NAIDOC celebrations are well underway across the country. Launch Housing has been using this week to reflect on the significance of the 2018 theme:
Because of her, we can!
NAIDOC Week celebrations are held each July in Australia “to celebrate the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.”
Underpinned by a strong feminist perspective, this year’s NAIDOC poster painted by Bigambul woman Cheryl Moggs portrays the courage and resilience of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (ATSI) women. Symbolism and overlayed imagery intersect with the artist’s political conviction which are made explicit in the inscribed picket signs:
Freedom. Justice. Equality.
These three tenets are not only associated with the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but have also been embodied by trailblazing Aboriginal women who have shaped Australia, including:
- Dr Evelyn Scott, who campaigned for social change and instilled a sense of hope for Aboriginal people to fight and protest for their rights during the 1967 Referendum
- Humanitarian Colleen Shirley Perry Smith, better known as Mum Shirl, whose lifelong commitment for the justice and welfare of Aboriginal Australians solidified her status as an Australian National Living Treasure.
- The insatiably driven Essie Coffey, a pioneering film-maker and community worker who was instrumental in improving the basic living conditions of Aboriginal peoples through her collaborative and multidisciplinary approach to community development.
- and more recently, sisters Brie and Rosalina Curtis who are working to advance all aspects of the Aboriginal community by establishing the world’s first advocacy and support group for Indigenous sistergirls and brotherboys.
Addressing the disadvantages faced in ATSI communities
Drawing from the theme of NAIDOC week, a feminist lens can be used to view the unique struggles faced by this marginalised group.
Unfortunately, contemporary research has shown many ATSI communities experience intergenerational trauma, unemployment and lower life expectancies than their non-Aboriginal counterparts.
In 2015, the suicide rate within Aboriginal communities was twice that of other Australians, and continues to climb.
The Australian Homelessness Monitor also illustrates how ATSI peoples continue to be overrepresented in homelessness systems across the country and are 10 times more likely to experience homelessness.
Much like the inspiring Aboriginal women who have changed Australia, our focus should be on changing the social conditions which otherwise disadvantage, exclude and oppress, ultimately ensuring ATSI communities directly influence decisions that affect them and their identities.
A way forward: working across boundaries
Launch Housing’s East St Kilda site provides one of the few homelessness services in Victoria with exclusively trans and cis women staff and residents. In total, 18 women who identify as ATSI have accessed its services over the past year.
One resident, reflecting on what it had been like to seek support from community services as an Aboriginal woman, shared: “It’s frustrating…[the workers] make promises they can’t keep. It’s hard to gain their trust”.
So what needs to change?
“Workers need to gain our trust first. They should speak in plain language, don’t use jargon,” said another resident when asked for feedback around what changes are needed improve the experiences for other ATSI persons seeking support. Another resident said that: “Compassion, reassurance and an interest in what’s going on is important”.
This NAIDOC Week—and year-round—we encourage everyone to engage with, work closely with and enter into partnership with ATSI communities to ultimately improve the outcomes of all those seeking assistance from homelessness services.
By Lakni Algama, Student Placement Support Worker at Launch Housing’s East St Kilda site