Growing up Indigenous in Australia comes with the certainty that you will face adversity and fear – a fear too often realised. Adversity could be from the everyday racism that Australia has become notorious for, through to the insidious governmental policies that are carried out by religious institutions. Or it could be due to poverty.
If you are Indigenous and living in poverty, this government will inflict pain upon you and your family. For example, your child could be removed for reasons beyond your control as a parent.
The frequent conundrum for black families is balancing that degree of distress with the desire to grow a beautiful family. Since first contact, Indigenous people have been viewed as a problem, and our children repeatedly used as a weapon against us.
This approach, founded in ethnocentric colonialism, is something that has existed for 230 years and continues as levels of child removal and child detention climb to epidemic levels.
Today, we still see children being removed from their families, then face a desolate future in which the system makes them a statistic. Paternalistic policies that propagate narratives that Indigenous people cannot look after their children – despite us historically being domestic servants for the white oppressor, raising their white children while our own were being stolen from us – serve only to maintain the apathy of the majority populace who fail to be outraged sufficiently to do anything about it.
The crux of the racist attitudes in this country are rooted in the long relationship between state and church, notwithstanding the theoretical separation of powers. Australian societal attitudes and behaviour towards Indigenous people is founded in this corrupt relationship and its inherent ethnocentrism.
'Since first contact, Indigenous people have been viewed as a problem, and our children repeatedly used as a weapon against us.'
The two together have been a force of near annihilation for Indigenous people, despite the Australian Commonwealth’s false notions of commitment to human rights. The state, in the form of colonies and commonwealth, has waged war upon the Indigenous population, committed massacres, enslaved, introduced illnesses, poisoned and forcibly segregated.
Child removals were just an extension of this “frontier” war and became one of the first governmental policies in which public relations redefined segregation and dispossession as ‘protection’. Indigenous people were ‘protected’ from contact with white people by being dispersed into outlying areas of townships or relegated to reserves.
Many towns still have ‘boundary roads’ and they were exactly that – a boundary marker that the Indigenous population was not allowed to cross without permission.
The premise was provided by consulting ‘scientists’ applying Darwinistic notions of racial inferiority. Their work informed the policies that became the ‘humane’ means by which the inevitable extinction could be achieved.
It is historically accepted that the removal of children and attempted indoctrination of church teachings was an attempt to assimilate and ‘breed out the black’. These children were violently forced to renounce their cultural ways, language and family in order to learn the white way, the Christian way and the ‘right’ way.
Over the course of 230 years – Australia has cemented itself as a custodial culture pursuing neo-liberal ideals at the cost of humanity. Indigenous people have been particularly targeted by this culture and our children are placed in the position of trying to navigate the hostility of this country without strong cultural guidance due to a pattern of past removals and dispossession. The Bringing them Home Report was handed down in 1997 with recommendations of ways in which to assist and protect the Indigenous family unit that involves children being afforded the opportunity of growing up with their families, and with access to their own cultures.
Over 20 years later, we find ourselves having the same conversations, seeing an increase in Indigenous child removal by 65 percent, and hearing Senior Counsel in the most recent Royal Commission noting that despite the availability of a wealth of reports and inquiries that provide extensive recommendations to address the situation, Australia clearly refuses to take action.
'The ripple effects of the genocidal trauma of colonisation continues to torment our communities.'
The majority of cases where children are removed due to what the state defines as ‘neglect’, are actually attributable to poverty. This is, of course, a situation that has been directly caused by colonisation, given that Indigenous people have been forced from country and subjected to a capitalist existence with next to none of the privileges afforded our non-Indigenous counterparts, such as the basic right to earn and receive income.
Many First Nations communities are still denied access to their traditional lands which are being used instead for the mining of resources that benefit big corporations and government. The ripple effects of the genocidal trauma of colonisation continues to torment our communities.
Rather than acknowledging the root of the problem and implementing simple, community-based solutions, the state response is paternalism – more removal of children from our care into state ‘care’. This ‘care’ is a profitable industry for a great number of religious organisations, and the fact is, our children are not safe there. Increasing evidence is coming to light of abuse visited upon our children while in state ‘care.’
Recently, Professor Megan Davis has been appointed by the NSW Minister for Family and Community Services to examine exactly what happens to our kids in state care. She will chair what will be a landmark review of over 1,200 case files of children in out of home care in New South Wales. We expect this review will again expose where the system fails to address unique issues facing Indigenous children caught in the system.
Given the historical inaction of successive governments following similar reviews, we aren’t yet placing much hope for the implementation of any genuine reforms that will improve the situation.
It is difficult to articulate a loss as profound as the loss of identity and culture. To suffer this loss while also experiencing abuse in state ‘care’ is traumatic. But this is the trauma still being enacted by governments in the form of paternalistic policy making. The government thinks it is better equipped to care for our children than we are, but placing our children in situations where we know abuse occurs is not acceptable.
The government needs to address the root cause of the majority of child removals: poverty. Once poverty is addressed and Indigenous families are provided with the resources to better support their families, there will be no more excuses to take our children away.
Rather than demonising Indigenous parents, the government should offer reparations for the harm it has perpetrated on First Nations peoples over the past 230 years. Indigenous parents are not the problem. Paternal policies and politically expedient state intervention in our affairs is the issue.