Over the past 10days I have had the honor of traveling the Northern Territory with four inspiring young people from the UN Youth Association of Australia. We began our journey in Alice Springs on the 15th May. All very excited to undertake, what we knew would be an amazing experience and one that would open our understandings to the issues facing young people in remote and regional communities in Northern Territory.
Our journey would take us to a number schools along the road to our final destination; Darwin. We had varying expectations of the key issues affecting youth within the various towns but through our high school consultations we hoped to gain a deeper understanding. The consultations would ultimately assist me in representing the Youth of Australia at the United Nations General Assembly in September but beyond that I hoped it would help me understand the division between Indigenous and Non-Indigenous relations in the specific areas of Alice Springs, Tennant Creek, Elliot, Katherine and Darwin.
From the outset it was clear that Indigenous and Non-Indigenous relations existed on a fine balance of tokenism, ignorance and out of sight out of mindedness. This became even more prevalent when visiting our first high school in Alice Springs; a private school in which we ran a whole day forum and workshops with a group of 30 students from 2 local schools. Understanding the issues that affected the youth consisted of various small workshops focusing on Local, National and International issues relating to Health, Education, National Security, Indigenous Affairs and Human Rights/Equality. Out of the 30 students there were no Indigenous students included in the groups. Under representation in the education system is a major concern of mine due to the fact that on the other end of the scale there is an over representation in the justice system not only in the NT but across Australia.
What concerned me more throughout the day was hearing the young students views on Indigenous and Non-Indigenous relations and the issues that they felt has consumed their community.
Over the past 5years I have been pushing for an inclusive society and promoting Indigenous relations within the corporate world as a representative from the Indigenous community working in Sydney and Melbourne head offices of a major bank, often as the only Indigenous person and often as the youngest person in the offices. Promoting a young, inspired generation of Indigenous youth who want positive change in attitudes and perceptions of the First Australians. These beliefs of positive change were to be challenged over the 10 days and my message of the exciting change young people can have in Australia’s future has taken a new focus of informing, discussing and biting my tongue on a number of views held by students and young leaders of schools.
Alcohol, violence and discrimination became the key themes across the Northern Territory, whether it was Alice Springs to Katherine, young people identified that these issues affected them directly by not feeling safe in their homes, concerned that friends and family might get caught in the cycle and the idea that the issues were to large to overcome.
Our role as representatives of the UN Youth Association of Australia was to facilitate these conversations and inspire the young groups to identify possible solutions in overcoming these areas of society disfunction. I am proud that we as a group encouraged free speech without limiting views or opinions on the various topics.
It is said that you are not born prejudice, it is a learned behavior. On the reverse of this, understanding, appreciation and empathy must also be learned behaviors. My concern is where are these lessons both positive and negative being taught and whose role is it to teach the socially acceptable lessons of understanding and appreciation?
Unfortunately the views of a large number of students were both ill-informed and socially bias against Indigenous Australians. Is this an individual or student problem? I don’t believe so. This is a short fall in the education of young people on Indigenous culture, history and government policy past and present.
We had a young student say the Stolen Generation would have worked if it was implemented properly, another suggested that black people should have their own school and be moved out of the towns. While these are deeply offensive views and disappointing to be held by 15-17 year olds but I have a hard time being frustrated at these individuals. If these students were informed of the past injustices and degradation of the oldest living culture I do not believe they would share the same view. This is an educational problem, a pit fall in the teachings of Australian history, the result of failed policies and the psychological impact of generational hurt within the Indigenous communities.
If we are to overcome the division in Australian society, my recent experiences suggest it must begin with the individuals understanding of these areas of division and the underlying factors that contribute to these divisions. I believe this should be the role of the teachers, schools and universities. Overcoming division will require a Generational Change through education with a strong emphasis on cultural awareness and social impacts faced by Indigenous Australians over the past 200 years.
Here is the 2011 Northern Territory Regional Engagement Road Trip Report: A Road to Change
Watch my recent interview with Roni Forrest in Perth, WA – Gen-Talk Interviews