Indigenous Law Bulletin
by Regina Anderson, Shannon Hutchinson and Travis Hornagold
A group of Indigenous community-based organisations travelled to Cairns on 25-27 October 2006 to meet with Mr Noel Pearson and to hear about his work with the Cape York Institute, Balkanu and other projects. The organisations represented included those working in areas of alcohol and drug rehabilitation, cultural heritage, capacity building, prison programs and youth and family support services.
The aim of the trip was to hear about the way in which organisations in Cape York, through the work of Mr Noel Pearson, were reshaping engagement with government, multi-corporates and national and international groups. We also wanted to hear how people in the Cape were tackling cultural maintenance and attachment to country and family whilst stepping out into the bigger world.
This was the central theme that we heard coming through in all of the discussions. It was about parents stepping up and carrying out their roles as parents; caring for and nurturing their children. The theme centred on community leaders taking a reality check in relation to their duties and commitments to their people and their communities. It focused on a realisation that the answers to the questions being raised in the Cape could not all be found in the Cape. In particular it has seen other young people similar to us being brave and making the move from their communities to other parts of Australia and the world but still carrying their culture, their people, their communities and their pride inside them, regardless of where they end up.
We picked up on the message that our grandparents and elders had it tough but they endured and survived. Racism and discrimination was more obvious in their day but they overcame much of it. But today our people seem to be losing hope and vision and the cause of this is, in Mr Pearson’s terms, ‘welfare passivity’. With welfare passivity comes a belief that there is always ‘someone else’ responsible for my problems and concerns. It’s the government; white people; the people in the next community – everyone but me.
The reference to a ‘stairway to prosperity and hope’ was made with opportunities increasing the further one progressed up the stairway. But the hardest step for our people is the first one in moving from our current position to take that first step.
One of the points that we all noted was that everyone spoke from the same vision and terms of reference at the meeting. We took this to mean that it is important that a leader’s vision and plans must be clearly communicated to the team so that everyone captures the dreams and brings them to realisation.
It was a unique opportunity to travel to Cairns and meet with an Indigenous leader who we read a lot about but have never met. It would appear that everyone who came to speak with our group was also amazed that other Indigenous people in Queensland would come to hear the Cape York team speak and to gain ideas and share experiences. We hope that there is more opportunity to do this in the future.
As young Indigenous people we have heard our parents and elders tell us what their times were like and how they were connected to culture and the bush. We are all town kids and it is hard sometimes to reconcile what we hear with what we know. But one thing we are sure of is that there is any number of threats to our way of life as we currently know it. ‘Mainstreaming’ of our services and the removal of a number of programs that we have always thought would be there is evident. It will soon be our time to make our mark as future leaders and we need to be listening and hearing from a range of people about what our future might hold and how we can take it all on board to become effective citizens of this great land.
Regina Anderson is a Gungalu woman. She is employed as a Youth Advocate, funded by the Foundation for Young Australians at Darumbal Community Youth Services Inc. She is married with a young daughter.
Shannon Hutchinson is in Year 11 and is completing a school-based traineeship at Darumbal Community Youth Services Inc. She recently received a scholarship through the Foundation for Young Australians.
Travis Hornagold is a Barada and Kabalbara young man. He is in Year 9 in Rockhampton.
 The Cape York Institute for Policy and Leadership (‘the Institute’) is ‘a partnership of the people of Cape York, the Commonwealth and Queensland Governments, and Griffith University.’ Established in 2004, the Institute ‘strives to sit at the nexus of academia, community development, and advocacy’ to ‘support the economic and social development of Cape York.’ <http://www.cyi.org.au> .
 ‘Balkanu was established in 1996 and is owned by the Cape York Aboriginal Charitable Trust, on behalf of the Aboriginal people of Cape York. Balkanu is committed to supporting Aboriginal People of Cape York through initiatives which deliver positive outcomes for the economy, society and culture of Cape York people.’ <http://www.balkanu.com.au> .