The Guardian March 8, 2000


The deaths must stop

As the Indigenous community of Mornington Island, and across the Gulf 
and Mount Isa region, struggles to come to grips with the tragic death by 
suicide of five more young Indigenous people from their community in the 
last two months, ATSIC Regional Council Chairman, Noel Sarmardin, spoke out 
about the frustration and anger of his community. He asked, how long will 
this tragedy be allowed to continue? The following is part of Mr 
Sarmardin's statement.

ATSIC, along with the Indigenous community generally, not just in the Gulf, 
are distressed and grieving over the people we have lost on Mornington 
Island so far this year.

We are all torn up inside. We have had too much of our people dying. They 
are all dying too young. What is happening to our people on Mornington and 
on many other communities has got to stop.

Indigenous people are crying out for an end to all this. We need help here 
but there seems to be no answers from the health system, from government 
programs that don't work.

Nevertheless, ATSIC has put another $500,000 on the table already on top of 
another $1 million in July last year, despite the fact that ATSIC and its 
Regional Councils were only ever set up to be a "supplementary funder" with 
only a limited ability to make a small financial contribution.

But we do have a more powerful role as the peak Indigenous elected 
representatives to advocate and push those responsible.

We are trying to use our limited funds as a way to help do this and lead 
the way.

It is our own people, our own families, who we constantly see die. The 
other constant we see is government departments and agencies failing to 
act. Their programs are bandaids and don't work on the ground. Our 
communities are crying out for help, help that works.

We have whole communities here in grief, in trauma.

How many more reports and inquiries do governments need?

We need action, sustained, unprecedented action in our communities.

We need ... doctors, health workers, counsellors, with funding for 
programs. With funding for discrete centres, infrastructure where people 
can get counselling and help without everyone knowing. We need education 
and preventative programs and help on the ground, seven days a week, 12 
months of the year.

We need jobs and training programs, housing, recreation and sports 
facilities. We need Indigenous people trained and running and delivering 
and developing these programs in conjunction with our communities.

We need a sustained whole-of-government/whole-of-community approach to 
this, one that tackles the fundamental underlying issues of unemployment, 
health, dispossession, lack of housing, lack of self respect, lack of 
education, low self-esteem, alcoholism, violence.

Yes, it's about money for the programs, the infrastructure, but not just 
money. It's how and in which way that is delivered. The money should be 
there, has to be there, because that's the only way we'll ever get the help 
and support we need.

It's time for all parties to stop saying "it's too hard, too difficult or 
insoluble".

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