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".