Yes we can achieve justice for Indigenous Australians

The following has come from a recent editorial in eurekastreet.com.au . I recommend reading the complete editorial.

The Edmund Rice Institute for Social Justice, Fremantle, has called for a large ex-gratia payment to the family of Mr Ward. The 46-year-old Aboriginal elder and cultural leader died on 27 January 2008 while being transported from Laverton to Kalgoorlie, in the back of a privatised prison van. His first name cannot be revealed for cultural reasons.

The report of Coroner Alistair Hope was published on 12 June this year. It concluded that Ward died of heatstroke, and that the WA Department of Corrective Services, the prison transport company GSL (now G4S) and the two drivers were jointly to blame. The coroner said Ward’s treatment was inhumane, and a breach of international laws to which Australia is a signatory.

In a statement issued after the Coroner’s report, Edmund Rice Institute director David Freeman said the report confirmed fears that this is ‘one of the worst human rights tragedies in Australian living memory’.

The Indigenous News Updates are sourced from news and other articles from around the country that I have posted on Twitter.

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Kiwirrkurra – the most remote community in Australia

The last desert wanderers were seen by members of the Kiwirrkurra community. Well, not seen as you and I would see them, but their tracks were seen and destination determined. Members of the community waited for them near a water supply and gave them clothes to wear before bringing them into the community so they would not be shamed by white fella remarks as the community members remembered receiving in years past when they stopped their nomadic way of life.

This was 1984.

Sixteen years later in late 2000 and early 2001 massive rains flooded out the community of Kiwirrkurra. 170 people had to be evacuated initially to Alice Springs, and after a month back into Western Australia, 2000kms SSW of Kiwirrkurra to Moropoi Station. Kiwirrkurra was (and is) alcohol free but during their time at Alice Springs and at Moropoi alcohol was freely available. This dislocation of a desert people caused severe disruption to their community social fabric. It would be eighteen months before they could go home to their country. the land that sustains them.

The current edition of The Australian Journal of Emergency Management produced by the Federal Attorney-General’s Department contains an article an article about the flooding of 2000 and what can be improved in the planning.

A project recently completely by Emergency Management Australia, in consultation with the Fire and Emergency Services Authority of WA, (FESA) has documented the communities stories from the Kiwirrkurra flood to identify the lessons learned, so that other communities and emergency managers can benefit.

The article can be downloaded here (192Kb). It is a good read looking at the difficulties with remote life. My only concern with the article is their is no mention of the role of the health service in any emergency.

Disclaimer: Kiwirrkurra is one of the communities I look after

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Why Aren’t We Listening To The Kids?

CHILDREN of the troubled Kimberley town of Halls Creek have unanimously nominated an alcohol ban as their No1 wish, ahead of a local cinema and an international airport.

More than 100 children aged 10 to 14 at the school in Halls Creek told youth facilitator Michael O’Meara that, more than anything else, they wanted alcohol eliminated from their town and wanted help for their parents and other adults in Halls Creek to get sober.

“The young people were very clear about what they wanted … they weren’t prompted or given suggestions,” said Mr O’Meara, facilitator of last year’s 2020 Youth Summit.

“They spoke of their fears that some in the community would not like them asking for the elimination of alcohol, and they spoke of the impact of alcohol on their lives – I can say they have very real reasons for wanting it to stop.” continued at The Australian newspaper Jan 12th 2009

A few days ago I quoted from the Western Australian Aboriginal Child Health Survey:

Just over one in five children (22%) were living in families where 7 or more major life stress events had occurred over the preceding 12 months. These children were five and a half times more likely to be at high risk of clinically significant emotional or behavioural difficulties than children in families where 2 or less life stress events had occurred

Perhaps we should be acting on what the children want us to.

Instead, as well as the above reports, other states also continue to produce reports rather than acting and introducing sustainable and ongoing programs (one off projects seem to constitute long term planning and solutions).

Queensland has recently released the report Children and young people in Queensland: a Snapshot 2008.
Here a few of the “highlights”:

the infant mortality rate (11.8 per 1000) is twice the state average – reducing the number of pre-term Indigenous births would significantly reduce the high Indigenous infant mortality rate.

31.6% of youth suicides under 18 years were Indigenous children in 2006–07.

6.0% of all 0 to 17 year olds in Queensland were Indigenous, although Indigenous people make up only
3.3% of the population

the Indigenous youth detention rate almost 15 times the non-Indigenous rate

In the Northern Territory we had the report Ampe Akelyernemane Meke Mekarle “Little Children are Sacred” (large PDF) that was misused by the then government to initiate ““The Intervention”“(Northern Territory Emergency Response). This seems to have led to a doubling of infrastructure, finding out what we already new but no sustainable programs in healthcare, or to increase resources to further deal with the health issues we already knew about and where the “very foundational principles on which Aboriginal existence are built — community, culture and collective rights — have been shaken, demonised and exposed to a level of scrutiny unparalleled in recent times.”

A review of the Northern Territory Emergency Response can be found here. Various articles in the Medical Journal of Australia about the response have stated:

paints a demeaning and misleading picture of NT communities as exhibiting “a complete breakdown of normal mores”. This fits snugly with the “white blindfold” view, described by Tait, that will only further disempower marginalised Aboriginal people and communities”

another states:

Existing systems are not providing for adequate follow-up of identified medical and social problems for children living in remote Aboriginal communities”

and another

Indigenous communities must have a role in data collection and anagement“.

It just goes on and on.

There is no one better than Fiona Stanley to conclude with. In a recent speech (video here)

The frustrating and anguishing thing is that we have known what we need to do for 20 years; the evidence has been around in Royal Commissions, HREOC reports, a myriad of government reports as well as our research papers. How to implement is the major issue. Other countries with Indigenous colonised populations have similar problems but are doing much better than Australia – what can we learn from them?

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Indigenous Child Mental Health

The first few lines in any article on indigenous health in Australia are the statistics. Indigenous Australians have an average life expectancy 17 years less than the average Australian. The incidence of chronic disease is higher, the death rate from cardiovascular disease is at least 2.7 times higher than the rest of the population etc etc. An aboriginal man in Australia will live on average for only 59 years.

Statistics, statistics. Put this in some context. Five men aged between 35 and 45 years from a population of just over 2000 people spread over several small communities died in a 10 day period ending on Boxing Day. Sorry camps have sprung up and funerals have started. Whilst funerals can be a social occasion, seeing family you may not have seen for a while, you have to wonder about the effect on people from what seems to be a continual cycle of grief.

How do you assess Mental Health in an indigenous population with a different view if health and of the world? The Kimberley have developed some tools, but how can you be sure they are validated correctly and will they be suitable for use in other indigenous populations?

Some years ago the Western Australian Aboriginal Child Health Survey commenced looking at over five thousand indigenous children in Western Australia. The report consisted of several volumes focusing on different areas. Volume 2 looked at the social and emotional wellbeing of young aboriginal West Australians. There were many statistics in the report and the downloadable summary is worth a read. One group of statistics I hink is quite depressing.

The factor most strongly associated with high risk of clinically significant emotional or behavioural difficulties in children was the number of major life stress events (e.g. illness, family break-up, arrests or financial difficulties) experienced by the family in the 12 months prior to the survey.

So how many major life stresses do indigenous kids have each year?

Just over one in five children (22%) were living in families where 7 or more major life stress events had occurred over the preceding 12 months. These children were five and a half times more likely to be at high risk of clinically significant emotional or behavioural difficulties than children in families where 2 or less life stress events had occurred.

If you were aged from 4 to 11 years and had 7 or more major life stressors you had a 42% chance of developing clinically significant emotional of behavioural difficulties. If you were between 12 and 17 years old you had only a 34% chance of developing clinically significant emotional or behavioural difficulties if you were in a family that had experienced 7 or more life stress events in one year.

These culminate in risk taking behaviour in adolescence and adulthood.

In the report there is a small positive. It seems that in the more remote areas where a more traditional way of life and greater family supports occur that the traumatic events do not take such a toll.

Children living in areas of extreme isolation were one-fifth as likely to be at high risk of clinically significant emotional or behavioural difficulties compared with children in the Perth metropolitan area.

In remote desert regions many of these communities are quite small, from a few hundred down to about 30 or so people. In the Northern Territory communities this small are called outstations or homelands and the Northern Territory Government (and the previous federal government before them) is looking at closing them down.

I have commented previously about the health benefits shown from living in the small outstations of Utopia where the population had a better quality of life, better health and greater life expectancy than normal for an aboriginal population.

I concluded the article titled “Community Size and Indigenous Life Expectancy” with:

Are we are so intent on “economies of scale” that we are going to close these smaller communities down? These same communities that may provide the biggest bang for the buck in keeping people healthy.

Being remote and small may be the way to keep both your physical and mental health.

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