On this Close the Gap Day World Vision’s Graham Tardif reflects on the importance of respectful relationships for improving the well-being of Indigenous Australians.
If we were to summarise our nation’s current approach to improving Indigenous wellbeing, it would read something like this: Despite it being 2015, and following decades of policy failure and policy on the run, we now seem to be sliding into a disheartening new phase.
In the wake of a reprised debate around the closure of remote communities in Western Australia, and the recent Indigenous Advancement Strategy funding decisions, reform – in the simple sense of change for the better – is in danger of faltering. Relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people, at least in the public space, are under strain, and there is reduced faith in the capability of governments of all persuasions to create long term change.
The message sent by Indigenous leaders and individuals to policy-makers in the past week has been crystal clear: living remotely for most Indigenous Australians is not a lifestyle choice – it’s a cultural, economic and social reality. Aboriginal custodianship of the land is a responsibility and obligation that is fundamental to their being. Community frustration that this even needs to be spelt out is palpable.
And while systemic changes need to be agreed, designed and measured locally by Indigenous people, the way forward also involves collaboration with partners beyond government. In the case of Western Australia, it is clear the wealth generated through the mining boom has not been shared across the state, particularly with those with greatest need.
A key point to make during this current wave of attention is that plenty of good work has been done on reforms which are community-led and include culture at the heart of their design, and yet they haven’t been grasped. Why aren’t they being rolled out as we speak? What can possibly be achieved through not taking a cultural approach to improving the health, education, employment prospects and safety of Indigenous Australians?
The evidence is clear: programs, projects and services led by the people they are designed to benefit are the most effective and sustained. Indigenous people have told us this and continue to tell Australian governments this, backed by evidence. There is furious agreement out there.
Before you start to think that this is all too hard, Australians must confront and embrace the following reality: unless this challenge is approached from a relationship perspective and with a willingness to share decision-making, we are doomed not to move beyond arguments about ‘choice’, towards a sweeter spot of acting together for change.
We need to humbly accept that we have a lot to learn from Australia’s first peoples. Unless we listen respectfully, the dialogue will stop.
What this means from World Vision Australia’s perspective, is that we work alongside Indigenous communities, at their invitation, to support their vision for a better future.
We provide advice and support to enable community members to form groups which advocate for better access to appropriate services. Community members themselves must articulate what it means for their kids to be happy, healthy and connected to culture, and become local policy makers.
The challenge for all levels of government is to shift their culture and systems away from being do-ers and drivers of change, to being enablers of local solutions for local needs.