Voice. Treaty. Truth. Working Together for a Shared Future.
We want to celebrate NAIDOC week and pay our respects to the Kaurna people, and their elders past, present and emerging, whose land our office sits upon.
At Purple Orange, our aim is to create a world where all people who live with disability get a fair go in life. That won’t happen unless Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People are listened to, respected, included and given choice and control over how they live their lives, as their community also includes people who live with disability.
NAIDOC week is about celebrating and increasing understanding of First Nations People’s culture and history. We spoke with two First Nations People with lived experience of disability about what the 2019 NAIDOC week theme of Voice, Treaty, Truth means to them.
The Uluru Statement from the Heart 2017 begins its closing paragraph with, “In 1967 we were counted, in 2017 we seek to be heard”. Historically, both the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and disability communities have struggled to be heard. We spoke with Vicki Hodgson, a member of the Arabana people. Vicki’s son lives with disability. She says she advocates for him “at the highest level.” When she is advocating for him, she is advocating for all human rights. She explained that a barrier that keeps Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who live with disability from having their say is that there is not enough understanding of their cultural background. NAIDOC week is about shining a spotlight on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture so that the rest of Australia can listen and understand better.
Maria is an Aboriginal woman from Darwin who is also an important member of the Our Voice SA peer network for people who live with intellectual and learning disability. For Maria, a big part of being involved with the peer network is about having the opportunity to speak up. “We get to speak our minds. And we don’t have to be scared of speaking our minds because we know we’ll be well heard.” Maria says she often advocates about issues that matter to her friends and community who are unable to attend meetings. As an Aboriginal woman who lives with intellectual disability, having an opportunity to not only have her own voice heard, but to be the voice of others, within the wider disability community is very powerful.
The NAIDOC website says, “Australia is one of the few liberal democracies around the world which still does not have a treaty or treaties or some other kind of formal acknowledgement or arrangement with its Indigenous minorities.” A treaty has been the goal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander activists for many years now. Vicki says, “Other Indigenous Nations have treaties about fairness, resources and prosperity and those are very important issues for us.”
Vicki explained to us that other people often think they know what is best for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and so they exclude them from decision making. Maria said, “We’re not allowed to be excluded. We are allowed to put our voices out to be heard. Whether we’re disabled or not.” A treaty will bring greater self-determination to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. This will bring greater choice and control to those who live with disability, allowing them to live the life they want to live.
When Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People who live with disability have higher support needs, they are often removed from their community and put into systems that are foreign to them. Because of the deep spiritual connection they have to the land, Vicki says this can be a “big separation” for them. Truth telling is about recognising the cultural significance of the land and acknowledging the place in this country that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People have held for more than 60 000 years.
Vicki says programs like Kura Yerlo are vital to Truth. Kura Yerlo helps Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People who live with disability and are separated from their community connect with others who are in the same situation. Vicki says these programs give them the opportunity to “come together and share stories”. Maria has several Aboriginal friends who also live with disability and live close by. They regularly meet up and make art together. “We all go into the city together and we meet the rest of our friends on Fridays.” This connection is important as it supports them in their own truth telling and in keeping their history and culture alive.
At JFA Purple Orange, we are working towards a world where everyone can live a life of dignity, choice and control. In order to support the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander disability community, we must understand their culture, amplify their voices, support them in self-determination and acknowledge their deep spiritual connection to the land. Through this understanding and acknowledgement, we will see the life chances of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People who live with disability improve dramatically.