Wednesday, July 4, 2012

NAIDOC Week – A time for reflection

This year The Brown Couch celebrates NAIDOC week with a guest post from the TU's Aboriginal Legal Officer, Gemma McKinnon.

Gemma is not long returned from the World Indigenous Housing Conference in Vancouver, Canada.

NAIDOC Week – A time for reflection

Chief Clarence Louie is the Chief of the Osoyoos Indian Band, which honours the hard working, self supporting lifestyle of the ancestors of the Okanagan First Nation people, who have lived in the region from time immemorial. The Osoyoos Indian Band have developed their own economy through business initiatives under the leadership of their Chief. Chief Louie holds strong in his opinions and while you might not fully concur with him, the proof is in the pudding when it comes to the Osoyoos Indian Band. Under Chief Louie’s motto of “creating jobs and making money” the Band has established a successful winery, resort, golf course and construction business to name a few.

Chief Clarence Louie - creating jobs and making money

This is just one example of many discussed at the World Indigenous Housing Conference in Vancouver, Canada last month. The theme of the conference was “Sharing our stories, sharing our successes” and although not all of the stories were those of success, and not all were on the same scale as the story of the Osoyoos Indian Band, the stories told made two things clear: When it comes to housing, Indigenous people in Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United States face many of the same challenges, and, the common thread between all the stories of success, is ownership by local Indigenous communities. The evidence suggests that a solution developed and executed by Indigenous people, for Indigenous people is more likely to succeed than those provided by non-Indigenous people.

A step as simple as replacing the word “rent” with “loss recovery” in the context of Aboriginal housing, can institute change in a community; a change that would have no practical implications for housing providers but may result in a decrease in arrears and subsequently, less terminations and turmoil within Aboriginal community housing. After all, it surely cannot sit right with many on either side, to have tenants pay rent to live on land that has been inhabited and cared for by Aboriginal people for thousands of years. It’s unsurprising that when a government employee asks an Aboriginal person to pay their rent, such a tenant may be inclined to ask for the rent they’ve been owed since 1788 before handing over a good portion of the little money that they might have.

With NAIDOC week upon us, it’s time to stop and consider the state of Aboriginal housing in this country. Are the circumstances in which many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in this country are living, adequate to house the original inhabitants of the land on which all Australians live and from which our government and its most wealthy citizens have derived their fortunes? Perhaps the time has come for those who have gained so much from the land that Aboriginal people continue to treasure as their mother and lifesource, to pay at least a small amount of their owed rent by supporting and providing for a small step toward self determination for the Indigenous peoples of Australia. By allowing Aboriginal people access to the rights outlined in Article 23 of the UN Declaration on the rights of Indigenous Peoples:
“Indigenous peoples have the right to determine and develop priorities and strategies for exercising their right to development. In particular, indigenous peoples have the right to be actively involved in developing and determining health, housing and other economic and social programmes affecting them and, as far as possible, to administer such programmes through their own institutions.”

 Jenny Macklin - Federal Minister for Indigenous Affairs

In Vancouver, Minister Jenny Macklin stated:

“In modern Australia, it’s not acceptable that children live without running water, clean kitchens and good sanitation.
It’s not acceptable that children live in overcrowded houses, where they can’t get a good night’s sleep or do their homework in a quiet space.
It’s not acceptable – but for too many, this is the reality.”

The lesson seems to be clear, that not only is it the right of Indigenous peoples to determine and develop priorities and strategies for exercising their right to development in housing, it is also what is working for many Indigenous groups throughout the world. If the government acknowledges that the state of Aboriginal housing in this country is unacceptable then action like the passing of the Stronger Futures legislation last week was a clear step in the opposite direction to what the UN, and Aboriginal people in Australia have called for, and until the Australian government moves away from their paternalistic policies, the state of Aboriginal housing in Australia is unlikely to change.

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