By KIERAN FINNANE
Updated, see at bottom.
When youth worker Rainer Chlanda got the call that he would receive an NT Human Rights Award for his advocacy for young people, he was on a dirt track heading for a remote community with one of his young clients and his grandfather.
Rainer was chuffed. He told them he’d be going up to Darwin, to the Supreme Court, to get the award.
“Supreme Court, that’s bad!” exclaimed his client.
Rainer laughed but it illustrates, he says, how these young people perceive the court: “For this client the justice system represents a system that puts him in peril. That’s so for a lot of Aboriginal people, much more than it being seen as an establishment protecting their rights.”
For the client’s grandfather, the idea of the award belonged to another world: “The news didn’t mean much to him but when I told him about the $500, that hit home, a resource so scarce to him.”
In accepting the award, Rainer wants to acknowledge this grandfather and the women he has encountered more often in his work: “They are embedded so profoundly in disadvantage and struggle, but despite that they persevere, they rise above the adversity to defend the rights of children every day. They’re not on the clock and go far beyond what I’m able to do, fierce advocacy every day with the services, so children and young people can be safe, thrive, be heard, have some control in their lives, have decisions made that are in their best interest.
“They are doing the work I’m being praised for, out of love and compassion.
“Before now I’d never heard of this award. Now that I know about it, I’ll be nominating these people, because they’re infinitely worthy.”
The awards, known as The Fitzgeralds, are named after former anti-discrimination commissioner, the late Tony Fitzgerald. Rainer is one of two Central Australian individual recipients, winning the Fitzgerald Youth Award; Jodie Clarkson (left) has received the Fitzgerald Diversity Award.
Jodie has worked in the NT for over 20 years, mostly in Alice Springs, with the Desert Park and the Aboriginal Interpreter Service. Ahead of the ceremony tonight, she was thinking of her parents, grateful to them for instilling in her a deep sense of social justice. She was also thinking about “all those desert people and Top End people who have been so, so patient, guiding me in my learning journey, understanding how to live, learn and walk with them on their country.”
One of the things she is most passionate about is educational justice for first-language speaking children. Language is central to the way we learn about self and society, she says, it’s core to identity, and it’s time for the dominant culture to embrace the pedagogies that will strengthen families and communities.
“All students have the right to learn in their first language first.”
She and Rainer are on the same page in that regard. Children only being offered education that does not recognise traditional knowledge which is immense, is one of the ways their rights are continually disregarded, he says: ‘They are not given a voice, decisions so often are not made in their best interest, they are discriminated against at every turn, including being refused service because of the colour of their skin.”
In order to create real systemic change, to have a hope of overcoming incredible levels of violence, incarceration, poverty, misery, we must understand the impact of trauma experienced at a young age, he argues, as he has done before in these pages.
“Trauma affects your neuro-biology. This is hard science, you can see these effects on MRI scans, but it’s the general public who need to grasp this fact so they can support government to support therapeutic responses that promote growth and healing and that come from within the community whose struggle it is.”
There is hope for change, for instance with implementation of the recommendations of the NT Royal Commission. But for the time being the age of criminal responsibility in the NT is still 10 – “absurd”, says Rainer (right).
“I can personally attest, you can be a 12-year-old cognitively impaired child with a recognised disability making you developmentally eight years old, and with a recorded history of abuse and trauma.
“You can come before the courts because you’ve acted out, in an antisocial way, needs you can’t express in words.
“You are locked in a concrete cell, listening to the screams of other traumatised kids and looking out through the window to the adult prison, as if to say, you had better get used to looking at this.
“So much is complicated when considering what can be done for many of our social issues but it’s clear this is not an appropriate response, we have to do better than this.”
From Central Australia also, Tangentyere Women’s Family Safety Group have won The Fitzgerald Social Change Award in the organisation category. Governed and run by women residents of town camps, they work on early intervention and primary prevention of family and domestic violence. They are joint winners with the Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance of the NT.
The awards are organised by the Anti Discrimination Commission, the Darwin Community Legal Service, the Melaleuca Refugee Centre, NT Council of Social Service, and the Rotary Club of Darwin South.
Note: The writer, Kieran Finnane, is Rainer Chlanda’s mother. The Alice News editor, Erwin Chlanda, is Rainer’s father. We congratulate him, Jodie, Tangentyere Women’s Family Safety Group and all other recipients of the awards for the vital work they do.
UPDATE, 11.35 am, 13 December 2018.
Shirleen Campbell (right), co-coordinator of the Tangentyere Women’s Family Safety Group ( TWFSG), said it was an honour to be recognised for the frontline family violence work of the group.
“This award is for all the men and women we work with who are striving to change for the better not only for themselves, but for their families and their communities,” Ms Campbell said.
“The TWFSG has been promoting human rights, particularly the rights of Aboriginal women and children to be safe, visible, listened to and supported since we started in 2015.
“We continue to ask people to listen to us, stand with us and support us because we are the leaders and voices of our communities, we have the lived experience.
“This NT Human Rights Award recognises that we have the local solutions and we work every day campaigning, advocating and promoting where we say ‘enough is enough’ – No more family violence.”
The Award paid tribute to the significant work of the TWFSG in raising awareness of local action and solutions in the family violence sector.
A march organised and led by the Town Camp women in 2017 attracted over 300 supporters. The women also took their message to Canberra earlier this year, which attracted significant attention from national leaders and media.
Their latest project, Mums Can Dads Can, is having significant impact through social media, tackling rigid gender stereotypes and their role in high rates of domestic violence.
Source: Media release on behalf of Tangentyere Council.
UPDATED, 11.30 am, 13 December 2018.
Human rights, centre stage
By KIERAN FINNANE