follow on. They did this in Canada and South Africa. Unfortunately we’re not seeing any of those fruits.”

Condon, M. The Hardest Word, Q Weekend Magazine, February 7 & 8, 2009 p22

It is also important to note that long before the official Apology by Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, the previous Canadian Government had committed $350 million compensation for Aboriginal Canadian Residential School Abuse sufferers. This was wisely invested into culturally significant initiatives such as talking circles, language revitalization, digital storytelling and other projects. Such arts initiatives are not only for the good of those individuals that endured horrific treatment under the government, church and the dominant mainstream population, but their descendants, families and tribes, along with the wider community. This is a suitable model for Australia to follow in attempting to address the impact of the horrendous wrongs of the past on an individual and collective level, perhaps allowing us all to move forward with a healthier mindset. However, we wait for that type of meaningful “money where your mouth is” gesture of commitment from the Australian Government in retrospect.

However, let us not mistake these calls for action as another good excuse for struggling mainstream (non-Indigenous) arts organisations to prop up their own program with the Aboriginal Dollar or fund their own unique Aboriginal experience or indeed expect to draw on the resources of already stretched Indigenous communities. Instead allow us to utilise compensation funding to get on with it ourselves. Because without the qualities espoused by certain Aboriginal Artists and others at the community level, there is no spirit of striving and no capability of improving the lot for self or others, for there is no vision and no confidence to transform the vision into reality. The vision is that our humanity might be more than it is.

We need to cast ‘Aboriginal voices’ into the struggle for recognition and ownership of wellbeing, which risks becoming exclusive in various ways — a domain defined narrowly through access, availability, technology, funding, privilege and policy-driven barriers. As Nunga Director Lee-Ann Buckskin reflected about the Carclew project Working Towards Celebrating Healthy Communities “Everyone had an idea of how that should be done and as an Indigenous person and an arts worker, one of the greatest struggles I have is about people not listening and making assumptions about what people need. Understanding doesn’t have to be a battle. It shouldn’t be a battle. Just opening up to another way of thinking is a good start! And I tell you what; if we do that someone might actually teach us how to do something different”

Arts for Healthy Communities, Big Story Country: great arts stories from regional Australia 2008, Regional Arts Australia, p46

The Healing Arts have the expressive potential for us as a multitude of Aboriginal cultures to enable and effect change for ourselves, while also participating in the mainstream social constructs known as “health”, “culture” and “the arts”. Utilising the potential of the Healing Arts, by using the old and new ways, making art and putting a high value on storytelling as a way of bringing cultural values into the mainstream, is a holistic approach towards wellbeing, as well as a way of participating in society and having an authentic Aboriginal voice.

It is therefore highly recommended that the Australian Government provide a meaningful injection of monetary investment towards the proposed Healing Foundation and also instigate a health and wellbeing regeneration in which contemporary Aboriginal cultural practice and healing arts should naturally be the spearheard.

image: the General Assembly at the ninth United Nations Permanent Forum for Indigenous Issues, 2010, day 1
more info on the United Nations PFII

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