Following the Western Australian government’s decision to close down 100 indigenous communities earlier this year, as well as Tony Abbott’s “lifestyle choices” comment, many indigenous elders and leaders have expressed their frustration and bitter disappointment towards the disrespectful treatment of these communities. From Respected Elders such as Noel Pearson of the Cape York Institute to the local indigenous elders to politicians in Canberra, everyone has come out in condemnation of the WA Government policy and for Abbott’s hurtful comments.
In line with national protests in Canberra and across all major cities, Macquarie University’s ‘Warawara’ group, that supports indigenous students within the university, have joined the debate against Abbott’s comments. Emily Sutton, the Team Leader of Indigenous Support Services at Warawara, has highlighted the comments as being a very misguided representation against indigenous societies.
“You cannot see people living in country as being purely one of lifestyle. Yes, it is a choice to live there, but it is more than that. It is a part of who we are, it’s a connection to country, and responsibility to looking after country”
To Sutton, the comments themselves work against the aims of society today, particularly with environmental debates “With so much talk about looking after country and destruction of environment, this disregarding of indigenous knowledge is very misguided.”
Warawara have been actively involved with the protests against these planned community closures, and with help from Campus Engagement organised a barbecue on March 27th 2015 in the university central courtyard, in conjunction with many of the protests that were occurring across Australia’s main cities.
Students were allowed to create their own protest message against the policies. “We received interest from a wide variety of students. Many were focused on indigenous rights, many were focused on Tony Abbott. It was important to show our support.”
The barbecue raised $250, which will be directed, with consultation from two indigenous West Australian students, towards helping with programs that assist these communities, such as suicide prevention programs.
Additionally, an online Macquarie protest has been set up by Bridget Kama, the indigenous representative of the National Union of Students. This online presence has been further supported by NITV and SBS, showcasing people who have come out against these comments.
Warawara aims to continue to support these issues through activities it will run during Reconciliation Week (27th May - 3rd June 2015). These events include film nights, barbecues and student engagement activities. Sutton hopes that these events will show a new side to indigenous communities as compared to perceptions that are often reported in the media.
“We aim to show that it’s not all doom and gloom, there are some very successful indigenous students and people, and it is not all negative. We all have a strong and proud indigenous culture, and it is important to recognise that.”
Despite this, Sutton stresses that much more support from Macquarie University is needed. “People should put themselves in someone else’s shoes. Imagine if your electricity was cut off and your communities were shut down and closed." It is hard not to argue with that point.
What is most important take away from this is that there should be a vital, mature discussion about this, and this can only be done by recognising that for remote indigenous communities, this isn’t a lifestyle, it is a way of life.
Indigenous Reconciliation Week is the 27th May- 3rd June during Weeks 12 and 13, so be sure to check many of the events Warawara will be involved in.