Aboriginal activist Natasha Moore has responded to the release of the Western Australian Coroner's report into Indigenous deaths in the Kimberley by arguing only self-determination can make a fundamental difference to people's lives.
Aboriginal elders had lobbied the state government for the inquiry after the apparent suicides of 22 young Aboriginal people from the Kimberley region in 2006; a 100% increase on the previous year. WA Coroner Alastair Hope delivered his report into the alcohol– and cannabis-related deaths on February 25, finding that 17 of the deaths, including that of an 11-year-old boy, were due to suicide.
Hope was damning of WA government departments and agencies, saying that despite Commonwealth funding and an annual state budget of $1.2 billion dedicated to WA Indigenous people, conditions in the region have worsened for Aboriginal people.
He recommended a joint appointment by the Commonwealth and state governments of an organisation or individual to lead efforts for improving conditions. He also wanted the Department for Child Protection to be able decide whether parents of at-risk children should receive food vouchers and value cards for groceries and clothing, stopping them from spending cash on alcohol, drugs, gambling or pornography, similar to welfare "quarantining" in the NT.
Hope also recommended teaching homemaker skills and providing basic furniture, retaining the Community Development Employment Project and extending Fitzroy Crossing's ban on full-strength takeaway alcohol to other Kimberley towns.
The WA government responded with a cabinet reshuffle to enable Indigenous affairs minister Michelle Roberts to allocate more time to implementing the findings of the report.
Moore told Green Left Weekly that Aboriginal involvement and community consultation were essential requirements for improvement in people's living situations.
"Aboriginal people are living in poverty-stricken communities in which each town has a bottle shop", she said. "Aboriginal people are dying because state and federal governments refuse to build social capital and involve Aboriginal people in policy-making to address community issues.
"Yes, funding is needed — but there are different ways to skin a cat. That is why Aboriginal people's right to self-determination is important because Aboriginal people have the answers; all they need is support and funding."
"How can Aboriginal people prosper in communities that offer them no hope to live?", she asked, adding that an Indigenous affairs minister from an Indigenous background was needed. "That would be a start!"