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Involvement key to supporting Indigenous communities

By Natalie Hunter - posted Wednesday, 28 April 2010


Natalie Hunter, Life Without Barriers SOC, in the Darwin office was invited by the United Nations, First Nations People to attend an International Indigenous Children in Custody Conference in Vancouver, Canada on the 4th & 5th March 2010, as one of the Expert Panel.
The Conference was so enriched with Indigenous First Nations People expressing of common social issues effecting Indigenous children in their community and including sharing their knowledge and culture from various countries across the world. Natalie’s theme was based on Indigenous Children in Foster Care in Australia.

Summary and Recommendation
In order to assist Indigenous families to remedy the over-representation of Aboriginal children in the foster care system, positive parenting programs, intensive family support and early intervention services that are culturally appropriate and carried out by Indigenous providers must be available when a child is at risk. This involves engaging the Indigenous community through effective communication and self-determination by developing effective community-based programs that are culturally-relevant and in their language, so that Aboriginal children can remain in their homes.  This is called AUTONOMY.

The Indigenous Child Placement Principle is the main vehicle used to protect an Indigenous child's identity by keeping the child connected to his or her family, community and culture and ensuring he or she is safe, happy and healthy whilst in foster care. Strong family reunifications plans must also be in place. But these principles have not been applied consistently.  Tribal governments, Indigenous Peoples’ organisations, local/tribal authorities and families need to work together with States to ensure that proper care and treatment (economically, socially, physically, culturally, spiritually and emotionally) is afforded to Indigenous children through incorporation of culture, community and spiritual well-being, as well as emotional support through counselling and healing services.  Greater efforts are needed to recruit kinship and Aboriginal care givers if foster care is required, as well as to train and hire Aboriginal counsellors and service providers at all levels.

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Regarding governmental policies, the Australian State and Commonwealth Governments were highly discriminatory in their removal of the Racial Discrimination Act (RDA) in the Northern Territory, so they can undertake the following actions with the Northern Territory Emergency Response (NTER's). This discriminates against a certain race because the only people residing in the remote areas in the Northern Territory are Indigenous Peoples.  The NTER's overtly interventionist measures which undermine Indigenous self-determination, include:

The five-year leases of Aboriginal communities which were justified by removing the RDA to enable the Commonwealth Government to provide housing on Aboriginal Land without consultation or consent by relevant Aboriginal Peoples (Traditional Owners). These leases were acquired without any compensation to Traditional Owners.

The compulsory income management scheme and the termination of the Community Development Employment Projects (CDEP)

Alcohol and pornography bans and limiting consideration of Indigenous customary laws

The differential treatment of the Indigenous Peoples in the Northern Territory involves impairment of the enjoyment of various human rights, including rights to collective self-determination, individual autonomy in regard to family and other matters, privacy, due process, land tenure and property, and cultural integrity. All these rights are recognized in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) the International Covenant on Economic; Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples - instruments to which Australia is a signatory.

The Racial Discrimination Act in the Northern Territory must be reinstated as a matter of urgency, so indigenous peoples residing in the Northern Territory of Australia will be treated equally. The Australian Government should properly reform the intervention so that it protects human rights and engages Aboriginal Communities in developing effective community-based solutions.

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Last year the Rudd Government said it would not comply with a request by the UN Human Rights Committee to provide full reparations to the Stolen Generation. The Australian government needs to address the 54 Recommendations of “The Bringing Them Home Report” of 1997 (BTH Report). The most important and significant recommendation from the BTH Report is for Compensation/Reparation, which goes hand in hand with the Prime Ministers Rudd's Apology (2008).

How can Indigenous people in Australia move forward with the current removal policies of Indigenous children if the destruction of past policies is not addressed by the Australian government? The Stolen Generation policy affected nearly every Aboriginal family across Australia, and they want compensation/reparation as a matter of urgency.   

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About the Author

Natalie Hunter is an Aboriginal Women and is the Company Secretary for the North Australian Justice Agency (NAAJA). She is the past Chair of the North Australian Aboriginal Legal Aid Service (NAALAS). Natalie is currently working with Life Without Barriers in the out-of-home care program, Darwin. Life Without Barriers is a national not-for-profit organization working to support children and young people in crisis, people with disability and those with mental health issues, including those from Aboriginal and other cultural backgrounds.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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