January 26 Highlights A Time For Change, But Is Anyone Listening?

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Since New Year’s Day, at least five Aboriginal young people have tragically taken their own lives. It was so distressing there was extensive media coverage for a change. Yet week in and week out, self-harm and suicide have grown into an epidemic among First Nations young people.

Our kids could soon comprise half of all youth suicides in Australia. This is horrific.

Hearing about these tragedies fills me with a heart-sickening shame for our country. This grows directly out of the environments our children are immersed in – our communities, schools, sporting clubs, universities and workplaces.

Culture is Life, the organisation I work for, backs First Nations led solutions to deepen connection and belonging to prevent youth suicide and to support young people to thrive.

‘Solutions that work: What the evidence and our people tell us’ Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention Evaluation Project report, published in November 2016 highlights the complexities and critical success factors fundamental to change. Elements include supporting First Nations led solutions, cultural programming and youth participation models.

Professor Pat Dudgeon, one of the report authors shared with our young people in Culture is Life’s recent LOVE and HOPE Campaign:

“This is happening as the end result of colonisation. We were put into missions and reserves, there was genocide, we were taken from our families. You can’t wipe out a history like that, it is transmitted inter-generationally.”

Press reports quote a child of 14, telling friends via social media, “Once I’m gone the bullying and racism will stop”.

What are we as a nation doing to end racism? What must this young girl have seen, heard and felt in such a short life to destroy all hope?

And what message does Australia Day celebrations send to our young people, their families and communities around the country? January 26 marks the day Sir Arthur Phillip landed at Sydney Cove and claimed the land in the name of King George III, commencing more than two centuries of genocide and attempts at cultural destruction. First peoples have mourned this day since settlement and officially recognised this in 1938.

This country is littered with the graves of murdered and massacred families at the hands of settlers. How does this show our young people and their families that they are valued? Dismissing our voices, it affirms the apathy, learned racism and ignorance.

Like most First Peoples, I endure the barrage of questions about January 26. Why are we answerable for a decision to create a celebration around a date we in fact mourn?

Through all this, I’ve witnessed the strength and patience of my people – it has lifted me. The emotion expressed reminds me that our people have love and hope in their hearts and connection to this country like no other.

Young people, our emerging leaders, breathe life into the future and fill me with hope. The care, love and consideration they show each other tells me we can be a bolder, healthier and an emotionally richer country.

As Culture Squad Youth Ambassador Will Austin has recently said: “This time last year Culture is Life’s campaign heard the authentic voices of our young people in expressing to the nation why IT’S TIME FOR CHANGE. A year has passed, and we are asking ourselves what has changed and is anyone listening? Just recently we have seen far too many youth suicides. We’ve got to ask what is happening in the lives of our young people? Are we listening to and feeling their cries for help?”

The foundations of this country and the relationship with Australia’s First Peoples, needs to change. We must let young people know we are listening, that they ARE valued, and that we will do everything possible to turn the horrific rates of Aboriginal youth suicide around. Changing the date is one step that could make a difference to how young people see their place in Australia.

We all have a part to play in this change.

Culture is Life’s #loveandhope and #itstimeforchange campaigns can be found at https://www.cultureislife.org/campaigns/

For help or support contact: Lifeline 13 11 14, beyondblue 1300 22 4636, Q Life 1800 184 527 https://qlife.org.au/ or your local Aboriginal Community-Controlled Health Organisation https://www.naccho.org.au/member-services/naccho-member-services/

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Belinda Duarte

Belinda Duarte, a Wotjobaluk woman, is CEO at Culture is Life.

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