It was National Reconciliation Week recently, a time that is meant for all Australians to learn about our shared histories and cultures. A time to come together and work on building and strengthening respectful relationships between the Australian community and our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples. However, last week, news and social media was overshadowed by the world’s response to the murder of black Minneapolis man, George Floyd at the hands of police. As we’ve all seen, the murder of George Floyd sparked protests and has restarted conversations about the inequalities faced by Indigenous people in our own country. It is disheartening that it took the death of a black man in the USA and the response from people in another country to reignite the conversation about injustice that our own Indigenous people face in our own backyard. The conversation surrounding Indigenous inequalities and entrenched racism in Australia should not have to be reignited by an event in another country. Instead, it should be an ongoing conversation and one that should be a focus for all Australians.
Many Australians, including some of our country’s leaders, are disconnected from the realities that our Indigenous people face, overlooking the pain, injustice, atrocities and inequalities of our past and present. Our country has had at least 434 Aboriginal deaths in custody in Australia since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in custody ended in 1991. More than half of these Indigenous people who have died in custody since 2008 had not been convicted of a crime. The same Royal Commission recommended that imprisonment of Aboriginal people should only occur as a last resort. However, while Indigenous people make up just 2.8% of the Australian population, they make up 29% of the Australian prison population. Indigenous Australians are 15 times more likely to be incarcerated than non-Indigenous Australians.
Overrepresentation in the justice system is by no means the only inequality that Indigenous people face. One of the Indigenous groups that Rustic Pathways works with are the Martu people of the Western Desert area in the Pilbara in Western Australia. A recent study has found that the average life expectancy of a Martu man is 42 and for Martu women it is 38. This is a terrifying statistic. But why is the life expectancy so low? Poverty, mental health, physical health and nutrition are contributing factors. Approximately 80% of the life expectancy difference between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people is due to preventable chronic conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes, chronic lower respiratory diseases and lung and related cancers. These figures are also impacted by intergenerational trauma, low education levels and high unemployment rates. We understand these are complex issues that aren’t easy to solve, and are highlighting them because we want the conversation to continue after the media hype has passed. We want the injustices in our own country to be recognised and we want Australia to be better.
As an organisation, we are by no means perfect and recognise there is much more we can do. Our approach is to focus on our sphere of influence and contribute where we can. This includes actively seeking to build relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians through shared learning experiences, leading to greater understanding. It includes reprioritising the employment of Indigenous staff to help educate our students. It includes the development and implementation of a traineeship program for Indigenous Australians that provides empowerment and capacity building to grow Indigenous leaders.
We will always listen and do what we can to advocate for our Indigenous people. A wonderful Indigenous man once shared the following quote with me “the standard you walk past, is the standard you accept”. If we continue to ignore the inequalities faced by Indigenous Australians and do nothing then we are accepting that those inequalities are ok. We promise to keep the conversation going and we urge you to do the same so that together we can all do better.
What can you do to help?
Visit the websites below for ways you can help to continue the conversation: