In recent weeks we have been shocked but sadly not surprised as images of racial violence have covered our screens.
The death of George Floyd in the American city of Minneapolis has reignited a debate about the treatment of African American people by police and, from this flashpoint, a movement of people stretching across many nations has mobilised once again to seek racial justice and equality.
The events in the United States and the burgeoning protests quite rightly provoked the question ‘what does this mean for us in Australia?’ As a nation, as an organisation and as individuals.
As a not-for-profit whose mission is to ensure that all Australian individuals and communities can thrive, this is not an academic question, it goes to the heart of what we do.
Australia’s record on incarceration of First Nations peoples is amongst the worst in the world. First Nations people make up 3.3% of the Australian population but 28% of the adult prison population. There have been 437 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who have died in custody since 1991. The situation for young people is even more stark. Nearly half of young people under justice supervision in Australia are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.
Against this backdrop, we were horrified by the destruction of Juukan Gorge caves, an irreplaceable sacred site tens of thousands of years old, and it has since become clear that other sites are also at risk. Treatment of First Nations people in the justice system may have been a starting point for the current debate but the wider problems stem from something much deeper – our treatment of Aboriginal people since colonisation – and the protests that have ensued across Australia are targeting systemic racism in all its forms, including racism toward other people of colour. The experience of First Nations people in Australia is unique and particularly acute but racism is also a pernicious influence in the lives of many others too.
At SVA, it’s our job to examine the root causes of problems, generate the evidence of successful solutions, work with partners to grow their impact, seek to bring funding and investments into programs and initiatives that have been proven to be successful and we advocate for changes that we think will create a fairer Australia. We seek to influence the systems that hold people back. We also invite our partners, our clients and funders to work with us and commit to changing those systems.
Throughout our short history we have worked with many First Nations organisations that are creating change in out of home care, in education, employment, justice as well as those creating connections to country and culture.
We are proud of the work we’ve done to help the Australian Indigenous Mentoring Experience to increase the number of First Nations people graduating for university and with Ganbina, Australia’s most successful Indigenous school to work transition program. We’re deeply grateful that for eight years we’ve been able to call Kanyirninpa Jukurrpa (KJ) one of our most cherished partners to build the evidence base for the success of their working on country program in the Western Desert – connecting people with their land and culture and improving health, wellbeing and environment in the process. And we’ve learnt a lot working with leaders in organisations like the Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency who have generously shared their wisdom.
But SVA is not a First Nations organisation. We’ve also made our own missteps and have fallen short as an ally. Even now, we could have been much faster to act and speak up in solidarity. The issues are not new, nor the frustration, but the anger is fresh and we know that this is a moment that requires us to act.
As an organisation that recognises the impact of systemic racism in preventing people and communities having the chance to thrive, we add our voice to those calling for justice reform to end black deaths in custody and the urgent implementation of all the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. We reaffirm our earlier support for the recommendations in the Uluru Statement from the Heart including for a Voice to Parliament. SVA will continue to support movements for equality and use our brand and our voice and our influence with funders and government officials to advance self-determination, including by throwing our support behind campaigns run by First Nations people and organisations.
As an organisation focused on creating impact for others, we are also committed to the ongoing struggle to improve our own engagement with First Nations peoples and building on the commitments in our successive Reconciliation Action Plans. We’ve made progress in codifying the way we work with First Nations organisations. We also have more to do. We have an ongoing obligation to truth telling and to educate ourselves about the history of the brutal treatment of our First Nations people. We must also ensure that we are culturally safe organisation with greater representation of First Nations people and people of colour at all levels of SVA.
We will make space to ensure that the voices of First Nations people can be heard and listened to in our work. First Nations peoples know what works in their communities, they are the experts in their own lives and Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations are the best way to deliver many services to First Nations Peoples.
We share this statement publicly, so that our friends and partners know where we stand, we can be accountable for the commitments we make and to encourage others to think carefully about what steps they can take to be better allies.