Researcher points to deep social problems in Indigenous communities

Issue 

In recent weeks, high levels of inter-generational abuse in Indigenous communities have created a media furore with many politicians and media pundits blaming the communities themselves. Many Indigenous activists and supporters have been attempting to get the full picture out. Judy Atkinson, professor of Indigenous studies at Southern Cross University, has been outspoken on the issue, including publishing papers and the book Trauma Trails. She has been attempting to secure funding for a comprehensive program to address relevant underlying problems. Here she speaks to Green Left Weekly's Nick Fredman.

What does your research show are the main factors that contribute to inter-generational abuse in Indigenous communities?

Unhealed trauma from colonisation across generations, including economic, physical, cultural, emotional, mental and spiritual abuse from the colonisers. Colonisation has three essential layers: the physical violence of the frontier; the structural institutional violence of the state; psycho-social dominance, which is a form of cultural and spiritual genocide.

What do you think of arguments such as that raised by Peter Costello, while acting prime minister, that "poor housing is no excuse for violence"?

Try living in a house where people have to take it in turns to have a place to sleep; where there are no doors or windows to lock [to protect] from intrusion by perpetrators, where there are holes in the floors and walls (and be forced to pay $150 per week rent for it, as I saw in one remote community) and he might change his mind. At one level, "poor housing is no excuse for violence", but some people do not have any housing. Are past government policies, which placed children in institutions where they were physically, psychologically and sexually violated, an excuse for government not to do anything about the results of this abuse?

Indigenous affairs minister Mal Brough has cited a figure of $40 million being spent by all relevant governments on the Wadeye community, while community members have been quoted in the media as saying that there's little sign of this on the ground. Are needed resources getting to Indigenous communities?

No, they are not. Furthermore, the government may allocate $30,000 for a one-off pilot program for a community to deliver a women's service, and pay a non-Aboriginal consultancy service $150,000 to evaluate the service. [But] between government funding and community needs, are layers of interests where money disappears. For example, housing. I have seen second- or third-rate houses built in communities at inflated costs, by white contractors, which fall apart within a couple of years. The people who make the money are outsiders who get rich by tendering for Aboriginal remote-area service delivery.

What are the key measures that should be taken to address violence in Indigenous communities?

Community education, safe environments, law reform and research that tells us if we are doing it right, or how we can improve what we are doing.

From Green Left Weekly, June 14, 2006.
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