Student and former policy officer with the National Congress of Australia's First Peoples, Max Edwards, speaks out about what survival means to her as part of NITV's #StoriesOfSurvival series.
By
Max Edwards

Source:
NITV
22 Jan 2016 - 12:52 PM  UPDATED 25 Jan 2016 - 12:02 PM

In the lead up to and on Survival Day, NITV is sharing Stories of Survival. We want to hear your stories too. Get involved in the conversation by using the hashtag #StoriesOfSurvival across social media, and your stories will appear our Survival Day feed on the NITV homepage -  www.nitv.org.au.

Survival

I associate that word with Australia Day and resilience because if you’re surviving then obviously you’ve overcome adversity. I tend to prefer the term Survival Day rather than Invasion Day as it puts our peoples at the forefront of the conversation and I think that is something that tends to get overlooked by a lot of other people and sometimes our own people can forget all the things we’ve been through, that we’ve come out of.

Using that term Survival Day acknowledges that we’ve dealt with some horrific stuff and we’re still here.

Survival for me

Colonisation is an ongoing process, it’s not a one-off event that happened in 1788. There are still colonial presences: our language systems aren’t recognised, our legal systems are not recognised or if they are in terms of native title they’ve been bastardised into something else.

I am fortunate to come from a strong line of political activists and so when I think about my own individual survival it is intrinsically tied to the fact that the opportunities that I have today only ever come about from everyone who has been before me.

All the sacrifices they have made to get us where we are today. I think if I don’t live the best life that I can, if I don’t conduct my behaviour in a that’s that becoming of a proud Wiradjuri woman, I’m doing a disservice and a dishonour to all the sacrifices that they’ve made.

Representation and Identity

I think there is a massive assimilating push  especially from mainstream Australia. There’s an expectation that we’ll discard our identities as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and mirror the white picket fence and that’s what success looks like. That’s not the case, so part of the chipping away at that mindset is recognising the strength and the resilience of our people, that we have the right to exist as distinct peoples.

Recognition of Survival Day

We have a massively long way to go and I think a lot of that is based on misinformation and ignorance.

You commonly hear ‘get over it’ and I don’t think people actually understand what they are telling people to get over is and what that means.

I think part of how to move forward is to start educating people about massacres, about genocide, about forced removals, and also about the freedom fighters, the strong women and men who set up all these organisations that still serve our people and work towards ensuring our people thrive. It’s about acknowledging all of that and giving people a correct understanding of who we are as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

I think we are nowhere near doing that at the moment. I think Aboriginal people exist in mainstream Australia’s imagination as these ‘scary natives’ that they hear about on the news, so I think representations and our own voices should be front and centre and once that gets into the conversation they’ll understand, more so, that Australia needs to change and why we call it Invasion Day and Survival Day.

My work

At present I’m a student living in Aotearoa, New Zealand but before that I was a policy officer.

I liked policy because I felt policy was the tension point between community aspirations and values and government obligations and legal restraints and the majority of policy officers in Aboriginal Affairs are non-Aboriginal.

I am sure that they are amazing and qualified individuals but at the end of the day, they will not have to deal with the consequences of policies if they don’t work out. 

Policy for me is an area that I think we need more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in because we are part of the communities that will be impacted by those policies. Working in that environment and acknowledging that it’s not an intellectual exercise, I think that keeping that in my mind is how I can most contribute to the success of Aboriginal people.