Father Chris Riley on NAIDOC Week

NAIDOC Week 2015 is here and this year Australians everywhere are encouraged to learn, respect and celebrate Aboriginal culture. Why in 2015 do we need this particular theme? The truth is that Aboriginal young people are struggling. They are over represented at many of our services, most notably at our homelessness service.

At the Inner West Youth Homelessness Service, 20% of the young people this financial year have identified as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander. These young people make up 3% of the population, meaning they are well over represented in this service. The same can be said for the juvenile justice system, 56% of young people in juvenile detention identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.

So what can be done to turn these statistics around and start making progress toward equality for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people? At Youth Off The Streets, we see it as connecting them to their country and culture and getting everyday Australians caring about Aboriginal issues.

Connecting Aboriginal young people to their country and culture is arguably the most important part of this. At Youth Off The Streets, all of our services are participating in NAIDOC Week events and we have a dedicated Aboriginal services team running programs all year round. We teach all young people about Aboriginal culture and run programs specifically targeted toward Aboriginal young people: helping them connect with their elders, discuss issues important to them and learn about the history of their mob and family. It’s a great moment to watch when a young Aboriginal kid is learning about their history and family. They are deeply involved in the moment and you can see the positive effects it has on them immediately. This is something that all Australians can see during NAIDOC Week events and something that I encourage everyone to do.

NAIDOC Week community events are a great way for everyday Australians to connect with the Aboriginal culture and people, learn about their rich history and get involved in campaigns that build respect for the Aboriginal people. One such campaign is Recognise – it’s time to give them the respect they deserve in our constitution. The 1967 referendum was a good start, but it didn’t achieve equality, visit Recognise.org to get involved and stay up to date. To get involved in particular issues, look out for initiatives like our Lace It Up (#laceitup) campaign. The idea is to raise awareness of homelessness among young people. Not everyone can untie their shoes of a night; some young people have to keep them on in order to flee from danger at a moment’s notice. To get involved and find out more, visit www.laceitup.com.au. Contributing to campaigns like this well help raise the public’s consciousness about youth homelessness and also the over representation of Aboriginal young people in this issue.

We don’t want to see Aboriginal young people over represented at our services any longer. We want them to be equal and have every chance at success. There are two clear ways to do this; help Aboriginal young people connect with their culture and country and to get everyday Australians involved in Aboriginal Issues. NAIDOC Week is a great entry point for the latter and I encourage all Australians to get out there, attend a community event or get involved in a campaign championing Aboriginal people.


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