Self-determination - what is it, why is it important and how does it work?
I would like to start off by saying that when I use the word Indigenous I am referring to both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and when I say youth I am speaking of those aged between 16 and 27. It is also worth noting that not all of my writing is youth-based, as I believe Indigenous children are forced to grow up quicker than non-Indigenous children; as a result, things that are more aimed at adults still affect our young people.
The dictionary definition is the process by which a country determines its own statehood and forms its own government; on a more personal level I consider it as simply having 'control of one's future without outside intervention.' Self-determination can mean something different to everyone but the key term you will find throughout these definitions is control.
Self-determination is extremely important to the Indigenous community. With Australia’s history of total government control over the lives of its First Peoples, deciding what language we spoke, what our names were, if we could live with or see our family, even deciding whether or not we could marry the person we wanted, it comes as no surprise that we value the prospect of being back in control.
I will tell you a story...
Evidence of this control is can be found throughout our history of invasion and colonisation, but I will tell of a particular story that hits home. My Nan, Jessie Hunter, was the last baby girl to be born on Coranderrk Mission, a government reserve for Aboriginal people in the state of Victoria between 1863 and 1924, located 50km north-east of Melbourne near Healesville. My Nan was forced to run with her family to Koondrook to escape being taken from them and they went into hiding, in this time she was brought up to believe she was white and the only time she would learn of her culture was when she went back to visit her grandparents at Coranderrk.
Eventually she began working as a maid for a white family, and if she wanted to be able to visit home to see her mother she would have to get written permission from the government. Now I have a very close relationship with my mum and I can’t imagine having to ask permission to see her...it is ridiculous, it is disgusting that someone had so much control over a young woman that they could stop her from visiting family. It is a violation of her rights; I cannot imagine what it must have been like for her.
My Aboriginality is a large part of my identity. It makes up who I am as a person, the beliefs I hold and the values and morals I follow. I feel safe when I’m in a community run organisation; I feel a strong sense of pride when I see the Aboriginal Flag flying high above buildings and in front of schools. It is these feelings that make self-determination work – I want to do well, I want to make the right decisions for me and my people, I want to have control. Aboriginal self-determination is the means by which all this can happen.
For me, self-determination was something that took a while for me to fully grasp. I always avoided questions that had to do with self-determination, preferring to listen to the answers of others and jumble them into an answer that sounded original. It wasn’t until the past year or two that I started doing research that would enable me to finally understand what self-determination meant so that I could give an answer that was truly mine.
To me, self-determination is about complete and total control over my life and all aspects of it. Having control over my present and my future allows me to feel not only independent but also respected. To others, I am someone who can be trusted to make the right decisions for me. No one know me better then myself, so it only makes sense that I should be the one to make decisions that concern my life and my future – in whatever aspect that may be.
Community is a large part of culture. We are about family, helping each other out and creating a safe environment for everyone to thrive in which is why self determination is so important for us. In the wider Indigenous community self-determination means Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are in charge of their own decisions and their lives. One critical aspect of self-determination is that Indigenous communities have ownership of their services.
Community controlled organisations such as the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service (VAHS) and the Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency (VACCA) are an important part of the lives of Victorian Indigenous people, particularly the youth of our community. Our young people are still struggling with the effects of the Stolen Generations; however they are also watching our brothers and sisters being run down on the streets, abused by police and removed from their homes.
It is hard to be a young person in the Indigenous community. It is a common belief by those within and outside of our community that all of our community’s struggles only affect our parents, and that we as young people live in a better, more accepting world. However the harsh truth is that we still suffer from the effects of the atrocicities our parents and grandparents were forced to live through.
Having community controlled organisations helps create safe spaces for our young people to speak up and have their voices heard. These organisations wouldn’t be possible without self-determination and our youth would be left behind without them.
The Andrews Labor Government says it is committed to working with Aboriginal Victorians towards self-determination and helping further their management of their culture and heritage.
For the 2017/18 budget they have put $68 million to advance self-determination, including establishing a new dedicated community infrastructure fund and to ensure that Aboriginal Victorians are at the heart of the decision making process. Of this, $28.5 million will be invested to support Treaty negotiations, including developing a new Aboriginal community representative body, as well as a self-determination plan to help make Treaty a reality. The government is also putting a total of $21.8 million to supporting projects that are important to our community in Victoria.
While the implementation of these policies seem great - which they are - government now need to allow our community to do our thing without trying to control exactly how that money is spent. Governments have always tried to control our community through actively dividing and conquering with policies that have, for 230 years, sought to control our very existence and restrict our movement and culture. When we are fighting amongst each other they are easily able to control us. It is important therefore that after community receive the funding they take a major step back and allow us to have total control – which is the whole point of self-determination anyway.
In terms of our Federal Government, they are doing nothing. The Turnbull Government rejected one of the recommendations from the Uluru Statement from the Heart that spoke to having an Indigenous advisory board at Commonwealth. This outright rejection, after an extensive and expensive consultation process across Australia was a massive kick to the guts of our people. Pat Anderson, the co-chairwoman of the now disbanded Referendum Council, even stated "The Prime Minister has turned himself into the latest mission manager - he knows what is best for us".
While Malcolm Turnbull seems to support Indigenous people and issues, his support doesn't reach past anything that could threaten his control of Parliament, and his own career as a politician. Regrettably, I don't see much support coming from our Federal government in terms of assisting the self-determination of Indigenous people across Australia.
Some things that I believe would be beneficial to our community would be Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander only schools such as the ones in America and New Zealand for, their respective Indigenous students. They are proven to be successful in educating and assisting their young people and if implemented properly could be just as supportive within the Australian context. We already have Aboriginal community-controlled organisations which statistically have been proven to be extremely beneficial in terms of indigenous people seeking help for their mental and physical health but also allowing them to feel safe.
However these could always be improved with more funding. I also believe all state and territory governments and our Federal government need an Indigenous representative advisory board or committee to play a major role in all policies that will affect Australia First Peoples. This is because I believe having an almost all white government making decisions for the Indigenous community is ridiculous, while they can engage and support in solidarity, non-Indigenous peoples have not and cannot truly understand what we are going through.
Aboriginal self-determination is a vital foundation for moving forward and supporting reconciliation between all communities. While some support is being received from our government, greater leadership and allyship is essential to improve reconciliation, and health, education, justice and social outcomes for Australia's First Peoples efforts.
Reconciliation starts with young people - we are in a position that is uniquely different to that of our parents and grandparents. We are growing up in both the Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities and have a perspective different to that of older generations. We hold less apprehension then most and can work with the non-Indigenous people to further reconciliation between our two communities. The youth of our community benefit greatly and are able to become true individuals and leaders of the future through self-determination and the support of our Elders.
My name is Georgia Mae Capocchi-Hunter and I am a proud Wurundjeri woman of the Kulin Nation in Melbourne.
My name is Georgia Mae Capocchi-Hunter and I am a proud Wurundjeri woman of the Kulin Nation in Melbourne.
I was raised in Melbourne by my family and have always been a part of community events whether it was through my mother or something I wanted to do independently. Community and culture are two of the most important things to me and have shaped who I am as a person. I went through the Wurundjeri women's coming of age ceremony in 2015. This was a big moment for me as it made me feel more connected to my culture - something that is very important to me. I am also performing in Tanderrum - the opening of the Melbourne Festival - with the Djirri Djirri dance group, as well as the rest of the Kulin Nation.
I am passionate about equality and the rights of all people, especially youth. I am an executive member of the Koorie Youth Council and attended the Koorie Youth Summit as a delegate, I am also a part of an online Feminist Book club that is worldwide and has helped me understand the inequality women face around the world, especially women of colour.
I use writing to share my thoughts, feelings and beliefs with the world in a simple and understandable way. I also write in the hopes of educating people about the inequality faced by Indigenous people and people of colour not just in Australia but around the world.