A reflection on Black Lives Matter from the front lines

Over the last few weeks, the Black Lives Matter movement has captured headlines around the world. Tens of thousands have gathered in many cities and towns in protest against institutional racism and to highlight the ongoing trauma to Indigenous peoples in colonial nations.

PACFA has invited Palawa man Richard Scott, Critical Friend to the PACFA College of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Healing Practices (CATSIHP) to provide a personal comment on the impact of Black Lives Matter and the experiences of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, from his expertise in working in harm minimisation on the streets in Townsville.

The BLM movement has been bittersweet for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australia. Although it has been a great opportunity to drag the media spotlight over from the US and remind the rest of Australia of the challenges that First Nations people live with every day, it’s also reopened old trauma and inflicted new ones. For every proud man or woman bravely standing up and telling our truths, it feels like there have been a dozen voices shouting ‘reconciliation can only start when you lot get over the past’ or ‘you wouldn’t die in custody if you didn’t do the crime’ – usually using the megaphone handed them by commercial media’s new face where promoting division pays off for editors and journos as arguments on the comments page look like ‘engagement’. Their voices are much louder than the ally voices so it feels like it’s back to ‘us’ versus ‘them’.

In Townsville, this has been particularly acute. My town has collective complex trauma, heightened by Covid-19 anxiety. The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community is intertwined with Palm Island. And there’s a big veteran or active service military community with combat exposure. Over all of that, we have the common experience of the floods, and the economic hits of refinery closures and mining downturns compounded by Covid’s economic repercussions. BLM is also very fresh for us – it’s not about historical statues (although our slaver founder’s statue was only erected in 2008). Compensation for the events surrounding Mulrunji’s killing at the hands of police on Palm Island has only just been paid bringing that back to mind. And we lost four children at the start of the month. Given the connections across community, that touches everyone more directly than in a nuclear family culture.

People on both sides have reacted as you’d expect given that trauma background on both sides. The verbal violence has spilled over into the real world with vigilantes chasing children with baseball bats for being in a playground – and there’s been lateral violence within the community in the park.  Avoidance and dissociation are also at play. There’s  been a spike in drinking. I’ve seen clients who have been sober for years start up again, and others walk away from dialysis to wait for death under a tree. The complex trauma sitting underneath all of my clients’ challenges is never far from the surface, but it’s been pouring out with very limited triggers. But the most overwhelming sensation across community is a sense of psychic weight and tiredness – exhaustion at having to keep fighting the fight, albeit coupled with a glimmer of hope that maybe, just maybe, this might be the point where there are enough brave people of colour saying enough is enough around the world for the rest of the world to listen and make the change we need.

 – Richard Scott, CATSIHP Critical Friend, June 2020.

PACFA established the College of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Healing Practices (CATSIHP) in October 2019 as a forum to support members and to advance their professional interests.

The core aim of CATSIHP is to provide leadership, representation and advocate and promote self-determination, cultures, values and belief systems of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples through increasing access to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander healers and practitioners and improving health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Membership of CATSIHP is available to PACFA registrants. For more information, please visit the PACFA Website.