Posts for the indigenous dept

ACAR Edition: Indigenous Department report

Is it possible for a country founded on racism to ever move past its history to accept not only this country’s Indigenous people but people of every race?

Last week on my facebook Newsfeed Amnesty International Australia posted the iconic image of Gough Whitlam as he poured a handful of Daguragu soil into the hand of Gurindji elder Vincent Lingiari as a symbol of the land being returned to the Gurindji people. As I looked at this powerful image for a fleeting moment, I was empowered by this historical step in the Land Rights movement, however this feeling left as quickly as it came when I realised that not much has been done since then. Land rights are still a fundamental issue for Indigenous people as we fight for the right to something that was taken away from us. This is most clearly seen down at The Block in Redfern where Aunty Jenny and the whole mob down there are facing eviction from their land as they demand the basic human right of affordable housing. It seems that in the face of ‘progress’ and development human rights get left behind while racism prevails.

Human rights seems to be all but forgotten in the Northern Territory as the NT Intervention continues with little protest from the wider Australian community. The Australian government have restricted individuals rights and freedoms but have done so purely based on race. The measures introduced within the Northern Territory communities only apply to Aboriginal people, this discrimination and stigmatisation of the Indigenous people has caused the United Nations to openly condemn the Australian government actions, yet still nothing has been done. With little to no improvement in education and literacy rates within these communities it seems that even the so called ‘positive’ aims of the Intervention havn’t been made, so why are they still there?

The Paternalistic approach to indigenous issues has prevailed since colonisation and reinforces the idea that we are not able to help our self. That some how we are different from non-indigenous Australians and that we need the government. This idea is rooted in racism that allows the government to exercise control over the Indigenous population under the guise of helping.

In looking at the issues Indigenous people face today has there really been progress? Yes we are now counted as citizens, a momentous step in the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people but citizens of what? A country that still vilifies a whole race? A country that still refuses the accept the true history of colonisation? A country that counties to break international human rights laws? Has anything really changed? Are we not still the victims of extreme discrimination and prejudice in our own country? Until Australian truly addresses the history of colonisation and its past and current treatment of this country’s Indigenous people we will always be living in a racist country.

New Indigenous Collective gets active!

Howdy y’all. Firstly, before we go into what happened over the break and what we have coming up this semester we need to say goodbye to one of our Indigenous Officers, Jethro Braico. We thank Jethro for all he has contributed to the collective in the past semester, for his spirit at every rally, his participation in the Indigenous Student Games, his Indigenous Honi article and his camaraderie. We wish Jethro the best for all his future endeavours. May the Hairy Man never catch him!

Over the break, a couple of great things happened. For starters a new collective was formed, ‘Students Support Aboriginal Communities’. This collective consists of non-Indigenous and Indigenous students who wish to support Indigenous communities, whether that is locally like the Redfern Tent Embassy or communities such as those in Western Australia. This support is through actions such as fundraising, donating time and attending rallies. If you would like to get involved, you should attend the upcoming rally, ‘Build Aboriginal Housing on the Block Now!’ on the 11th at the state parliament house. The purpose of the rally will be to demand that the NSW State Government support the funding of low cost housing for Aboriginal people in The Block and review the commercial development. For more details regarding the rally, check the Facebook event page of the same name.

Towards the end of the break, I attended the Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Student Conference (ATSIC), which was organised by the NUS ATSI Officer Bridget Cama. The conference was a great chance to meet other Indigenous officers from all over the country, learn of their own difficulties and strengths at their universities. This will allow us to organise on a national scale in regards to Indigenous issues. The conference also had some amazing guest speakers such as Dr Lilon Bandler, Professor The Honourable
Dame Marie Bashir AD CVO, Jamie Parker, Tony McAvoy, Larissa Brendt and Aunty Joan Tranter. It was an incredibly enlightening experience to hear them all.

Now, for this semester we have some awesome things planned such as Indigenous film screenings. Once the dates have been organised for our events we shall let you all know. Now before I leave y’all let us make a clarification. Imaginary spears do not hurt. A man being proud of his culture does not hurt. Targeted booing and vilification of a man for being proud of his culture, for highlighting the racist history and present of our nation, is racist and disgusting.

Indigenous Report – Wom*ns Editon

Putting together last week’s Indigenous Honi saw me focusing and reflecting on my cultural heritage and identity. However I realised that my Aboriginality is only one important aspect of my identity. As an Indigenous wom*n, my identity is not only shaped by cultural influences but also by the way in which society views and understands my gender. In writing this piece I began to reflect on what I know about Aboriginal wom*n and more specially Aboriginal feminists. My conclusion was, not very much.

The history of feminism in the Australian context is more often then not dominated by the narrative of white feminists. The ‘first wave’ feminist movement was shaped by the desire for wom*n to gain the right to vote — a brilliant movement that changed a lot of people’s lives. However, did all wom*n get the vote through the suffragette movement? No. Aboriginal wom*n did not gain their rights to vote until the 1960s.

Similarly during the ‘second wave’ feminist movement wom*n fought for their rights to their own bodies and the legalisation of abortion as well as more government support for childcare. At the same time, Aboriginal wom*n were forced into sterilisation as their children continued to be taken away from them.

This is by no means a way of diminishing the work and suffering of white feminists but rather a way to critique past movements in the hopes of gaining a better understanding of why an intersectional approach to feminist and wom*n’s rights work is needed. Wom*n cannot hope to achieve equality while neglecting the needs and suffering of Indigenous Wom*n, Trans wom*n and Queer Wom*n.

I want to acknowledge the incredible spirit and courage of our Aboriginal mothers, sisters, cousins, and friends. I want to acknowledge the continual suffering of Indigenous wom*n as their land, culture, rights, and children were taken from them.
I also acknowledge the great steps indigenous wom* have and are taking to connect with their culture and make real change within the community.

Lastly I want to acknowledge the wom*n within the Indigenous collective and encourage them to continue to celebrate our culture and identity as we continue to break down barriers and understandings of what it means to be Indigenous wom*n.

President’s Report – Indigenous Edition

As Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, we are often told that we are the problem. We are what is wrong with society and we should just conform to the dominant structure “because it works”. The fact is that it doesn’t work.

Many of the people who use this line are often people who really have no idea what kind of lifestyle we live on a day-to-day basis. You often hear “I can understand why children were/are being taken away by their families because there’s nothing they can do to benefit them.” Or, “Nobody wants to see communities being closed down but we cannot afford to continue to fund them if they choose to live that lifestyle.”

The thing is, I would probably believe these excuses if, in the process of making these statements, the current government hadn’t actually doubled the national deficit and simultaneously cut funding to the Aboriginal Legal Service, the Aboriginal Medical Service, Aboriginal Housing, or had not cut the Indigenous Tutorial Assistance Scheme (ITAS) last year.

You see, while the people who hold our living conditions in the palm of their hand tell us what is best for us, there were 701 Aboriginal deaths in custody in the space of 7 years with a 150% increase since 1991. On top of that our youth suicide rate has increased putting us as the highest suicide demographic in the world.

Most will tell us that we need to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and get to work. Well… we would if there were employment opportunities and health services for us. We would if there wasn’t a fear that we would be detained for infringements such as offensive language rather than actual criminal offences in public so many non-Indigenous people take for granted. In fact while everyone is jumping up and down about police brutality in the U.S.A, Aboriginal people are 8 times more likely to be subject to the same circumstances in this country.

If you see these same issues that I see and the same demographic of people consistently living below the poverty line in a 1st world country like this one, ask yourself if we are actually the problem.

National Day of Action on the 1st of May to stop the forced closures of Aboriginal Communities

Just as the injustice doesn’t stop neither do we. Last month members of the collective attended a march to protest the closure of Indigenous communities across Australia. Once again we will be taking to the streets for a National Day of Action on the 1st of May to stop the forced closures of Aboriginal Communities. The march will be in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in communities facing the imminent threat of withdrawal of essential services, which would once again force Aboriginal people off their own land. The march will conclude at The Redfern Aboriginal Tent Embassy where we will show our continued support of their mob as they stand against corporate development of ‘The Block’ .

As the Indigenous collectives support of The Redfern Aboriginal Tent Embassy (RATE) continues we encourage everyone, Indigenous and non-Indigenous alike to support RATE. For updates on the going ons down there and to show your support you can ‘like’ their Facebook page, ‘Redfern Aboriginal Tent Embassy’.
The Collective is also supporting our Indigenous Games team as they prepare to send some of our best Indigenous sports people to Newcastle in the first week of July to compete in the 20th Annual National Indigenous Tertiary Education Student Games. The team members are training hard and I’m sure will do us all proud come July.

The Indigenous Collective is happy to confirm that we have the funding to take seven Indigenous students to NUS Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Student Conference which will be held at UTS in late July. Myself and my fellow Office Bearers are excited to meet fellow Indigenous students from across the country and to share our experiences as Indigenous people in tertiary education. We hope the conference will allow us to learn and grow as members of the indigenous community and provide us with information and skills that we can bring back to our USYD mob.

SRC Indigenous Officers Report

Howdy y’all! Hope you had a good break. Now, just in case you missed it over your alcohol study fueled break, here are a few important issues.

What is the intrinsic aspect of Australian politics? The humble thought bubble. Warren Mundine in his role as Chairman of the Prime Minister’s Indigenous Advisory Council has suggested a national database of Aboriginal people. Now I understand the rationale, it can be quite difficult to prove ones Aboriginality but having a database of one specific group seems reminiscent of some dystopic science fiction.

Last Friday night there was a march from Belmore Park to The Block to stop the forced closure of remote communities, held simultaneously with one in Melbourne (which was eloquently described as a ‘selfish rabble’, at this point newspapers are just trying to prove their absurdity). The 2000 strong march consisted of Indigenous and non-Indigenous people, students and non-students, unionists and small children. Starting in Belmore Park with several speeches then marched through the pouring rain, with the gutters overflowing to the Redfern Tent Embassy.

These marches were in solidarity with the Indigenous communities in W.A and S.A that are under threat of forced closure. The speeches also highlighted issues of racism in our society, deaths in custody and more close to uni, the plight of the Redfern Tent Embassy. Now all of these are important issues but we can only overcome them through a set of national actions and movements.

Last month the Indigenous officers met with the Bridget Cama, the NUS National ATSI officer, to discuss Sydney Uni’s involvement in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Student conference in Sydney 2015. The conference will be held from the 22nd – 25th of July, with approximately 50-70 Indigenous officers, representatives and student leaders predicted to attend. The conference aims to develop relationships between Indigenous student leaders, building and gaining skills in the areas of policy writing, fundraising, and campaigning.

The conference will establish a network of young indigenous student leaders in which the communication of Indigenous issues and the organisation of events such as rallies and protest, can be made efficiently and effectively. This conference will reflect the Indigenous values of community and solidarity, particularly important considering the current relationship between the Australian government and Indigenous Australia – reflective in the closing of communities, the Redfern tent embassy, and The Intervention. This year’s conference will have a focus on representation and access as expressed in the conferences motto ‘Equal Access, Equal Representation = Equal Education’.
Stay tuned interested parties; there will be another protest on the 1st of May.

Indigenous Report – Week 2, Sem 1

Howdy. Now is everyone ready for some knowledge? Well if you are reading this, you are procrastinating, a puzzled first year or an interested reader (You know who you are) so damn straight you are ready for some knowledge!

Well firstly, 2015 is the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Ride. Fifty years ago, students from the University of Sydney toured towns in rural NSW to witness the discrimination of Aboriginal people. This publicity strengthened the push to eliminate racial discrimination. This year in commemoration, the SRC and University organised a new tour of the towns. This proved to be an eye-opening experience for the participants, as they learned that while some things change others remain the same.

Secondly, during OWeek the Indigenous Collective had a stall, the one with the emus. You know you saw it. We met a variety of interested students and University staff members over a very successful three days. However, there was a sour moment. A small group approached us asking what we do. Then they inquired into how much Indigenous we were. That was disappointing. There is no division, of half, quarter one sixteenth. No matter how you divide, an Indigenous Australian is an Indigenous Australian.
Thirdly, the Indigenous Collective has big plans for this year. The Reconciliation Week Festival later this semester, which we are hoping will provide the student population some excitement, knowledge and a greater understanding of Indigenous Australia. In week 11 the Indigenous Edition of Honi Soit, which is an excellent opportunity for the Indigenous students to have their pieces featured and to (again) allow for a greater understanding for non-Indigenous Australians. What about second semester you ask? Patience is a virtue.
Now if you have made it this far, you have probably noticed a recurring objective of the Indigenous Collective. Yes, understanding is the objective. Reconciliation is like the tango. Reconciliation takes two and without understanding, nothing will be successful. When it comes to Indigenous issues there needs to be a clear understanding between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. While the Freedom Ride strengthened the pursuit to eliminate racial discrimination, we still have ways to go. That is it, enthused readers. Stay tuned for next time on the Indigenous Officer’s Report!

Although a mouthful to pronounce, SULS’ DLA Piper Social Justice Conference addressed many current concerns

Although a mouthful to pronounce, SULS’ DLA Piper Social Justice Conference (#SJcon14) addressed many current concerns, including the background of imprisonment and racial vilification.
In her keynote address, Alison Churchill identified the effects of colonisation, dispossession of land, over-policing and child removal as being “inextricably linked” to the overrepresentation of Indigenous Australians in our prisons.

Clearly it’s inaction (combined with destructive, ineffective action) permits these unsettling figures to persist.
The panel discussion focused on our government’s approach to racial vilification, with Tim Soutphommasane, David Rolph, Kirstie Parker and Kingsley Liu on the panel. All were in favour of the current protections allowing complaints against racial vilification retaining intact.

Race Discrimination Commissioner and fabulous Tweeter @timsout noted that while the law cannot singlehandedly end racism, it does have a role to play. He expressed deep worry over the “socially dangerous message” that the proposed reforms communicate to our community.

Importantly, the panel identified worrying discourse of “prosecution” and “conviction” surrounding the now infamous Racial Discrimination Act, exposing clear misconceptions about what is in fact a complaint-based system.
Concern for this lack of understanding about the scope of the legislation (did you know there are exemptions under the often overlooked s 18D !?) and its operation are clearly warranted, Dr Rolph pointing out that this inaccuracy fuels our “distorted and superficial debate on freedom of speech.” Despite the panel being in agreement, opponents of RDA provisions can hardly deny that this confusion is objectively problematic.
While most instances of vilification are unlikely to proceed to complaint, Parker, Co-Chair of the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples, said “it does provide a level of comfort to people” in affording Indigenous and other voices a medium through which to be heard. Unfortunately, discrimination and vilification against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples remain at a disproportionately high level, and in the words of Parker, while it’d be nice not to need these protections, we’re “nowhere near being the fair…society we’d like to kid ourselves we are.”

You can contact the Indigenous Office Bearers at indigenous.officers@src.usyd.edu.au

2014 Indigenous Officers

Honi Soit Indigenous edition Editor in Chief Report

In the spirit of encouraging the expression of opinions and providing a space for dissenting views, I decided to ask the writers of this week’s SRC Reports to reflect on the issue of constitutional recognition.

It is vital that we as a country give this possibility the consideration it warrants, in light of the continuing injustices Indigenous people face every day.

While it is my view that constitutional recognition is necessary to begin to remedy injustices of the past, we must consider: is it possible that constitutionally entrenching the significance of Australia’s first People could cause them further disadvantage? At first glance, the clear answer is ‘no’.

However, given the tendency of governments to pander to the short-term desires of the majority, constitutional recognition lends no guarantee that Indigenous affairs will continue to receive the same level of already inadequate attention and funding.

Perhaps I’m cynical, but realistically, why would a government bother allocating more resources to tackling serious issues that affect Indigenous people now, when the Australian population thinks that the ‘Black Box’ has already been ticked?

It only makes sense that governments would gloss over these problems and move onto the next big vote winner.

In this climate of political insincerity, will constitutional recognition push Indigenous people further behind in Australia’s history, or will it bring current shortcomings into focus and create pressure for improvement? The SRC offers some of their views on this contentious issue.

Madison McIvor

Koorie Centre update and other plans for 2014

Kyol Blakeney, Crystal Dempsey, Madison McIvor and Brad Hanson.

Last year, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students spent a majority of the year increasing awareness on Indigenous issues within the University and also gained attention from the wider community from down the road at Redfern to Alice Springs radio. Attention was drawn to the Koori Mail and the Indigenous Times with the controversial question, “What is happening to the Koori Centre?”

Here is the truth. After negotiations between students and management, the Koori Centre has remained a space for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students so far. It is equipped with a study area, library, and a common room. While these are the bare essentials, there has been major staff shortage in the space and most of the rooms that used to be offices are empty. The Koori subjects are now being amalgamated into the Education and Social Work Faculty.

As far as we know, there is a five-year plan to build another space within the University known as The National Centre of Cultural Competence. While there have been many questions and concerns regarding the changes in the Koori Centre, we cannot make a judgment on this strategy yet. One legitimate worry, however, is the fact that there has still been no immediate improvement to the conditions of the support network for the students.

The remainder of the year was about increasing the awareness of Indigenous issues and presence in the University. The collective made history this year by having the first Aboriginal student councilor to be elected by the students and the first Aboriginal Vice-President of the SRC. To further achieve this goal, the Indigenous students founded the Wirriga Society. This society is open to all students of the University and encourages the coming together of cultures to gain understanding between them. Wirriga has also been given the opportunity to co-ordinate the Indigenous Festival
in 2014.

This year, we will be pushing for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags to be permanently flown on campus along with some physical changes to our space in Old Teachers’ College to promote our culture. We will continue with our aim to work collaboratively with staff and management and hold regular autonomous BBQs and lunches across campus for all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students.

The Indigenous Office Bearers for 2014 are Crystal Dempsey, Madison McIvor, Brad Hanson, and Kyol Blakeney.

You can contact them at indigenous.officers@src.usyd.edu.au