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Why are there so many nonIndigenous staff working in Indigenous organisations? by An anonymous Indigenous leader and registered nurse 20 January 2014

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n regards to the article in the First Nations Telegraph, 18 January, 2014, about government Indigenous employment program, I found it very interesting, but somewhat idealistic and confusing. As an Aboriginal Registered Nurse, I find it difficult at times in securing employment within the health field, especially when

seeking work with Indigenous consumers as in most cases; employers will employ nonIndigenous staff over Indigenous health staff. In a lot of cases in Indigenous health organisations or government supplied health services to Indigenous people, they give encouragement for qualified Indigenous staff to apply for these positions, but they are generally unsuccessful in securing any of the jobs and rarely given any reasons for their unsuitability.

If they are fortunate to be selected for a nursing or Aboriginal Health worker position, quite often they believe they experience denigration, isolation and indirect racism which leads to them leaving the organisation. I am very interested to see how the Government is going to implement such an employment program, especially when racism towards Aboriginal people is alive and well and in fact, I believe there is a major reinsurgence. The unemployment issue for

Anonymous registered nurse said “We might need to go back on the street to demand more control of our Aboriginal organisations�. Protest march in Alice Springs in the 70s. Image: Central Australian Aboriginal Congress.

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Indigenous people has been an ongoing problem for many years, as will be remembered during the ATSIC days. Nothing has changed and in fact it is worse. In my opinion there are a number of issues, but I see a major contributor to be that nonIndigenous people still want to control Australian Indigenous people’s lives in all aspects. There are major challenges facing Aboriginal people in Australia; health, education and unemployment. There are very few tertiary qualified Indigenous staff members who are in senior clinical positions or even in front line positions. Employing Aboriginal registered nurses and health workers assists in removing barriers, as it is common knowledge that Aboriginal people relate to other Aboriginal people due to their cultural knowledge and practices. In my opinion non-Indigenous staff - whether intentionally or inadvertently - build barriers through their ongoing lack of cultural knowledge. Most health services and clinics in Australia are historically culturally inappropriate because of cultural and geographic inaccessibility and cost factors. It is also true that many Aboriginal people will not seek medical treatment until it has gone too far. The reason for this is considered to be because the majority of the workforce in hospitals and medical services are non-Aboriginal, who have no idea of Aboriginal culture and lifestyles, even in areas where most of the population is Indigenous. Cultural security is important to Aboriginal people and those working in the health field need to be educationally prepared in relation to culturally appropriate and sensitive interaction. This cannot be taught by a one-day cultural awareness workshop. Since the 1967 referendum,

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when Aboriginal Affairs was made the responsibility of the Federal government, systematic neglect and underfunding of services has been a result of budget cuts to Indigenous programs such as health, education and employment and have not kept pace with inflation nor the increasing population of Indigenous people. There is a great need to increase spending on these programs to provide the basic necessities of life, which are human rights. The government needs to use money appropriately to educate and give Aboriginal people the opportunity to go past being an Aboriginal health worker or an Aboriginal teacher’s aide and help them study for qualifications ... this means that Aboriginals can nurse and teach our mobs instead of non-Indigenous nurses and teachers. According to statistics, Indigenous people have poorer health, education and employment opportunities. The future of Aboriginal people DEPENDS on the issues of health, education and unemployment being addressed adequately and equally. There are television advertisements running on Imparja and commercial stations with regards to sending our kids to school every day so they can obtain a good education and achieve meaningful employment in the future. In my opinion, this is an excellent program to encourage parents and guardians to send their children to school to receive the appropriate education, however, how will this happen when there are already a high number of educated Indigenous people who have difficulty in securing positions in today’s society? Unless policies change, this will not occur for todays or future generations. As I previously mentioned, Aboriginal people are encouraged to apply for positions even within their own community, but they

rarely secure them. It would be interesting to research the levels of disparity between Indigenous and non-Indigenous employees working within Indigenous health programs. What is the policy relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employment throughout Australia? Why are there so many nonIndigenous staff working in Indigenous communities and organisations and even being bought in from overseas to work in these areas when we have capable Aboriginal people wanting and needing these jobs? This demand driven approach to employment is looking at filling 5000 Indigenous positions by 2015. However, the areas of work that are being offered are low level employment and there is nothing mentioned about Indigenous continual education and support or further career pathways. In my opinion, it appears that Society and government departments still retain the stereotypical views that Aboriginal people are not capable of achieving positions other than those of cleaning and serving in hospitality areas or retail positions. When is the opportunity going to be offered to Indigenous people to advance themselves in positions of worth? We might need to go back on the street to demand more control of our Aboriginal organisations and if the black bosses who run the show - and who employ all the white workers to make them look good don’t like it, then they might need to pack their bags and hit the road with their controlling white staff. As a general rule First Nations Telegraph do not publish anonymous opinions, but after talking to the author and in appreciating the potential for repercussions in that vocation, weighed up with the message articulated, this piece has been approved in this form.


Why are there so many non indigenous staff working in indigenous organisations?