People's Stories Indigenous People

Closing the gap for Aboriginal health
by The Lancet, Australian Medical Association
Mar. 2019
Aboriginal Organisations condemn Government’s announcement that it will force people in the Northern Territory under income management to use the cashless debit card, saying it will continue discrimination against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples, Co-chair, Dr Jackie Huggins, said: “The cashless debit card has fundamentally undermined the self-determination of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. The card shames and stigmatises our peoples for their disadvantage, robs them of their financial freedom, and exacerbates pre-existing social challenges such as financial harassment. National Congress also advocates for the cashless debit card to operate on an ‘opt-in, opt-out’ basis.”
Aboriginal Peak Organisations of the Northern Territory spokesperson, John Paterson, said: "Here in the NT, we are tired of the government making decisions without adequate consultation and engagement with us. As with the Australian Government’s current racist and harmful Community Development Program, this new blanket policy of control will further entrench the disadvantage and disempowerment of our people. We call on all politicians to endorse Aboriginal driven solutions on CDP modelling and issues relating to welfare."
CEO of the Australian Council of Social Service, Cassandra Goldie, called on the Parliament to reject any legislation further entrenching or extending cashless cards or income management, and said: “The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights has repeatedly found that the cashless debit card policy discriminates against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner criticised cashless debit as incompatible with Australia’s human rights obligations.
Executive Director of the Northern Territory Council of Social Service, Wendy Morton, said: “Imposing the cashless debit card across the Northern Territory will continue the discrimination against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. What we actually need in the Northern Territory is a greater investment in areas such as housing, early intervention and prevention in child and family support and health.
Human Rights Law Centre, Senior Lawyer, Adrianne Walters, said: “The cashless debit card is a discriminatory and coercive policy that threatens to trap people in poverty. It’s a policy reminiscent of rations. A good government would support self-determination, rather than denying Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people the freedom to control their own lives.”
Feb. 2019
On Feb 14, the last Closing the Gap report on Aboriginal people in Australia was released. In a feeling of déjà vu, the 11th annual report again showed little progress. In 2018, just two of seven targets designed to narrow inequalities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on health, education, and employment were on track.
Ten years after the initiative was launched, life expectancy at birth is 71·6 years for Indigenous men and 75·6 years for Indigenous women, a massive gap of 8·6 years and 7·8 years, respectively, compared with non-Indigenous Australians. The report overall is utterly disappointing.
The response this week by the ruling government includes commitments that should have been made a decade ago: partnerships with Aboriginal groups; a whole of government approach; more accountability and transparency; providing space for Aboriginal voices. Only now has the Government committed to partner with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to develop a strategy.
But broader social changes are also needed—ones that the Australian Medical Association (AMA) has called for. Their latest Indigenous Health Report Card, released Nov 22, 2018, said a complete overhaul of the national strategy was needed to ensure equitable expenditure; better funding and implementation of health plans; increases in primary health care; environmental, housing, and other social dimensions of health inequality are addressed; and Aboriginal health is placed in Aboriginal hands.
The AMA also called out institutional racism as being a main impediment to Aboriginal health. “More Indigenous health studies are also needed, as argued in a Comment by Geraint Rogers and colleagues. Without all these elements, poor progress on inequalities in Australia will continue.
On the heels of failure, disappointment must give way to determined resolve. Successive Australian Governments repeated lip service to Aboriginal health is a clear hypocrisy in light of the failings of their Closing the Gap initiative.
Australian people must hold the Government to account for meaningful and dedicated engagement with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and to health for all.

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Call to revitalize ‘language of the ancestors’ for survival of future generations
by UNESCO, OHCHR, UN News, agencies
Feb. 2019
Hundreds of ancestral languages have gone silent in recent generations, taking with them the culture, knowledge and traditions of the people who spoke them. To preserve and revitalize those that remain, the United Nations has officially launched the International Year of Indigenous Languages.
Delivering inaugural remarks, Kanentokon Hemlock, a Mohawk community Bear Clan Chief from Kahnawke, paid tribute to Mother Earth.
“As indigenous people, our languages are those of the earth and it is those languages that we use to speak with our mother”, he said, saying “the health of our languages is connected to the health of the earth”, which is being abused.
“We lose our connection and our ancient ways of knowing of the earth when our languages fall silent”, he explained, stressing that “for the sake of future generations we must ensure they too can speak the language of our ancestors”.
The President of the UN General Assembly, Maria Fernanda Espinosa Garces highlighted the close connection between indigenous languages and ancestral culture and knowledge, saying that “they are much more than tools for communication, they are channels for human legacies to be handed down”.
“Each indigenous language has an incalculable value for humankind”, she said, calling each “a treasure laden with history, values, literature, spirituality, perspectives and knowledge, developed and garnered over millennium”.
“When a language dies,” she spelled out “it takes with it all of the memory bound up inside it”.
Indigenous languages are symbols of their people’s identity, “vectors for values, ways of life and expressions of their connections with earth”, according to the Assembly president, who called them “crucial” for survival.
Indigenous languages also open the door to ancestral practices and knowledge, such as in agriculture, biology, astronomy, medicine and meteorology. Although there are still 4,000 in existence across the globe, many are on the brink of extinction.
“This International Year must serve as a platform from which we can reverse the alarming trend of the extinction of indigenous languages”, to recover and preserve them, including by implementing education systems that favor the use of a Mother tongue, Ms. Espinosa stated.
Evo Morales, President of Bolivia, addressed the survival of indigenous people and languages under the force of colonialization.
“Today we come here having survived the colonial era which has tried to bring our elders to their knees and squash them beneath the weight of injustice”, he said.
Mr. Morales called on everyone to work together through dialogue to promote policies which help to preserve Indigenous lives, identities, values and cultures.
There are 770 million Indigenous people across 90 countries, constituting six per cent of the global population, living in many biodiverse regions, the President noted. And yet “capitalist greed” has left them among the poorest 15 per cent of the population.
Warning that greed was driving the move to annex yet more indigenous resources, he said that there was a “criminal silence” on the part of world leaders “when it comes to speaking out against these phenomena”, pointing out the hypocrisy of lecturing indigenous people about democracy and human rights, while quashing their community identities and suppressing languages at risk of dying out.
“Language is culture, language is an expression of a cosmovision and that is a way of seeing the world”, he said. “If languages disappear… the memories that they bear will disappear as well as the people that speak them”.
Encouraging everyone to “preserve the knowledge and wisdom of our ancestors”, Mr. Morales urged that a new paradigm be ushered in, one which is the fruit of indigenous peoples and “champions the Mother Earth”.

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