Saturday, 4 December 2021

"Connection to country"

is something held to be important by members of the indigenous community. We hear a lot about it in the media and in other places. I have absolutely no doubt that, for some, it is a matter of vital importance. 

I have no doubt that their relationship with the land on which they live is as vital a part of their life as breathing. It is there around them as something which is alive, which is part of them. And there are others who take advantage of that.  

I was talking to M... yesterday. M... is an indigenous friend. I have mentioned him here before. His mother, R..., was like a second mother to me. I mentioned her just a few days ago. 

M... was telling me what he thought his mother's reaction would be to a family's claim for compensation for the death in custody of a family member. He committed suicide.

"Mum would have told them they need to ask themselves why he was there in the first place," M... told me.

M... has never been in trouble with the law. He was, inevitably perhaps, stopped by the police a couple of times when he was in teens. He gave them his name and address, told them where he was going (or where he had been) and that was it. There was no reason to do more because he was not doing anything he should not have been doing.  In his thirties he was given a ride home in a police car one night - after they had asked him to come in and he had spent hours with them trying to sort out a messy situation. He has never had a speeding ticket but he has had more parking tickets than he would like. M... is not perfect but his relationship with the law is excellent.

He has lost count of the number of times he has been to court because one of the "young idiots" has been doing the wrong thing. "That's it Cat. They don't get to go to court if they are behaving. So, what are they doing to get there?"

He is well aware of the higher rate - the far too high rate - of indigenous incarceration in this country. I am too. There are actually many reasons for it but what lies behind it is the fact that people are breaking the law. They do so out of anger, resentment, boredom, a lack of belief in themselves and more. R....fought this sort of thing for years. M.... has gone on doing it and I admire him for not giving up.

His reaction to a $4.5m claim for compensation by a family for a loss of connection to country through the death of an "elder" was perhaps predictable. It could have been avoided if that person - some would call him a "victim" - had not broken the law.

Although much has been made of it the actual rate of deaths in custody among those who claim indigenous heritage is statistically no higher than it is in the rest of the population. It is actually slightly lower, 35% indigenous to 39.7% of the rest in custody in 2020. Despite this these deaths have been the subject of more than one inquiry. It was right to hold those inquiries but the answers lie elsewhere. 

After M... had talked to me about the other reasons for his call I thought about his response. I think he was right about what his mother would say. It is something that can however be said about so many situations. We need to take responsibility for ourselves but it is so much easier to blame someone else when things go wrong.

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