Community is everything

Community is everything: June Oscar 22 July 2015, 12:47PM <> June Oscar AO is a Bunuba Leader from the Fitzroy Valley, Western Australia. Here she discusses Aboriginal youth justice in Western Australia and her vision of the solution -- community programs that support young people and families. What’s the problem?

There are many complex issues stemming from Western Australia’s colonial legacy. One issue is that of Aboriginal kids ending up in a cycle of detention. Western Australian Aboriginal young people are 53 times more likely than their non-Aboriginal peers to be in detention - it’s the highest rate of over-representation of Aboriginal young people in Australia.

The state’s entrenched response to this is simply not working. We need new measures that conform with international standards and in doing so, improve Western Australia’s currents rates of Aboriginal youth detention. A lot of people think kids need a ‘tough’ approach. Do you think this works?

The solutions that we’re looking for can be found in new ways of thinking and approaching issues that have been longstanding. Taking a tough approach to dealing with complex and generational issues is not a solution. The solutions that we’re looking for can be found in new ways of thinking and approaching issues that have been longstanding. The reason why some of these issues remain unresolved and continue to be issues that we’re grappling with, is because we haven't taken the right approach to finding solutions.

I think it’s high time now that we look at a smarter way of responding to issues and we need to learn from what’s happening in other parts of the world … how they’ve rethought and re-approached these issues. Some of these issues are not too different from what we’re experiencing here in Australia. We can certainly learn from other places. So taking a more informed, innovative, smarter response to crime is the way to go. How can we better support kids?

Stand with Indigenous kids for a brighter tomorrow

We need to recognise that these children belong to families, these families belong to communities of people; they belong to language groups right throughout the state and we need to engage with the families to support the children.

We need to look at: what are the strengths around children, what’s happening with families, how can families be better supported to become better at supporting their children?

Finding what works can only happen if we can engage with families and caregivers and the extended families that many Indigenous children are part of … if we’re not recognising the whole support networks then we’re really denying children their right to be seen and supported in the total context. What role do Aboriginal organisations play in this?

We need to engage with the organisations, community-based organisations, that Aboriginal people see as there to support the aspirations and issues that challenge many of our communities here in Western Australia. Many of these organisations have been established by Aboriginal people to address particular issues concerning communities and families.

It’s about engaging in the right way those that are in positions of authority and influence within communities to help lead on some of these issues.I think we will continue to have problems if we continue to neglect the engagement and proper engagement of Aboriginal peoples in finding solutions.

Aboriginal organisations can be better supported through permanent and long term commitments to funding arrangements; we have the evidence in providing the results from some of these initiatives. We need to continue these positive programs that are helping people from getting into situations where they're in contact with the police or the justice system. What’s your message to the Western Australian Government?

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My message to the West Australian government is that we need to take a few steps back and take stock of why it is we are now confronted with so many issues that challenge people's right to a quality of life in WA. Why is it that our children are reaching the highest levels in Australia that are incarcerated in these detention centres?

We cannot just see this as a responsibility that we as Aboriginal people have failed, we have been recipients of services and the end of policy decisions of governments in the history of Western Australia so clearly we need a different approach, a different way of engaging with Aboriginal people because we do hold the solutions to many of these issues. Politicians can no longer think that they hold the solutions for us. What’s your message to Amnesty supporters?

We need people like you to support Aboriginal people in Australia in finding these solutions. How we can do that is through people like yourselves, supporters of Amnesty, listening and establishing relationships with Aboriginal communities and being informed so that solutions and support around advancing the profile of some of these terrible situations in communities can be raised right across Australia at the national and international levels. It is the time that we can build relationships of trust and respect and it is only through those types of relationships that we can really truly know that we’re doing it right.

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