The first Indigenous COVID death reminds us of the outsized risk NSW communities face


The second wave of COVID-19 in New South Wales brings concerns about vaccination rates in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
Shutterstock

Kalinda Griffiths, UNSWOn Sunday, New South Wales saw four more deaths from COVID-19. One of them was a man from Dubbo who was in his 50s and unvaccinated. It was the first COVID-19 death of a First Nations person in Australia.

Aboriginal communities in remote areas have been pleading with the government for help with medical resourcing and food for families. It was recently found there were pleas for protection against COVID in Wilcannia, with Aboriginal health organisation Maari Ma Aboriginal Health contacting Ken Wyatt about this back in March last year.

There has been some progress in the nation’s vaccination rates with a little over 32% of the eligible population over the age of 12 now vaccinated. However, the second wave of COVID-19 in New South Wales highlights concerns for the unvaccinated and those with multiple risk factors. This includes Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

New South Wales is now in day 76 of their most recent outbreak with cases reaching over 20,000.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were identified as a priority group early in the vaccine rollout, yet they still have lower vaccination rates than the NSW population.

Almost 12% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are fully vaccinated in NSW compared to almost 30% of the non-Indigenous population.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people at risk

It’s well known Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people experience higher rates of disease than non-Indigenous people. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in New South Wales experience two or more health conditions at a rate that is over two and half times greater than non-Indigenous people.

In addition, there is increased risk of spread in families, as larger family groups often live together in regional and remote communities.

These risks, along with extreme yet ignored service gaps in regional and remote areas, mean our Indigenous community is facing severe risk of death and disease from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Children and young people under the age of 20 account for a little over 20% of Australia’s case numbers, with all children aged 12 to 15 now recommended to get the Pfizer vaccine.

Pre-existing conditions such as asthma, gastrointestinal disease, diabetes/prediabetes, as well as children who are immunocompromised and preterm, have been found to be predictors of severe COVID-19 disease.

This is of great concern to Aboriginal communities, considering Aboriginal children are up to two times more likely to be hospitalised for respiratory conditions than non-Indigenous children.




Read more:
The COVID-19 crisis in western NSW Aboriginal communities is a nightmare realised


We need better data

The gaps in COVID-19 publicly available data are concerning, especially data specific to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

There is currently no information on vaccination rates for children over the age of 12 in out-of-home care. In 2018 there were 45,800 children in out-of-home care. About 40% of these children are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander.

There is also little to no data available on the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people tested for COVID, as well as issues with the accuracy of Indigenous status in the reporting of the case numbers.

Despite the daily high case numbers, this week the New South Wales government announced restrictions in the state will be relaxed across selected local government areas for those people who are fully vaccinated.

While the risk for those people who are vaccinated is relatively low, greater activity could still increase the spread of COVID-19 across the state, putting people in Aboriginal communities at greater risk.

Knowing exactly who is vaccinated and who is at greatest risk will be of the utmost importance as restrictions start to ease.

How the public can help

The increasing case numbers and resultant lockdowns across NSW local government areas have seen Aboriginal communities having limited access to health care and basic necessities due to limitations in the supply of regional and remote supermarkets. A number of First Nations people have rallied together to support their communities.

This has included pages that have been set up for:

People can donate or contact the volunteer group to get involved.

Where to next?

As the Delta variant makes its way across Australia, all people need access to vaccines. This means increasing government resources and health system efforts in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities as well as ensuring all Indigenous people have multiple access points to the vaccines.

This could include door-to-door vaccinations in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, pop-up vaccination clinics in regional and remote local government areas as well as school-based vaccinations.

With the expected mRNA vaccine supplies to be sufficient for the entire Australian population in the coming months, the biggest next step is ensuring their distribution is prioritised to those who need it the most.

This requires moving beyond the rhetoric and supporting health services, particularly Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations, to do the work.The Conversation

Kalinda Griffiths, Scientia lecturer, UNSW

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Medical dash as COVID spreads among Indigenous people in western NSW


Michelle Grattan, University of CanberraUrgent medical resources are being dispatched to western NSW in a vaccination and support drive after the alarming spread of COVID into Aboriginal communities there.

Health Minister Greg Hunt said the first of five Australian Defence Force vaccination teams will arrive on Wednesday.

An initial Australian Medical Assistance Team (AUSMAT) – which is multidisciplinary health group – will also be sent within a couple of days. AUSMATs can help shore up local hospitals and health services where that might be needed.

COVID has now spread to areas including Bourke, Broken Hill, Brewarrina, Gilgandra, Walgett and Dubbo.

With a large Indigenous population in these areas and a low vaccination rate, COVID presents an especially serious threat. Aboriginal people are vulnerable because they often already have other health conditions.

Most of the about 117 cases in western NSW are among Indigenous people, particularly young people.

The Minister for Indigenous Australians, Ken Wyatt, said that nationally 169,000 Indigenous Australians had had their first vaccine (a rate of 30%), and 69,000 (15%) had had two doses.

The rates are much lower than for the general community, where more than a quarter of eligible Australians (26.9%) are now fully vaccinated.

Wyatt said Indigenous leaders were stepping up and “we’re seeing straight talking happening”.

He said some Indigenous people had been fearful of adverse effects of being vaccinated.

“People are now believing that it is time for them to take the proactive action. And the elders and the leaders are ensuring that the straight messages, straight talking is now part of what communities are hearing.”

Dharriwaa Elders Group at Walgett called for more resources and help in a statement last week.

“Many of our Elders and others in Walgett experience health and social issues that make them vulnerable to contracting COVID-19. The impact on our community could be devastating,” they said.

Pat Turner, CEO of the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO), said the shortage of Pfizer and people’s reluctance to have AstraZeneca had been problems in the rollout in western NSW.

“People put their back up against getting AstraZeneca,” she said. They had also thought they were a long way from Sydney, where the NSW outbreak was centred.

With the spread of the virus people were now realising they needed to be vaccinated, Turner said. But she was still “very concerned” about the situation in western NSW.

She said one of the problems Aboriginal health centres had was a shortage of staff due to state border closures, as well as nurses not coming from New Zealand.

She welcomed the dispatch of the defence and AUSMAT teams and that increased supplies of Pfizer had been prioritised as well as more testing capacity and personal protective equipment.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The COVID-19 crisis in western NSW Aboriginal communities is a nightmare realised


Bhiamie Williamson, Australian National UniversityThe afternoon of August 11 was rather exciting in my community – the tiny, remote Aboriginal township of Goodooga in north-western NSW. After months of waiting, our COVID-19 vaccination clinic was planned for the next day.

Then the news came through of a positive case in Walgett, and the vaccine clinic was cancelled. In the midst of an unrelenting COVID-19 outbreak in NSW, other Aboriginal communities like Goodooga are facing uncertain times ahead.

A clearly defined vulnerable community

From the start of the pandemic, Aboriginal people were identified as “a clearly defined vulnerable community”.

These vulnerabilities stem from both chronic health conditions suffered by Aboriginal people and under-resourced health services in regional and remote areas.

In response, the Commonwealth Department of Health listed Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Category 1B:

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults have been identified as a priority group for the COVID-19 vaccination rollout program.

Yet as far back as June, concerns were raised over low COVID-19 vaccinations.

Western NSW – a Pfizer desert?

Total Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander vaccination rates are low, but there are also concerns about pockets of poor vaccination coverage in individual communities. As Dr Jason Agostino from the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation shared with the Guardian:

Unless we’re paying attention to those small levels of geography and those individual communities, we might find islands of poor vaccination coverage that leave those communities vulnerable.

Low vaccination rates have been exacerabated by an absence of Pfizer supply to a youthful population. Aboriginal vaccine hesitancy in Western NSW is largely attributable to anxieties around AstraZeneca, something which isn’t specific to Aboriginal communities.

AstraZeneca hesitancy has been heightened by ATAGI’s recommendation that Pfizer is the preferred vaccine for those aged 12–59.

But in Brewarrina, a recent vaccination hub was organised, only for community members to find out it was only administering AstraZeneca. Instances such as this hardly alleviate anxieties, especially when the Aboriginal population is overwhelmingly young — 86% of Aboriginal people in the Brewarrina area are less than 60 years old.

Although Aboriginal people are in priority categories for access to the vaccination, in Western NSW we haven’t been given access to supplies of the Pfizer vaccine ahead of lower priority groups in Sydney. The cancellation of vaccine clinics such as Goodooga and others (Bourke also had their vaccine clinic cancelled), add to these issues.

Indigenous organisations have long identified the need to deliver culturally appropriate public health messaging, especially around vaccinations, with some developing their own communications, such as NITV’s “Keep the Mob safe from COVID-19” campaign. But this messaging has made limited headway given the mixed messaging about AstraZeneca and lack of access to Pfizer.

Lax COVID testing results in community infections

The state government was put on notice by Aboriginal justice advocates who had highlighted the vulnerabilities of Aboriginal people in custody and in prison. Factors such as over-crowded conditions which make physical distancing impossible, and incarcerated people have much higher rates of chronic health conditions.

Research from the USA has highlighted that the rates of COVID-19 infection in custodial settings are far higher than in the general population (about five times higher). Those prisoners are also more likely than the general population to die from COVID-19.

Justice advocates continue to call for more urgent and rapid testing in NSW prisons.

Brett Collins, coordinator for Justice Action stated:

The moment that the infection gets inside any of the prisons it’s really a bomb going off.




Read more:
First Nations people urgently need to get vaccinated, but are not being consulted on the rollout strategy


A nightmare realised

Then, in the first week of August, a young man in Western NSW was taken into custody over a weekend, tested for COVID-19 upon entering the prison, and then released on bail a few days later. This young man’s test was not considered urgent because he had not been to a location of concern nor a close contact of a known case.

By the time the young man’s positive test was returned, he was in his hometown of Walgett. The town was plunged into a snap lockdown, with emergency testing facilities established and urgent pleas for vaccines.

While this was happening, an outbreak was spreading in Dubbo, a large regional centre that services much of the north-west. The adjacent local government areas of Bogan, Brewarrina, Bourke, Warren, Coonamble, Gilgandra and Narromine were also placed in a snap seven-day lockdown.

According to our estimates, Aboriginal people make up 25% of the general population in the nine areas of most concern in western NSW. Of this population, 26.5% are under the age of 11, meaning they are currently unable to be vaccinated.

A further 62.4% are aged 12–59, the age group for which Pfizer is ATAGI’s preferred vaccine. Until adequate supplies of Pfizer are provided, our community is unlikely to be protected against the virus.

Fears in western-NSW continue to rise with the increased rate of positive tests in Aboriginal families with particular concern over the rate of COVID-19 infections in children.

It is also important to understand these remote townships rarely have the services and goods to sustain themselves. For example, my hometown of Goodooga is located in the Brewarrina Shire, and yet our closest store is Lightning Ridge, located in the Walgett local government area. According to the restrictions first announced by the state government, our community were initially not permitted to travel there for basic supplies.




Read more:
COVID-19 restrictions have left many Stolen Generations survivors more isolated without adequate support


Communities being left behind

As COVID-19 has spread, so has fear and anxiety. Uncle Victor Beale, a Walgett Elder speaking to ABCs Nakari Thorpe, said, “I thought Walgett was one of the safest places on earth [but now] there’s a lot of anxious people”. Another Elder, Aunty Marie Denis Kennedy, meanwhile shared her concern and anger, “There’s no sort of protection for us”.

Scott McLachlan, the chief executive of the Western NSW Local Health District, shared his concerns around these recent outbreaks:

The large proportion of the new cases, and our total cases, are Aboriginal people both in Dubbo and Walgett and many of those are children.

Meanwhile, the NSW Health Minister admitted the medical services in Walgett were not prepared for an outbreak.

There has also been anger at the confusion caused by uncoordinated and confusing messaging from the NSW government about infections and exposure sites.

Multiple, successive, and cascading policy failures

The COVID-19 response in Sydney, where the Delta outbreak originated, was late, inadequate and ineffective.

Now what we see unfolding is the result of multiple, successive and cascading policy failures:

  • failure to vaccinate Aboriginal communities, one of the highest priority groups
  • failure to safely transition inmates and detainees from correctional facilities to their home communities
  • failure to plan for and create a surge capacity within local medical services
  • failure to plan for a COVID outbreak in regional and remote areas, where Sydney’s rules (such as not leaving your local government area) are ineffective in a vast landscape with interwoven communities that depend on one another.

Sensible strategies with achievable milestones that have long been advocated for – such as securing temporary accommodation for inmates and detainees transitioning from correctional facilities – could have protected our communities.

Now, the responsibility to make our communities safe is falling on our own organisations. Often under-resourced and under-staffed despite calls for extra support from the government, these community organisations work tirelessly, often without due recognition or appropriate pay.

Though this work may seem invisible to outsiders and government alike, we see it and we thank you.

Back in Goodooga, families hide in their homes, hoping to ride out this outbreak. But there is a feeling also of being forgotten. In this extraordinary and scary time, all we seem to have is each other, and our families in the city who worry for us.The Conversation

Bhiamie Williamson, Research Associate & PhD Candidate, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

First Nations people urgently need to get vaccinated, but are not being consulted on the rollout strategy


A senior Aboriginal man is being vaccinated against COVID-19.
PR Handout Image/AAP

Kalinda Griffiths, UNSWThis year, just five cases of COVID-19 have been recorded among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australia. This good result is due to both significant government support measures and prompt and effective action by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders and organisations.

As the highly contagious Delta variant spreads in Australia, the task of ensuring all Australians are vaccinated becomes even more urgent. But since the vaccine rollout began in late February, only about 9% of Australians have been fully vaccinated.

The Delta variant is a particular concern for higher-risk populations, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. Vaccinations of First Nations people must be carried out more quickly.

And in light of the elite Sydney private school erroneously giving all Year 12 students vaccines that were intended only for First Nations students, there’s also a need for stricter guidelines and better oversight.

When questioned about the mistake this week, NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard demanded that critics “move on”. But authorities should not dismiss public concern that vaccines are not being distributed to those who need them most.

To ensure this, the vaccination rollout for First Nations people needs to involve Aboriginal community-controlled health organisations in the planning and implementation. We have already seen that when community-controlled organisations take control, vaccine delivery is successful and communities feel safer.




Read more:
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How many First Nations people have been vaccinated

Vaccine supply is a concern across the country, but the issue is most urgent at the moment in New South Wales, where a third of all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people live, and where case numbers are growing.

Australia is now predominantly reliant on the 300,000 to 350,000 Pfizer vaccines coming into the country each week. Thankfully, this number is due to increase substantially in coming months.

In March, a vaccine implementation plan for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples was published by the federal health department. The publication iterated the urgent need for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to be a high priority in the rollout.

First Nations people over the age of 55 have been able to get vaccinated since March. It’s also been a little over a month since Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged between 16 to 49 years have been eligible for COVID-19 vaccines.

However, there is currently limited publicly available data on just how many vaccines have actually been distributed to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people so far.

Western Australia had completely vaccinated just over 2% of its Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population as of June 21.

In Queensland, about 5,277 total vaccines have been distributed in the Torres Strait and Cape York, where just under two-thirds of the population is Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander.

In the Northern Territory, 17% of the total population was fully vaccinated as of July 7. In remote areas, 26% of residents had received their first dose at the start of the month.

This is good news for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the territory, who make up just under a third of the total population.

Community-controlled organisations addressing vaccine hesitancy

While the media has reported on vaccine hesitancy in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, there is anecdotal evidence that hesitancy is actually decreasing and that remote community clinics are vaccinating many First Nations people.

This includes the Mala’la clinic at Maningrida in Arnhem Land where media reports say 50 people were vaccinated across three days in July. The clinic became community-run in March of this year after 45 years of government oversight.

This success highlights the importance of having Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations involved in the rollout. This involves recognising that self-determination, as well as health information being delivered in first languages, results in improved uptake of services and better health outcomes.

For example, in Pitjantjatjara, community worker Frank Dixon provided the men of his community with information about the vaccine and accompanied them to their vaccinations. Mala’la Health Service’s chairman, Charlie Gunabarra, has also delivered information about the vaccine to his community and was the first among them to get vaccinated.




Read more:
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Despite this, there is evidence First Nations people are not being sufficiently included in planning and implementation of the rollout.

For example, a meeting of the national COVID vaccine taskforce last week excluded the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation. The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Advisory Group on COVID-19 was also excluded from the discussion.

Pat Turner, the head of the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation, said the lack of First Nations inclusion was “deeply concerning”.

The vaccine rollout must be managed so First Nations people and other vulnerable groups are prioritised. This means securing better vaccine supplies and putting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people at the heart of decision-making.The Conversation

Kalinda Griffiths, Scientia lecturer, UNSW

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

New coins celebrate Indigenous astronomy, the stars, and the dark spaces between them



The Seven Sisters Uncirculated Coin.
Royal Australian Mint

Duane W. Hamacher, University of Melbourne

Two new coins have been released by the Royal Australian Mint to celebrate the astronomical knowledge and traditions of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. They feature artworks from Wiradjuri (NSW) and Yamaji (WA) artists that represent two of the most famous features in Aboriginal astronomy: the great Emu in the Sky and the Seven Sisters.

Both celestial features are found in the astronomical traditions of many Aboriginal cultures across Australia. They are seen in similar ways and have similar meanings between cultures on opposite sides of the continent and are observed to note the changing seasons and the behaviours of plants and animals and inform Law.

The project has been three years in the making, with the third and final coin in the series to be released in mid-2021.




Read more:
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Gugurmin – The Emu in the Sky

The Wiradjuri of central New South Wales are the largest Aboriginal language group in the state and one of the largest in the country. Wiradjuri astronomical knowledge is rich and complex, linking the land and people to the cosmos (Wantanggangura). Traditional star knowledge features bright constellations of stars, as well as constellations comprising the spaces between the stars.

One of the many “dark constellations” is that of the celestial emu, called Gugurmin. The emu is a silhouette of the dark spaces stretching from the Southern Cross to Sagittarius in the backdrop of the Milky Way. The galaxy itself is a river called Gular (or Gilaa), which is also the Wiradjuri name of the Lachlan River.

Two decorative coins with Indigenous designs.
Two new uncirculated silver $1 coins commemorate Indigenous astronomy.
Royal Australian Mint



Read more:
Stories from the sky: astronomy in Indigenous knowledge


Wiradjuri watch when Gugurmin rises in the sky after sunset as a signal marking the emu’s behaviour patterns and changing seasons. When it rises at dusk in April and May, it signals the start of the emu breeding season, when the birds begin mating and nesting. By June and July, the male emus are sitting in the nest, incubating the eggs. In August and September, the chicks begin hatching.

The Emu in the Sky coin features the work of Wiradjuri artist Scott “Sauce” Towney from Peak Hill, NSW. Sauce specialises in drawing and pyrography (wood burning) and was a finalist in the NSW Premier’s Indigenous Art Awards. The edge of the coin shows a male emu sitting on the eggs during the months of June and July when his celestial counterpart is stretched across the sky. It also shows men dancing in a ceremony, which takes place in August and September.

Gugurmin was one of the artworks Sauce created for a project entitled Wiradjuri Murriyang (“Wiradjuri Sky World”). This featured 13 traditional constellations for use in local school education programs, as well as public outreach. His art was incorporated into the Stellarium planetarium software, enabling users around the world to see the movements of the stars from a Wiradjuri perspective.

Sauce’s work was incorporated into the Australian National Curriculum for the Year 7/8 module on digital technology and managing Indigenous astronomical knowledge.




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Nyarluwarri – The Seven Sisters

The artwork featured on the Seven Sisters coin is from Wajarri-Noongar artist Christine “Jugarnu” Collard of Yamaji Art. Christine was born and raised in Mullewa, Western Australia and paints under the name Jugarnu meaning “old woman” in the Wajarri language. The name was given to Christine by her now deceased Grandfather.

The Yamaji people of the Murchison region in Western Australia refer to the Pleiades star cluster as Nyarluwarri in the Wajarri language, representing seven sisters. When Nyarluwarri sits low on the horizon at sunset in April, the people know that emu eggs are ready for harvesting.

Seven Sisters painting by Christine Jugarnu Collard and the Pleiades star cluster.
Christine Collard, Yamaji Art

The story of the Seven Sisters tells of them fleeing to the sky to escape the advances of a man who wants to take one of the sisters as his wife. The man chases the sisters as they move from east to west each night, which appear to the northeast at dusk in November and set by April.

At the same time Nyarluwarri sets after the Sun in the west, the celestial emu (which is also featured in Yamaji traditions) rises in the southeast. Both serve as important seasonal markers.

The Seven Sisters and the Emu in the Sky were major themes in the Ilgarijiri – Things Belonging to the Sky art exhibition. This project saw radio astronomers and Yamaji artists come together to share knowledge under the stars at the site of the new Square Kilometre Array (SKA) telescope.




Read more:
Indigenous culture and astrophysics: a path to reconciliation


The Conversation


Duane W. Hamacher, Associate Professor, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Explainer: what is decolonisation?


Mary Frances O’Dowd, CQUniversity Australia and Robyn Heckenberg, Curtin University

Colonisation is invasion: a group of people taking over the land and imposing their own culture on Indigenous people.

Modern colonisation dates back to the Age of Discovery in the 15th century, as European nations sought to expand their influence and wealth. In the process, representatives of these countries claimed the land, ignoring the Indigenous people and erasing Indigenous sovereignty.

Laws and policing were significant tools of dispossession and oppression. Indigenous people were brutalised, exploited and often positioned as subhuman. As Jean-Paul Sartre described colonisation:

[…] you begin by occupying the country, then you take the land and exploit the former owners at starvation rates […] you finish up taking from the natives their very right to work.

Colonisation is more than physical. It is also cultural and psychological in determining whose knowledge is privileged. In this, colonisation not only impacts the first generation colonised but creates enduring issues.

Decolonisation seeks to reverse and remedy this through direct action and listening to the voices of First Nations people.

Seeking independence

The word “decolonisation” was first coined by the German economist Moritz Julius Bonn in the 1930s to describe former colonies that achieved self-governance.

Many struggles for independence were armed and bloody. The Algerian War of Independence (1954- 1962) against the French was particularly brutal.




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Other struggles involved political negotiations and passive resistance.

While the exiting of the British from India in 1947 is largely remembered as nonviolent resistance under Gandhi’s pacifist ethic, the campaign started in 1857 and was not without bloodshed.

The quest for independence is rarely peaceful.

Justice

Decolonisation is now used to talk about restorative justice through cultural, psychological and economic freedom.

In most countries where colonisers remain, Indigenous people still don’t hold significant positions of power or self-determination. These nations are termed “settler-colonial” countries – a term made popular in the 1990s by academic Patrick Wolfe, who said “invasion is a structure not an event”.

The activist group Decolonize this Place protesting in New York City, January 31,2020.
shutterstock.com

Another word that is useful in understanding decolonisation is “neocolonial”. It was coined by Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana’s first president, in the early 1960s to refer to the continuity of the former coloniser’s power through economic, political, educational and other informal means.

In these neocolonial or settler-colonial countries, advocacy for the rights of Indigenous people is not always matched by action. The voices of Indigenous people for treaty and truth in culture, politics, law and education resound while practice lags.




Read more:
It will take critical, thorough scrutiny to truly decolonise knowledge


True decolonisation seeks to challenge and change White superiority, nationalistic history and “truth”.

The Rights of Indigenous people was adopted by the United Nations in 2007. It says:

Indigenous peoples have the right to self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.

It lists several important rights in the process of decolonisation, including:

  • the right to autonomy and self-government, including financing for these autonomous functions
  • freedom from forced removal of children
  • protection of archaeological and historical sites, and repatriation of ceremonial objects and human remains
  • the right to provide education in their own language
  • state-owned media should reflect Indigenous cultural diversity
  • legal recognition of traditional lands, territories and resources.



Read more:
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Ways to support decolonisation

Decolonisation must involve challenging both conscious and subconscious racism. Non-Indigenous people in settler-colonial societies can start by asking:

  • whose Country do I live on – what nation?
  • if my land was stolen, my culture and sovereignty denied, what rights would I want, need and expect?
  • who on Country must I listen to and work with?

To engage with decolonisation you can:

  • value Indigenous knowledge and scholarship. In Australia, this can mean listening to Indigenous people on their knowledge about bushfire management
  • encourage and insist on teaching about Indigenous people and cultures in schools
  • support restitution efforts, such as programs which are revitalising Indigenous languages
  • call on institutions – including across education, the arts, media and politics – to hire Indigenous people throughout the organisation and in positions of leadership
  • look for ways people in your workplace might face discrimination and unconscious bias, and speak up against these structures
  • fight for justice arising from Indigenous guidance, by walking alongside Indigenous people at rallies and placing their voices front-and-centre at events.



Read more:
Explainer: what is systemic racism and institutional racism?


Racism injures, chokes and kills unless challenged.

Racist structures make the victim the problem.

We might kneel to remember those murdered. But we need to call on institutions to enact required reforms for decolonisation. We need to support people in organisations who speak out against racism. We need to question whether colonisation taught us to stand, in institutional uniforms of the mind, and passively watch the choking.The Conversation

Mary Frances O’Dowd, Independent Scholar, Ethical Citizenship & Racism Studies, CQUniversity Australia and Robyn Heckenberg, Dean Learning and Teaching Centre for Aboriginal Studies, Curtin University., Curtin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Despite 432 Indigenous deaths in custody since 1991, no one has ever been convicted. Racist silence and complicity are to blame



JAMES GOURLEY/AAP

Alison Whittaker, University of Technology Sydney

You probably know the details of the death of George Floyd. He was a doting father and musician. He was killed when a police officer, Derek Chauvin, knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes while he cried out “I can’t breathe!”

Chauvin has been charged with third-degree murder and there is speculation other officers involved will be charged soon.

Do you know about David Dungay Jr? He was a Dunghutti man, an uncle. He had a talent for poetry that made his family endlessly proud. He was held down by six corrections officers in a prone position until he died and twice injected with sedatives because he ate rice crackers in his cell.

Dungay’s last words were also “I can’t breathe”.

An officer replied “If you can talk, you can breathe”.




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‘I can’t breathe!’ Australia must look in the mirror to see our own deaths in custody


At the end of a long inquest that stretched to almost four years, the coroner declined to refer the officers involved in Dungay’s death to prosecutors (who might consider charges) or to disciplinary bodies.

Paul Silva, Dungay’s nephew and among the his most powerful advocates for justice, said as he was leaving court,

What am I meant to do now? Go home, look at the ground. Tell my Uncle? — Sorry, Unc, there’s no justice here!‘

This week, he told the Guardian:

When I heard [George Floyd] say ‘I can’t breathe’ for the first time I had to stop … My solidarity is with them because I do know the pain they are feeling. And as for the Aboriginal deaths in our backyard … it’s not in the public as much as it should be.

Leetona Dungay has pursued a very public campaign for justice in the death of her son.
Brendan Esposito/AAP

A perception Indigenous deaths in custody are expected

Many people on this continent know more about police and prison violence in the US, another settler colony, than the same violence that happens here. Both are deserving of our attention and action, so what’s behind the curious silence on First Nations deaths in custody in Australia?

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have raised this concern long before today in the media and social media.

Why do we have to? The reasons are complex, but boil down to a system of complicity and perceived normality in Indigenous deaths at the hands of police and prisons. The settler Australian public simply does not see Indigenous deaths in custody as an act of violence, but as a co-morbidity.

Amanda Porter, an Indigenous scholar of policing and criminal justice, wrote about media coverage of Indigenous deaths in custody in Australia compared with the US.

She noted differences in the way the media covered the police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, with the killing of Mulrunji Doomagee on Palm Island:

The choice of language is important: it evokes a certain response in the reader and shapes our understandings of events. In the case of Palm Island, the often-repeated meta-narrative of so-called ‘dysfunctional’ and ‘lawless’ Aboriginal communities served to justify further acts of colonial violence.

A protest against the police shooting of Michael Brown in Missouri in 2014.
Larry W. Smith/EPA

Why the silence?

Since 1991, some 432 Indigenous people (and possibly more) have died in custody.

In my 2018 pilot study on a sample of 134 Indigenous deaths in custody since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, I found coroners considered referring just 11 deaths to prosecutors and only ended up referring five. Of those, only two made it to court and both resulted in quashed indictments or acquittals.

These are monumental figures. They are also stories of deep systemic complicity, both before and after death. And they are full lives, with loved ones who mourn and fight for them.

Aunty Tanya Day, for instance, campaigned for justice for her uncle who died in custody and later died in custody herself.

The scale of devastation is unthinkable – and violent, and racist.

What makes Australian silence about deaths in custody so especially bizarre is that, unlike the US, we have a mandatory legal review of every death in custody or police presence. Each case, regardless of its circumstances, goes before a judge called a coroner.




Read more:
Scales of justice still tipped towards police who harm people in their custody


Just as public political will is always changing, so is law and legal strategy. Compared to the campaigns for justice for black people killed by police in the US, which have made relative gains, many families here are working in a complex space of honouring their loved ones, proper cultural protocols around death and the dead, and securing CCTV footage to mobilise the public for justice.

Coroners have offered mixed responses, and each state and territory’s coroner approaches the question in a slightly different way.

After the death of Ms Dhu, a Yamatji woman, in police custody in Western Australia in 2014, persistent advocacy from the families and media organisations prompted the coroner to release footage of her treatment before her death. Coroner Ros Fogliani did so

in order to assist with the fair and accurate reporting of my findings on inquest.

However, last year, NSW deputy coroner Derek Lee initially declined to release footage showing the circumstances of Dungay’s death, citing cultural respect, sensitivity for his family and secrecy over prison procedures.

Members of Dungay’s family, who had applied to have it released, responded with exasperation. It was eventually shown on the opening day of the inquest, although the fuller footage requested by the family remains suppressed from public view.

Other ways families are silenced

There are other transparency issues that give a legal structure to silence about Indigenous deaths in custody. Recently, there appears to be a new push in non-publication or suppression orders being sought by state parties in coroners courts.

In Dungay’s inquest, for instance, the media was ordered not to publish the names, addresses or any other identifying features (including photographs) of 21 NSW corrections staff members.

There have been other suppression orders in deaths in custody matters before criminal courts, such as the identity of the officer facing a murder charge in the death of Yamatji woman Joyce Clarke in Western Australia last year.




Read more:
FactCheck Q&A: are Indigenous Australians the most incarcerated people on Earth?


Officers in South Australia are also going to some strategic effort to avoid testifying before the inquest into the death of Wayne Fella Morrison, a Wiradjuri, Kookatha and Wirangu man, or even speak with investigators on the grounds of penalty privilege.

So far, they have not been successful in claiming the blanket privilege, despite taking the matter to the SA Supreme Court.

Morrison’s sibling Latoya Rule has written:

investigations surrounding the cause of death in prisons can have a great impact for our grieving families to at least get an account of what happened to our loved ones in the absence of our care. It can also raise the spotlight on the behaviours of correctional and police officers – like those that piled atop of my brother’s body.

Outside of coroners courts, there is the threat of subjudice contempt, when media coverage may pose a prejudicial threat to a potential trial.

This carries a risk for families who speak out about their loved one’s deaths in a way that even implies something happened or someone did something. Subjudice contempt poses liability to them personally when they speak out, but also could jeopardise their push for justice.

This puts First Nations peoples at the mercy of what can be raised before a jury, judge or coroner. With lengthy procedural delays, this can also mean a case is hard to talk about publicly for years.

This is problematic given that timely publicity about deaths in custody is what drives attention. Taleah Reynolds, the sister of Nathan Reynolds, who died in custody in NSW in 2018, said,

We’re coming up to a year since he died and we still don’t know anything more.

I feel like they don’t have any remorse; they hide behind the system. No one’s held accountable, that’s the most frustrating part.

Combined with plaintiff-friendly defamation laws, media ignorance and racist editorial decisions, and a lack of institutional support for Indigenous journalism, this contributes to some of the hedging language we see around police brutality in Australia, like someone “appearing” to do something captured on video.

All of this leaves our public discourse full of blak bodies but curiously empty of people who put them there.

A Melbourne protest seeking justice in the death of a 19-year-old NT man shot by police.
David Crosling/AAP

The power of public campaigning

Prosecution or referral seems to come only from cases where First Nations families have strong public advocacy and community groundswells behind them and strategic litigation resources (not just inquest legal aid).

As the late Wangerriburra and Birri Gubba leader Sam Watson said of the campaign for justice for the death of Mulrunji Doomagee on Palm Island:

Unfortunately, the government had to be dragged to this point screaming and kicking every inch of the way. Every time there’s been a breakdown in the procedure, the family and community on Palm Island are being subjected to more trauma, drama and unnecessary grandstanding by politicians.

Right now, three deaths are either before prosecutors or in their early stages of prosecution. All have been part of growing, public campaigns driven by their families and communities — although many others, like Dungay’s family, have done the same and still been faced with institutional complicity.

Clearly, there is much legal structure that supports this silence, but the basis of the silence itself is colonisation and white supremacy. As Amy McQuire writes:

Their wounds also testify to this violence. But while this footage has been important for mobilising Aboriginal people, non-Indigenous Australia is still complacent and apathetic.

They are not ‘outraged’ because they are not ‘shocked’. There is nothing shocking about racist violence perpetrated by police, because it is normalised.

When we do hear about the Indigenous lives lost in custody, it is undoubtedly because of the persistence, expertise and courage of their families and communities who mourn them. But it is not enough to hear about justice, justice must be done.The Conversation

Alison Whittaker, Research Fellow, University of Technology Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

For First Nations people, coronavirus has meant fewer services, separated families and over-policing: new report



MICK TSIKAS/AAP

Lorana Bartels, Australian National University and Thalia Anthony, University of Technology Sydney

Yesterday was National Sorry Day in Australia. It marks the anniversary of the tabling of the Bringing Them Home report, which chronicles decades of removals of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families.

Sorry Day also acknowledges the strength of the Stolen Generations survivors and reflects on the role everyone can play in healing our country.

Yesterday was also the third anniversary of the release of the Uluru Statement from the Heart, which poignantly notes:

Proportionally, we are the most incarcerated people on the planet. We are not an innately criminal people. Our children are aliened from their families at unprecedented rates. This cannot be because we have no love for them. And our youth languish in detention in obscene numbers. They should be our hope for the future.

And this week is National Reconciliation Week, which represents a time for all Australians to learn about our shared histories, cultures and achievements. The theme this year is “In This Together”.




Read more:
Why self-determination is vital for Indigenous communities to beat coronavirus


Findings of a new report

However, a new report released today makes clear the treatment of First Australians during the COVID-19 outbreak is not the same as for non-Indigenous Australians.

The report by Change the Record, the First Peoples-led justice coalition of peak bodies and allies, highlights numerous ways Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have been disproportionately affected by the more punitive and restrictive policy responses to the pandemic.

Among the findings were:

  • First Nations people have experienced an increased use of lockdowns in prisons and have had reduced access to lawyers and visits from families

  • some prisons have required people in prison “to pay exorbitant fees to call loved ones”

  • victim-survivors of family violence have been unable to access police protection and support services due to staffing shortages (a particular concern because there is evidence such violence is increasing)

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander legal services have reported “substantial challenges” in working with their clients and are concerned about a spike in legal demand as soon as restrictions are lifted

  • the closures of residential drug and alcohol facilities have led to people being sent home, leaving some people without alternative and safe living arrangements

  • First Nations parents have had access to their children in out-of-home care restricted, causing “distress and anxiety in a time of heightened stress for everyone”

  • there has been over-policing of First Nations people for offences such as public nuisance, public drunkenness, fare evasion and failure to comply with move on orders. There have been high numbers of fines issued in small towns with high First Nations populations and low levels of COVID-19.

Governments’ COVID-19 prison policies have been inadequate

As we have argued in open letters to governments and elsewhere, the risk of transmission of COVID-19 in prisons has been a concern requiring immediate action across the country.

First Nations people are particularly at risk of infection, due to:

Accordingly, we have called on governments to release some prisoners early, including First Nations people.

The government response to prevent the spread of coronavirus in prisons has included restrictions on visitors (especially family members), enforced isolation and lockdowns of people.

These circumstances have created unrest in prisons and likely contributed to three recent deaths in Queensland prisons.




Read more:
FactCheck Q&A: are Indigenous Australians the most incarcerated people on Earth?


The Change the Record report chronicles the despair of First Nations people in prisons and their lack of access to services and support.

An Aboriginal man, Daniel, has been remanded in prison in Tasmania since early 2020. … Daniel is not allowed any visits with his family or his lawyer because of COVID-19 restrictions. He reports feeling lost in the legal proceedings because he cannot have a decent chat with his lawyer about the matters and get advice.

The report makes recommendations for people in prisons, including:

  • the release of First Nations people in prisons who are low-risk, on remand, elderly or at increased risk of COVID-19, as well as children and those with chronic health conditions

  • protecting the human rights of First Nations people in prison, by ensuring access to oversight and monitoring agencies, family, legal services, mental health care, education and programs

The impact of COVID-19 restrictions on children

Some of the invisible victims in the pandemic are the children of prisoners. Imprisonment disrupts family life, especially in cases when a First Nations mother or primary caregiver is incarcerated.

Because physical visits have been suspended, children’s access to their imprisoned parents has been even more constrained.




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Friday essay: voices from the bush – how lockdown affects remote Indigenous communities differently


This has life-long and intergenerational effects on individuals and communities. It can also lead to the permanent placement of children in state care.

The Change the Record report also notes how First Nations parents are unable to visit with their children in out-of-home care.

Julia had been having multiple face-to-face visits with her child every week. Due to COVID-19, Julia’s contact with her daughter has been reduced to one phone/video call a week. … When children cannot engage in this mode of communication, for some parents contact with their children has stopped all together.

The report makes recommendations for policies affecting children during the pandemic, including:

  • increasing support and access to safe accommodation for First Nations families fleeing family violence to stop further removals of children

  • implement legislative changes to ensure parents of First Nations children in out-of-home care don’t lose their children to permanent care during COVID-19.

The report also calls for:

  • rebuilding our justice system after COVID-19 to focus on investing in community, not prisons, to increase community safety and prevent black deaths in custody.

No return to status quo

We endorse these recommendations, especially the final call to rebuild our justice system. As we emerge from the immediate threat of the pandemic, it is vital that we not return to the status quo.

More than two years ago, the Australian Law Reform Commission’s Pathways to Justice report was tabled in parliament. It outlined a comprehensive blueprint for reducing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander over-incarceration.

The Australian government is yet to respond.

If Reconciliation Week is to be meaningful, governments must take action to heal, rather than jail, First Nations people. In the current circumstances, this includes acting on Change the Record’s recommendations.The Conversation

Lorana Bartels, Professor and Program Leader of Criminology, Australian National University and Thalia Anthony, Professor of Law, University of Technology Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Urban Aboriginal people face unique challenges in the fight against coronavirus



Shutterstock

Fiona Stanley, Telethon Kids Institute; Daniel McAullay, Edith Cowan University, and Sandra Eades, Curtin University

There seems to be a myth in Australia that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people mostly live in remote communities. But the vast majority (79%) live in urban areas.

The federal government has rightly decided the best policy to protect Indigenous people from COVID-19 is to socially isolate remote communities.

Now the government needs to turn its attention to the risks Indigenous people face in urban and rural areas.




Read more:
Coronavirus will devastate Aboriginal communities if we don’t act now


Greater risk of harm

So far SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, has infected more than 6,600 Australians and killed 75 people. The elderly and those with underlying conditions are most at risk of severe illness and dying from the virus.

Chronic diseases such as respiratory diseases (including asthma), heart and circulatory diseases, high blood pressure, diabetes, kidney diseases and some cancers are more common in Indigenous people, and tend to occur at younger ages, than in non-Indigenous people.

These diseases, and the living conditions that contribute to them (such as poor nutrition, poor hygiene and lifestyle factors such as smoking), dramatically increase Indigenous people’s risk of being infected with coronavirus and for having more severe symptoms.

So Elders and those with chronic disease are vulnerable at any age.

We know from past pandemics, such as swine flu (H1N1), Indigenous Australians are more likely to become infected with respiratory viruses, and have more serious disease when they do.




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Coronavirus: what the 2009 swine flu pandemic can tell us about the weeks to come


So far, there have been 44 cases of coronavirus among Indigenous people, mostly in our major cities. We’re likely to see more in coming months.

This suggests the decision to close remote communities has been successful so far. But we also need to now focus on urban centres to prevent and manage further cases.

Current Australian government advice is for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people 50 years and over with existing health conditions to self-isolate. General government health advice tells all Australians to maintain good hygiene and seek health care when needed.

But this advice is easier said than done for many urban Indigenous people.

So what unique family and cultural needs and circumstances so we need to consider to reduce their risk of coronavirus?

Large households

Many urban Indigenous households have large groups of people living together. So overcrowding and inadequate accommodation poses a risk to their health and well-being.

This is particularly the case when it comes to infectious diseases, which thrive when too many people live together with poor hygiene (when it’s difficult for personal cleanliness, to keep clean spaces, wash clothes and cook healthy meals) and when people sleep in close contact.

Crowded accommodation also means increased exposure to passive smoking and other shared risky lifestyles.




Read more:
Fix housing and you’ll reduce risks of coronavirus and other disease in remote Indigenous communities


Households are also more likely to be intergenerational, with many children and young people living with older parents and grandparents. This potentially increases the chances of the coronavirus spreading among and between households, infecting vulnerable older members.

Immediate solutions to prevent infection are, with guidance from Aboriginal organisations, to house people in these situations in safe emergency accommodation. But it is also an opportunity to work with Aboriginal organisations in the longer term to improve access to better housing to improve general health and well-being.

Most Indigenous people live in our cities, not in remote Australia.
Shutterstock

Poor health literacy

Indigenous Australians don’t always have access to good information about the coronavirus in formats that are easily understood and culturally appropriate.

The National Indigenous Australians Agency (a federal government agency) has developed some excellent videos in languages and in Aboriginal English, using respected First Nations leaders, as have others in Western Australia.

The challenge is to get these distributed in urban centres urgently. These health messages should also be distributed in Aboriginal Medical Services waiting rooms and on Indigenous television and radio.




Read more:
Coronavirus: as culture moves online, regional organisations need help bridging the digital divide


Inadequate access to soap and vaccines

Poverty will limit some families’ ability to buy hand sanitiser, face masks, disinfectant and soap.

Although there are provisions for Indigenous Australians to receive free vaccines against the flu and pneumococcal disease to protect against lung disease, not all age groups are covered.

Scepticism of mainstream health services

Due to policies and racism that have marginalised Indigenous people, many do not use health and other services.

This is why Aboriginal Controlled Health Services are so important and successful in providing culturally sensitive and appropriate care.

However, there is concern these health services are not adequately funded or prepared to manage a coronavirus pandemic in urban centres.

They need more personal protective equipment (including masks). They also need more Aboriginal health workers, community nurses and others for testing and contact tracing.

Not everyone can afford to buy soap and hand sanitiser to limit the spread of the virus.
Shutterstock

What do governments need to do?

Some regions’ responses have been better than others.

In Western Australia, the urban-based Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services (ACCHS) are working with key state government departments to coordinate the COVID-19 response. This includes guidance about how best to prevent and manage cases.

In Southeast Queensland, the Institute for Urban Indigenous Health, which manages 21 ACCHS, is coordinating health and social government services.

It’s time for other governments to set up collaborative arrangements with ACCHS and other Aboriginal controlled service organisations in urban centres to better manage the COVID-19 pandemic.

This should include more staff to:

  • provide care
  • help people self-isolate
  • explain and embed the digital COVID-19 media messages about hand washing, use of sanitisers and social distancing
  • enable accommodation that is acceptable and safe, especially for Elders and homeless people.

These services should also provide free flu and pneumococcal vaccinations.

Getting Indigenous health experts to lead this defence is clearly the way to go. We must listen and respond to these leaders to implement effective strategies immediately. If ever there was an opportunity to demonstrate that giving Indigenous people a voice to manage their own futures is effective, it is this.

Our hope is that, after this pandemic, the value of Aboriginal control will be recognised as the best way to improve Aboriginal health and well-being.




Read more:
The answer to Indigenous vulnerability to coronavirus: a more equitable public health agenda


This article was co-authored by Adrian Carson, Institute for Urban Indigenous Health; Donisha Duff, Institute for Urban Indigenous Health; Francine Eades, Derbarl Yerrigan Health Service; and Lesley Nelson, South West Aboriginal Medical Service.The Conversation

Fiona Stanley, Perinatal and pediatric epidemiologist; distinguished professorial fellow, Telethon Kids Institute; Daniel McAullay, Associate Professor, Edith Cowan University, and Sandra Eades, Dean, Medical School, Curtin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Fix housing and you’ll reduce risks of coronavirus and other disease in remote Indigenous communities


Nina Lansbury Hall, The University of Queensland; Andrew Redmond, The University of Queensland; Paul Memmott, The University of Queensland, and Samuel Barnes, The University of Queensland

Remote Indigenous communities have taken swift and effective action to quarantine residents against the risks of COVID-19. Under a plan developed by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Advisory Group, entry to communities is restricted to essential visitors only. This is important, because crowded and malfunctioning housing in remote Indigenous communities heightens the risk of COVID-19 transmission. High rates of chronic disease mean COVID-19 outbreaks in Indigenous communities may cause high death rates.

The “old story” of housing, crowding and health continues to be overlooked. A partnership between the University of Queensland and Anyinginyi Health Aboriginal Corporation, in the Northern Territory’s (NT) Tennant Creek and Barkly region, re-opens this story. A new report from our work together is titled in Warumungu language as Piliyi Papulu Purrukaj-ji – “Good Housing to Prevent Sickness”. It reveals the simplicity of the solution: new housing and budgets for repairs and maintenance can improve human health.




Read more:
Coronavirus will devastate Aboriginal communities if we don’t act now


Infection risks rise in crowded housing

Rates of crowded households are much higher in remote communities (34%) than in urban areas (8%). Our research in the Barkly region, 500km north of Alice Springs, found up to 22 residents in some three-bedroom houses. In one crowded house, a kidney dialysis patient and seven family members had slept in the yard for over a year in order to access clinical care.

Many Indigenous Australians lease social housing because of barriers to individual land ownership in remote Australia. Repairs and maintenance are more expensive in remote areas and our research found waiting periods are long. One resident told us:

Houses [are] inspected two times a year by Department of Housing, but no repairs or maintenance. They inspect and write down faults but don’t fix. They say people will return, but it doesn’t happen.

Better ‘health hardware’ can prevent infections

The growing populations in communities are not matched by increased housing. Crowding is the inevitable result.

Crowded households place extra pressure on “health hardware”, the infrastructure that enables washing of bodies and clothing and other hygiene practices.




Read more:
Homelessness and overcrowding expose us all to coronavirus. Here’s what we can do to stop the spread


We interviewed residents who told us they lacked functioning bathrooms and washing machines and that toilets were blocked. One resident said:

Scabies has come up a lot this year because of lack of water. We’ve been running out of water in the tanks. There’s no electric pump … [so] we are bathing less …

[Also] sewerage is a problem at this house. It’s blocked … The toilet bubbles up and the water goes black and leaks out. We try to keep the kids away.

A lack of health hardware increases the transmission risk of preventable, hygiene-related infectious diseases like COVID-19. Anyinginyi clinicians report skin infections are more common than in urban areas, respiratory infections affect whole families in crowded houses, and they see daily cases of eye infections.

Data that we accessed from the clinic confirmed this situation. The highest infection diagnoses were skin infections (including boils, scabies and school sores), respiratory infections, and ear, nose and throat infections (especially middle ear infection).

These infections can have long-term consequences. Repeated skin sores and throat infections from Group A streptococcal bacteria can contribute to chronic life-threatening conditions such as kidney disease and rheumatic heart disease (RHD). Indigenous NT residents have among the highest rates of RHD in the world, and
Indigenous children in Central Australia have the highest rates of post-infection kidney disease (APSGN).




Read more:
The answer to Indigenous vulnerability to coronavirus: a more equitable public health agenda


Reviving a vision of healthy housing and people

Crowded and unrepaired housing persists, despite the National Indigenous Reform Agreement stating over ten years ago: “Children need to live in accommodation with adequate infrastructure conducive to good hygiene … and free of overcrowding.”

Indigenous housing programs, such as the National Partnership Agreement for Remote Indigenous Housing, have had varied success and sustainability in overcoming crowding and poor housing quality.

It is calculated about 5,500 new houses are required by 2028 to reduce the health impacts of crowding in remote communities. Earlier models still provide guidance for today’s efforts. For example, Whitlam-era efforts supported culturally appropriate housing design, while the ATSIC period of the 1990s introduced Indigenous-led housing management and culturally-specific adaptation of tenancy agreements.

Our report reasserts the call to action for both new housing and regular repairs and maintenance (with adequate budgets) of existing housing in remote communities. The lack of effective treatment or a vaccine for COVID-19 make hygiene and social distancing critical. Yet crowding and faulty home infrastructure make these measures difficult if not impossible.

Indigenous Australians living on remote country urgently need additional and functional housing. This may begin to provide the long-term gains described to us by an experienced Aboriginal health worker:

When … [decades ago] houses were built, I noticed immediately a drop in the scabies … You could see the mental change, could see the difference in families. Kids are healthier and happier. I’ve seen this repeated in other communities once housing was given – the change.


Trisha Narurla Frank contributed to the writing of this article, and other staff from Anyinginyi Health Aboriginal Corporation provided their input and consent for the sharing of these findings.The Conversation

Nina Lansbury Hall, Senior Lecturer, School of Public Health, The University of Queensland; Andrew Redmond, Senior Lecturer, School of Medicine, The University of Queensland; Paul Memmott, Professor, School of Architecture, and Director, Aboriginal Environments Research Centre (AERC), The University of Queensland, and Samuel Barnes, Research Assistant, School of Public Health, The University of Queensland

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.