(This post was updated on April 28 & 29, & May 1, 4, 6 & 21).
This Friday (May 1), rallies will be held around Australia and in other countries to protest against the forced closure of Aboriginal communities in Western Australia.
In the open letter published below, Dr Melissa Stoneham of the Public Health Advocacy Institute of Western Australia and colleagues urge health organisations and professionals to sign this letter, join the marches, and stand up for the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal peoples and communities.
As previously reported at Croakey, the community-driven #SOSBLAKAUSTRALIA campaign has galvanised widespread support. The United Nations permanent forum on Indigenous issues recently supported a submission by the Kimberley Land Council condemning the proposed closure.
Update on April 27: Writing in MJAInsight today, Dr Mark Ragg urges people involved in health to support the marches and resistance to the closures. He says: “Probably one of the most important things we’ve learnt in the past 50 years is that health is more than medicine. It is biological, it is physical and it is social.”
Update on May 1: This interview with WA Premier Colin Barnett in The Australian suggests the public campaigning may be having some impact, although the WA Government remains committed to reducing the number of remote communities. Meanwhile, ABC TV’s Lateline is running a two-part series from Ginny Stein (see part one here).
Dr Melissa Stoneham and colleagues write:
We are urging as many people as possible to protest against the forced closure of Aboriginal communities in WA.
Join with us in marching around the country On May 1 to commemorate a national day of action which calls on the Barnett government to halt its controversial plan to close up to 150 remote communities in Western Australia.
Rallies will be held in the majority of capital cities, as well as regional Western Australian centres. There are also marches planned in New Zealand, Los Angeles and Berlin. In Perth, the rally will start at Forrest Chase at 11am. Join with us and add your voice to stop the forced closure of Aboriginal communities in WA.
In November last year, WA Premier Colin Barnett revealed a plan to close as many as 150 of the state’s 274 remote Aboriginal communities. Prime Minister Tony Abbott has since backed this, referring to remote Aboriginal communities as a “lifestyle choice” in controversial comments he made in March 2015.
Premier Barnett has admitted that the closures will “cause great distress” and are “not a good option” but says that he must shut down the communities because the Federal Government will no longer fund essential services such as power, water, health and education – and the WA Government cannot meet these costs without support from the Federal government.
Many of us within the health profession are concerned that a repeat of Oombulgurri will occur. In 2011, around 100 people were evicted from the Oombulgurri community in the eastern Kimberley after the State Government deemed it “unviable”. There was no consultation or strategy. People were displaced and forced to move to alternate communities. Negative effects have been since noted on school attendance rates, homelessness, crime and substance abuse.
The underlying issue surrounding the forced move is all about connection to land. Aboriginal people have the right to live in and on their traditional country, for which they have ancient and deep responsibilities.
Additionally, Australia is signatory to international human rights standards, which state that all people have the right to an ‘adequate standard of living’ and ‘participation in cultural life’. The ability of residents of forcibly closed communities, such as those who lived at Oombulgurri, to exercise these rights would be significantly diminished.
If First Nations people are moved from Country, health disparities between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians are surely set to rise and progress towards ‘closing the gap’ will be reversed. Already we have three times more Aboriginal people likely to commit suicide than non-Aboriginal people. Suicides accounted for 4.2% of all registered deaths of people identified as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander in 2010, compared with 1.6% for all Australians. But this is just the tip of the iceberg, as for every suicide; there are hundreds of attempted suicides – with the ABS reporting collated hospital data that validate the extent of suicidal thought moving beyond ideation.
Forcibly moving Aboriginal people from their land into already strained and stressed towns will not produce positive health or social outcomes. For Aboriginal people the relationship with land runs deep. The land owns Aboriginal people and every aspect of their lives is connected to it. They have a profound spiritual connection to land.
Forcing more people into the overcrowded and inadequate housing in the township will undoubtedly worsen not improve the problems faced. The underlying issues of poverty, disadvantage, unemployment and under-employment and the like, which they struggle with on a daily basis, will not be solved by this approach, merely relocated and intensified. In fact, many of the some of the smaller Aboriginal communities have evolved because people were attempting to escape the issues affecting them in the larger communities. Many of the smaller homeland communities are healthier and happier places than the larger towns.
Living and spending time on-country, caring for their country and passing on and sharing stories and dreaming associated with significant sites creates a sense of hope and pride for Aboriginal people.
Join the rally to ensure Aboriginal people are enabled to fulfill their desire to live on and care for country now and into the future.
• Below are the organisations supporting this letter (please contact Croakey via the comments section below if you would like to sign the letter, whether as an individual or organisations)
Times for 2nd Call to Action Rallies across Australia, New Zealand, USA and Germany
|Beagle Bay, WA||1st May, 2015||10am||Old Admin Building KRCI Office||Veronica McKeonbbmentors@gmail.com08 91924351|
|Perth, WA||1st May, 2015||11am||Forrest Chase, Perth||SOSBLAKAUSTRALIAwww.blakaustralia.com|
|Kununurra, WA||1st May, 2015||10am||White Gum Park||Nawoola Selina Newry 0499577165|
|Port Hedland||1st May, 2015||1pm||Front of South Hedland Courthouse||Cherie Estree 0455 122 248 Ashley Councillor 0407 008 789|
|Roebourne, WA||1st May, 2015||10am||Roebourne School Oval||Tyson Mowarin 0409 674 911|
|Kalgoorlie, WA||1st May, 2015||10am||Top of Hannan St, near Trilby Cooper Hostel||Gary 0439 803 138|
|Newman, WA||1st May, 2015||10am||ANZ Park||Angela 0423 681 075|
|Esperance, WA||1st May, 2015||10am||Tanker Jetty||Wazza Harvey 0429 942 947|
|Halls Creek, WA||1st May, 2015||10.45||Cnr Duncan H’way & Great Northern H’way||Maryanne Skeenwww.blakaustralia.com|
|Broome, WA||1st May, 2015||9.30am||Broome Shire Office, grassed area||Mitch Torres 0481 054 829|
|Lismore, NSW||1st May, 2015||5pm||Browns Creek Car Park||Casey King 0411 133 758Naomi Moran 0477 213 236|
|Newcastle, NSW||1st May, 2015||10.30am||Foreshore Park||Brian Dowd email@example.com|
|Wollongong, NSW||1st May, 2015||11.30am||McCabe Park||Via Facebook: SOS Blak Australia: Illawarra|
|Moree, NSW||1st May, 2015||12pm||Moree Town Hall, Balo Street||Lorilee Haines 0401 555 392 Stephen Porter 0413 574 011 Kelly Briggs 0423 078 253|
|Moruya, NSW||1st May, 2015||12.30pm||River Park||Laurance Magick Dennis firstname.lastname@example.org|
|Orange, NSW||1st May, 2015||4pm||Robbo Park, Mitchell H’way||James Munday Morelandwww.sosblakaustralia.com|
|Muswellbrook, NSW||1st May, 2015||9am||Simpson Park, Market Street||Thomas Barca 0475 074 596|
|Coffs Harbour, NSW||1st May, 2015||10am||Fitzroy Oval||Coffs Harbour Local Land Council 66528740|
|Darwin, NT||1st May, 2015||12pm||Raintree Park||Thomas Mayor 0437650221Facebook: Community Solidarity Action NT|
|Alice Springs, NT||1st May, 2015||12pm||Council Lawns||Sarah Thorne0409 148226 or email@example.com|
|Adelaide, SA||1st May, 2015||12pm||Tarntanyangga (Victoria Square)||Tanya Hunter 044 797 773Media Contact: Douglas Smith 0431 580 757|
|Brisbane, QLD||1st May, 2015||5pm (or 4.30pm if you would like to be painted up)||King George Square||Larissa Baldwin 0431 316 019|
|Cairns, QLD||1st May, 2015||1pm||Fogerty Park, Cairns Esplanade||Kerri Shephard & Jesse Martinkerrisheppard@y7mail.com|
|Townsville, QLD||1st May, 2015||8.15am||Centrals Football Grounds, Anne Street||Melalah Blackman 07-47735077|
|Yarrabah, QLD||1st May, 2015||10am||Yarrabah Works Department||Elverina Johnson0406 116 221|
|Canberra||1st May, 2015||11am||Garema Place, Civic centre||Alice Haines 0447 097 659|
|Portland, VIC||1st May, 2015||12.30pm||TBC||TBC|
|Los Angeles, USA||1st May, 2015||1pm||TBA||Jessie firstname.lastname@example.org|
|Auckland, NZ||1st May, 2015||6pm||Queen Elizabeth 11 Square 9next to Britmat)||Maori Women’s Group Te Wharepora Houwww.blakaustralia.com|
|Christchurch, NZ||1st May, 2015||8.15am||Riccarton Road||Tina Delamere 0278 061 212|
|Hamilton, NZ||1st May, 2015||1pm||The Pulse, 27b Whatawhata Road, Dinsdale, Hamilton||Benita Tahuri+64 21 258 8508|
|Wellington, NZ||1st May, 2015||12 noon||TBC||https://www.facebook.com/events/1389355551386502/|
|Touranga, NZ||1st May, 2015||12 noon||7 Sisters Pounamu, The Strand||https://www.facebook.com/groups8.0.Ppeoplesnetwork/|
|Berlin, Germany||1st May, 2015||11 am||Australische Botschaft Wallstrasse 76-79||Bianca Lylahttps://www.facebook.com/events/829150893800455/|
The organisers have published a cultural code of conduct (reproduced below).
As we are gaining momentum across the regions, states, nations and worldwide, we do so as proud people, representing our Ancestors who have come before us, Elders who are standing with us and the young people who hold our cultural continuum in their hands. The following is a cultural mandate that honours this responsibility and keeps us united.
1. Lead with Cultural Integrity.
We, the women of the Kimberley behind this campaign, each portray the humbleness and dignity that our Elders have instilled in us. We stand strong with our message and ask that our supporters lead with cultural integrity.
2. Stand together and alongside each other.
When marching in support of our effort toward the stopping of forced closures of Aboriginal Communities, we ask you to remember that you do so in the name of people who live in these regions. Be mindful that what you do positive or negative will impact on us greatly and the message we are intending to get out.
4. Keep our focus.
National actions must have a strong combined focus, we need to keep to task and ensure our Aboriginal people will remain on their homelands. Let us hold our combined power and move together as one. Timing is everything.
5. Be Firm, yet non-violent.
We understand the importance of keeping our actions safe from harm, so that our children, disabled and Elders who are marching with us remain protected and respected. Acts of violence lose our message in the community — and to lose our message will mean all our marches will have been in vain.
6. Nurture your organisers.
Our organisers Australiawide have all volunteered and led their responses with enormous courage and resolve. If they are struggling or tired, step up and lovingly help them to take their place.
7. Keep each other strong.
We are all responsible for change we want to see in the world. Support your friends, family and colleagues regardless of race or social difference, as we educate, inform and action for a fair and just society.
8. Be mindful.
Not everyone thinks the same or understands the issues at hand. Agree to disagree and protect yourself from personal stress or trauma by not allowing the impact of your belief to lead you to harm or negativity.
9. Understand the origin.
This campaign began with West Kimberley people making a global call to action. It is not affiliated with ‘Close the Gap’ or other such campaigns. The origins are grassroots from the communities themselves.
10. Check the facts.
Spreading information without checking the facts or verify with the communities will create uncertainty for everyone and hurt the people and communities we are all trying to protect.
With over 30,000 people and a reach of over 1million on one social media platform alone, help keep our message clear and respect our cultural code of conduct so that we can go beyond the mainstream media who will often turn a blind eye to Aboriginal people and work toward a better outcome for our people
• For previous Croakey coverage of this issue, see these stories.