“We have to own that risk of knowing that governments are incapable of providing the change that is necessary for us to ensure the safety of our children,” Peter Yu, an academic and former head of the Kimberley Land Council, told The Point.
Mr Yu was referring to a 10-year-old Aboriginal girl who took her life on Sunday in the small bush community of Looma in the Kimberley region of Western Australia.
He says he’s noticed the rates of suicide, crime and social disadvantage in remote Aboriginal communities have increased over the last few years.
“Since the election of the Abbott Government, it’s been the worst I’ve ever seen,” he says from Broome about 200 kilometres west of Looma.
Western Australian Child Protection Minister Helen Morton told reporters Thursday the girl’s welfare was not sufficiently ensured.
“This little girl has experienced a lot of trauma, accumulated trauma, over a number of years,” Ms Morton says. “I don’t think there’s any question whatsoever that this care wasn’t satisfactory.”
The girl, who was staying in the small bush community of Looma in the Kimberley region, was in her extended family’s care under an “informal arrangement,” she adds.
“The family had some involvement with support agencies along the way.”
The Point asked the WA Department for Child Protection what the informal arrangement was and if that was in line with protocol. It did not respond by the time of deadline.
Tjukurla: a community standing up for itself
About 1,000 kilometres south-east of Broome sits the small Aboriginal community of Tjukurla.
The desert peoples there face some of the same problems as other remote Aboriginal communities: drugs, crime and constant changes in government policy.
Ngaanyatjarra educator and linguist Elizabeth Ellis told The Point her community of Tjukurla faces an uncertain future under state government plans to close remote Aboriginal communities.
It’s that uncertainty that can lead to Aboriginal communities and families hurting themselves, she says.
“That grief is very strong and it affects people.
“For us, because we’ve got big extended families, many people have layers of grief and once you start building up those layers of grief, it’s really hard for people to become re-energised,” she says.
But, a sense of purpose for young people is vital to prevent them from turning to drugs, crime and possibly suicide.
“Getting [them] out of thinking for themselves and their pleasure and thinking for the community and contributing to the community, that’s what we want,” she says.
“The government hasn’t really helped us to achieve that.”
Australian National University linguist Dr Inge Kral works alongside Lizzie Ellis in Canberra.
“People are angry about the future. They feel like they’ve lost control,” Dr Kral says about the communities in the Ngaanyatjarra Lands.
Unpredictable state and federal government policies are adding to the confusion, she says.
“Youth programs or arts programs haven’t been funded under the [Federal Government’s] Indigenous Advancement Strategy so a lot of the functioning community organisations are now not funded and so there’s more disillusionment and despair than there ever was.”
Lizzie Ellis pointed to Tjukurla’s successful business as examples of profitable projects that provide purpose for local people.
“We have an art centre and we get money from the federal ministry, federal money, and they give us money to run our art centre and we have a private company catching camels,” Ms Ellis says.