When Nanette Rogers spoke out about violence against women and children in Aboriginal communities, a string of Federal and State politicians made statements about the need to be tough on crime! What they failed to do was support Indigenous community solutions.
There are many excellent community projects, most of which are woefully under-funded. The Rogers “revelations” occurred a week after the Federal Government brought down its budget, which did nothing to address the root causes of Indigenous oppression.
Despite this, Indigenous women and men are organising to find culturally appropriate solutions.
In the Cherbourg community, women formed a Critical Incident group that spoke out against violence. Hundreds took to the streets during Domestic Violence Prevention week to show their support for community-based solutions. The community developed recommendations and demanded funding for their implementation. Community men pledged to support the women’s initiatives to stamp out sexual abuse and domestic violence.
Lillian Gray, from the Cherbourg group, has some advice for communities in the Northern Territory: “People in the community have to stay strong. Start like we did. Form a strong group, make recommendations.” Gray explains that the next step must be to force governments to respond to and fund community demands.
Good role models already exist in the community of Yuendemu in the Tanami Dessert. The women’s centre is home to the Night Patrol. Senior Walpiri women cruise the community in vehicles each night to keep people safe from domestic violence, drug abuse and petrol sniffing.
This is the longest running service in Central Australia but it is grossly under-funded. The women, who work 15 hours each per week, get paid just $3 per hour. Both the Northern Territory and Federal Governments have cut funding in real terms. It has reached the stage where there is not enough money to pay for petrol and keep the vehicles running all year round. The women also want an additional $25,000 from the Federal Government to run training and replace their worn uniforms.
The Howard Government’s “solution” was to convene a bureaucratic talkfest, while existing programs, like the Night Patrol, remain short of funds.
Aboriginal men are also mobilising to find community solutions. In Brisbane, a rally and march was organised in July by the newly-formed Aboriginal Men’s Business group, Numbarlie Marlu, which means “Us Men Together.”
Murri leader, Sam Watson, explains, “this men’s group was formed to combat domestic violence, define and reinforce our role as men and to support our women and our community. True Aboriginal men do not bash women or terrorise children to express ourselves as men. We intend to work with our families and with our young people in order to make our homes and our streets safe and secure environments for our people. We must offer ourselves as proper role models for our children. As Aboriginal men, we have the power to do this and we challenge all other Aboriginal men to stand with us.”
Watson issued a powerful call to Aboriginal men around the nation to “start doing serious work to bring all that bad business to a stop, now!” He said, “we accept that the violence and dysfunction that are features of many Aboriginal communities are not part of our custom or lore.”
“We say that the root causes of this violence and dysfunction that is in our community cannot be found within the makeup of Aboriginal men. That business was just not there on that scale before 1788. The root causes of much of this current business are part of a calculated pattern of attacks against us.”
Watson called on supporters to reject “the calls by white politicians who want to storm into our communities and steal another generation of our children away” and “the calls by white politicians to close down selected remote communities and establish yet another network of poverty stricken fringe dwellers.”
To function effectively, Watson argues that Indigenous men need jobs, homes, education and health care for themselves and their kids.
Indigenous women and Indigenous men in many communities — city, rural and remote — have solutions to the violence against women and children, which has plagued Indigenous communities for decades. Politicians must shut-up and listen to these communities. They know what is needed. Governments must provide the funds — urgently!