June.8.2020

Black Lives matter; We matter

By Kath Coff

So, I lie awake not being able to sleep, as the fire of my Ancestors burns inside me for change. I roll over trying to hide from it all, as I am tired, having just worked a full-time week, raising my gorgeous kids and teaching them from home, working and living for my Community, my Mob, my family. We have just come out of Reconciliation week, the theme, In this together. Big times. And the phone calls start rolling in. “What are we going to do?” “Isn’t it terrible what is happening in America?” “I think we should put on an event or protest.” “We have to do something.” These are from our amazing Non-Indigenous, Other Australians, our allies. I love them dearly.

But what they seem to forget, is that for most of us Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders this is our fight every day. This has been our fight for over 230 years. This will continue to be our fight until we get old and pass over, and beyond.

Many of us speak about this, and want change all the time. We do Welcomes and Acknowledgements to Country when asked, because we want change. We help with Reconciliation Action Plans, Employability plans, Statements of Commitment, organise events, answer many questions and help you to understand your privilege.

Meanwhile we know very little has changed in the school system, for our kids; if anything it has become worse. We are scared it will never be right for our kids and the generations to come. What you can hear in my voice is desperation.

You see :

  • More of our kids are in out of home care than there ever has been.
  • More of our kids are incarcerated than there ever has been.
  • More of our kids are de-identifying because it is safer.
  • More are turning down scholarships because their non-Indigenous friends look on them with shame.

Please understand I am talking about Victoria.

But guess what, what we need is our kids to thrive, be proud, and to get through the education system, we need this just like all mothers and fathers do, like all grandmothers and grandfathers do.

And our kids are striving ahead despite all this, they are strong in who they are and strong in what they want their future to be.

People talk about the system being broken; it was never right from the beginning. A dominant system has landed itself on Country and believed it was going to work. Can people see that it cannot? What else will it take? Massive bush fires? That’s happened. A virus that could possibly have changed our lives for ever? That’s happened. Maybe change isn’t a bad thing. Maybe change is just what we need.

I have many of my Non-Indigenous allies saying they feel helpless, what can they do? I am sorry, I look back and I think, “Helpless?” Then you don’t see me. You don’t see us. You mustn’t see how helpless we feel. Not helpless in who we are, but helpless that there are too few of us to make change. Too few with so many responsibilities and expectations upon us.

This is for our allies, what is your declaration and commitment to us, to change? You don’t need to do it all, maybe start with one small thing. As you are part of the system, you are part of the majority. You can also speak out for change. We need you.

Just so that you are clear, I cannot speak for a whole race of people, but I will give you some ideas from me.

  • We can no longer be the only ones fighting for change, we need your voice in it. Change it.
  • Any workplace that you are in, make sure you engage with us from the beginning, and make our employment meaningful and long term. Change it.
  • Our voice should be in decision making from the start. Change it.
  • Read anything you can get your hands on written by us, recorded by us. Our voices. Learn. Change it.
  • Many of us still live in poverty. Change it.
  • You also need to fight back for curriculum change, and ways of teaching for all kids. If you are a teacher please read the amazing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and First Nations people that write in Education. Like anything else you don’t know, you research it. Go to your schools and ask the hard questions. Support them. This is a big one, because this could bring about systematic change at the highest level and could bring about the greatest change.  Change it.
  • Don’t just stand back and be a bystander. Change it.
  • We know the cultural interface place is hard, guess what? It is also hard for us. Be brave. Be open to learn. Change it.
  • If you ask Elders or our people for advice, actively listen. Make the change. Change it.
  • Understand not everyone sees the world like you do. To many of us, going out into the world feels like walking into an aliens’ land, in our own Country. Our worldview is different. And we prefer it. Understand this. Change it.
  • Treat our Elders with respect. On this Country their word is lore/law. Change it.
  • And lastly, but not least. Don’t see us as disadvantaged. We are strong. We are proud. We love. We honour family. We honour Country. And we will continue to fight and fight until we do not have breath. And then we will fight and fight some more. Understand this. Change it.
  • Have your declaration and commitment ready. We want to hear from you.

 What are you willing to do? Be brave. Help us make change.

Kathryn Coff is a proud Yorta Yorta woman living on Jaara Country. She is a respected member of her local Aboriginal community in Castlemaine and currently manages Nalderun Aboriginal Services in the Mount Alexander Shire. She chairs various meetings in community and sits on the Shire’s Indigenous round table.  Her commitment to moving into a space were the Indigenous Relational worldview is included in education for all students has seen her working in kindergartens, primary and secondary schools and led to her appointment in 2018 as Indigenous Practitioner in Residence at La Trobe University. Currently doing Higher Degree Research into Indigenous Relation worldview in Education, Indigenous pedagogy and two way mentoring. In 2017/8, Kathryn received an Emerging Leader award from Indigenous Fellowship for Leadership. Recently Kathryn was appointed to the Board of Koondee Woonga-gat Toor-rong Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Led Philanthropic Fund. Kathryn believes that when Aboriginal communities are supported by non-Indigenous Australians who have open hearts and minds, amazing things can happen for the whole community and the way forward is together, walking side by side.

Republish this article for free, online or in print, under Creative Commons licence.

2 thoughts on “Black Lives matter; We matter

  1. Colin Power says:

    I fully and totally endorse your call to all educators – policy makers,, principals, teachers and researchers to demonstrate they are serious about making the fundamental changes to our education system in all states and territories needed to meet the needs of indigenous Australians and to listen to the voice of indigenous. leaders and researchers like Kathryn and to ensure all of us understand and respect the richness of their cultural heritage. We must speak out, adding our voice to our brothers and sisters, and assume responsibility for taking principled action based on informed research on indigenous cultures, learning and barriers to progress,. As a teacher, former President if AARE and head of education in UNESCO, I have been part of the struggle to reframe. to education research, policy and practice and to generate the International Convention on Indigenous Peoples. Black Lives Matter in Australia too and We all must assume a our responsibility to demonstrate that we do care.

  2. Terri Seddon says:

    Great commentary Kath.
    Strong words; important message.
    Terri

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