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Remote communities: not a lifestyle choice

Indigenous rights group SOS Blak Australia has declared today a day for action to stop the closure of remote communities. 

Visit the SOS Blak Australia Facebook page here

Jesuit Social Services supports this call and rejects Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s recent categorisation of life in remote communities as a “lifestyle choice”. Such a comment ignores the reality of indigenous culture, and the importance of Country to Aboriginal people. Living in communities and on outstations is not a tree-change. People’s connection to Country and their communities is intrinsically tied with their identity, their relationships with family and others and with their health and social and emotional wellbeing. Protection of Country is an obligation passed down from ancestors. For some, living in remote communities is as little a choice as is the choice of children to remain in their families.

There is a large body of evidence that demonstrates a direct link between many Aboriginal people’s social and emotional wellbeing and their connection to Country. Conflict and resentment may also arise where Aboriginal people from one community are forced to shift into other Aboriginal people’s country.

Further, the continued existence of remote communities plays a significant role in protecting indigenous languages and culture, an outcome that is in the interests of all Australians. The Federal Government acknowledges that the National Indigenous Languages Survey (NILS) Report 2005 found the situation of Australia’s Indigenous languages “is grave and requires urgent action”. Of the 145 indigenous languages still spoken in Australia, 110 were labelled critically endangered. If people are forced from their communities and into major service centres and towns, that loss of languages will accelerate.

Aside from the implications for people’s physical and mental health, their sense of identity, their relationships with others and the future of their languages, there is the issue of where to house people forced off their land and how to provide services (such as legal, medical, financial, social and emotional). With recent government cuts to funding for Aboriginal organisations and other non-government organisations, as well as interruption to spending in crucial health areas such as dialysis, the capacity to support people is already greatly diminished.

Closing remote communities may make sense in terms of saving immediate government expenditure. But it promises to be disastrous in terms of participation both by this generation and by later generations in society, and so will be vastly more costly.