By MELISSA WELLHAM
Statistics surrounding issues such as education, welfare and life expectancy are sometimes alarmingly low for Indigenous Australians – this is common knowledge.
But we don’t often hear about – or pause to celebrate – the steps forward that are being made. A report released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics this year shows that over the past three years there has been a steady increase in the number of Indigenous students staying on to Year 12. For the first time, Australia is seeing more than 50 per cent of Indigenous students staying in school and finish Year 12.
Another thing that isn’t heard frequently in political debate about Indigenous issues? The voices of Indigenous students themselves.
The Other Election is looking to change that. An initiative run by AIME, The Other Election is an online competition that sought submissions from Indigenous students around Australia – asking students in Years 10 to 12 to deliver a speech, as if they were the first Indigenous Prime Minister.
These young people wrote, rehearsed and recorded their speeches themselves – and it’s truly inspirational stuff. Some of these kids have overcome adversity to get an education, and in their speeches they reveal a vision for a better Australia where no one else has to struggle for the same right.
These young people speak eloquently about their lives and their love of Australia – as well as how they are made to feel, on occasion, like outsiders.
Danae H from the Wyndham Central College in Victoria is one of the top 10 finalists in the competition. In her speech, she says that, “As a young Indigenous woman, I also feel stereotyped in a negative way. So many times when I have told someone I am Indigenous, their whole perspective of me changes.”
“To them, I’m suddenly an illiterate, uneducated alcoholic, who sits around sniffing petrol,” Danae says. “At these times, I feel little. I am made to feel less than everyone else. I am put in a situation where I am made to feel bad about myself.”
Another one of the finalists is Shannon H is from the Warnbro Community High School is Western Australia. In his speech, he shares his thoughts about the Australia he knows – as well as his place in it.
In a depressing anecdote, Shannon says: “Last Australia Day, I was walking back from the beach, when a carload of people pulled up next to me and my friends, They threw abusive language and racial comments towards me because I’m Indigenous.”
But Shannon is also positive that change will come. “I believe that’s not good enough. I believe we deserve better. I believe we need something new, something fresh and something deadly.”
One of the speeches that shows just how far we have come, is from Daniel L from the Ballarat Grammar School in Victoria.
“I’m passionate about education, because of the way it has impacted my family, from generation to generation,” Daniels explains. “Let me take you back to the 1930s, when my Great Nan was just a little girl. The only way she was able to learn English was on a station, when another little girl talked to her. To think that little girl got in trouble for talking to my Great Nan…”
Getting an education wasn’t much easier for Daniel’s grandmother. “Skipping ahead to the 1960s, Great Nan’s daughter, Nanny Brown, told me a story about how she had to sneak into school so she could get an education.” But Daniel is looking forward to positive change in the future, “Now it’s 2013, and their legacy has provided me with opportunities that they didn’t have. I believe we must have equal education no matter who you are, and where you come from.”
The Other Election is now entering the voting stage. From over 600 initial applicants, the would-be Prime Ministers have been whittled down to 10 candidates – and now it’s up to Australia to decide the top three students, who will be flown to Canberra later this year to deliver their speeches at Parliament House. You can cast your vote for The Other Election here.
These young people have ideas about how we can make Australia a better place, and the passion to do so. All we need to do is listen.
Please share to give these young Indigenous Australians a chance to have their voices heard.