EARLY childhood educators have spoken about refusing to accept anything less than equal health, happiness and opportunities for Indigenous children and families, at an event in Tamworth this morning.
On the 10th anniversary of then-prime minister Kevin Rudd’s national apology to the Stolen Generations, Wirraway Street Early Learning & Kinder held a short event to commemorate .
One of the speakers, Gomeroi educator Jo Honess, told the children, educators and visitors the apology meant that “no longer will it be accepted” that Indigenous people still had early infant death, shorter life expectancy and lower levels of literacy, numeracy and higher education.
She said the centre’s efforts to help better those outcomes were “for real”.
“We find nothing to be tokenistic about when we hear the words ‘early infant death’,” Ms Honess said.
“We find nothing acceptable about the words illiteracy or poverty.
“We will never tolerate racism.
“We will reject the stigma of disadvantage at every turn …
“During this stage of rapid growth in terms of health, wellbeing, learning and play, it is conclusive that an early childhood educational experience is critical – I will say that word again: critical – to reduce the impacts and barriers of racism, disadvantage, poverty and early death.”
Centre director Camilla McIntosh said the apology had been “a momentous occasion in our country’s history”.
But there was still a long way to go, and it was important “to let future generations know of the struggles that those parents went through and continue to go through”, with the number of children in out-of-home care having quintupled in 20 years.
“It’s increased 500 per cent – 17,000 children in out-of-home care is atrocious, absolutely atrocious,” she said.
“[This is] just giving the children the tools to be able to carry on those message to their own children and grandchildren, so those stories don’t just die.”
Then and now
Health worker and researcher Amy Creighton also spoke at the event, saying she could “remember clearly this day 10 years ago”.
“I had organised a screening of the apology in the main auditorium of the University Department of Rural Health here in Tamworth,” Mrs Creighton said.
“There were over 300 people present that day.
“Many emotions were evident: there was lots of laughter, tears, excitement and gratitude.
“It was overwhelming for many and we knew we were witnessing history being made.”
Mrs Creighton said she rarely spoke at events such as these, but she felt it was a vital opportunity.
“Today is a very solemn day, and a day of remembrance for our babies that have been taken,” she said.
“It’s important for our young people, all young people, because they are our future.
“They’re the ones who are making a difference, and they will make a difference when they get older.
“So education is really vital, it’s important to educate our children – all children – about what the real history of this country is, about the real reason behind things that are happening here.”
Closing the gap
Mrs Creighton said the Closing the Gap report card this week provided a strong argument for Aboriginal people’s self-determination.
A decade after the initiative began, four of its seven targets to improve indigenous health and welfare are not on track.
“Listen to us, because we have so much to offer,” she said.
“We have survived for over 65,000 years of more raising our babies, caring for our children, living in harmony with our environment ...
“We know what to do, but unfortunately very little of that funding gets down to grassroots level.
“Very few of those dollars are actually paid to make a difference on the ground level; it’s all eaten up with bureaucracy.
“A lot of money is out there; there is a lot of money being spent on Aboriginal affairs, but we don’t see it, we don’t get it.
“So let us do it; it’s as simple as that …
“Listen to us – don’t ask the question if you’re not going to do anything about the answer that you get.”