Listen: Brooke Prentis of Common Grace talks to Emma Mullings about racism against Australian indigenous people. Image by Rusty Stewart (cc by-nc-nd 2.0)
Aboriginal leaders are calling Australians to get serious about caring for the indigenous community, after this week’s shocking Four Corners report into abuse in juvenile detention.
Brooke Prentis, the Aboriginal spokesperson for Christian justice organisation Common Grace, spoke to Hope 103.2’s Emma Mullings this week about the disturbing footage from the Four Corners investigation.
The nation was stunned on Monday night by vision of indigenous teenager Dylan Voller and other inmates at Darwin’s Don Dale Youth Detention Centre being gassed, pushed, thrown, stripped naked and victimised repeatedly over the past five years.
Yet Ms Prentis said these kinds of incidents were nothing new to her and her fellow Aboriginal Christian leaders, who have long been aware of racism in the justice system.
“We’ve Known About This for Years” Say Aboriginal Christians
“As Aboriginal Christians, we’re continually working with families who have children in juvenile detention as well as in the adult prison system, providing caring and support and love for those families,” Ms Prentis told Hope 103.2.
“And [this abuse] is not just in the Northern Territory: every state is affected by this and we carry our own horror stories and personal experiences.”
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She said while the images are heartbreaking to see, she was encouraged by the response from her friends.
“After the show I was getting contacted by so many of my friends, and Christian friends in particular, who were saying, ‘Brooke you’ve been saying this for so long; we now have finally seen it and we finally get it’.
“That was, in a way, encouraging because people were starting to wake up, Australia was starting to wake up to something that we as Aboriginal people have known for so long.”
Long History of Racism a Sad Reality
Ms Prentis said Aboriginal leaders and Christians have been trying to help Australians understand about the ongoing racism their community suffers, for decades.
“It’s only now in 2016 that our true history of genocide and massacres and colonisation is starting to be taught in our schools,” she said.
“As Aboriginal Christians and Aboriginal leaders we keep talking about these things but often we’re not listened to.”
“The amount of people you talk to who say, ‘Oh, it didn’t happen’, ‘it was so long ago’—but stolen generations and stolen wages were things that happened right up until the 1970s. And then we look at our children today in out-of-home care and we have the new stolen generation.
“So as Aboriginal Christians and Aboriginal leaders we keep talking about these things but often we’re not listened to. We see and hear and feel a different Australia. It’s not the one mainstream media tells us about.”
“Part of our reality is what we saw on Monday night [on Four Corners]. We cop horrific racism as Aboriginal people.”
Aboriginal Issues Just as Important as Foreign Aid
Ms Prentis wants the heartbreaking news of Dylan Voller and others like him to bring social change.
“I’m hoping…that out of tragedy and pain, we actually see real change and people starting to open their ears, eyes, hearts and mind to listen to Aboriginal peoples—their brothers and sisters,” she said.
“Instead of just looking to our overseas neighbour all the time—don’t step over your Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander brother and sister to reach your neighbour.”
How Can One Person Make a Difference?
While cultures of racism may seem ‘too big’ to change, Ms Prentis said individuals can make a difference simply by talking.
“Part of what we have to change is the silence around all of these matters,” she said. “What I would love to see is that people who were moved by what they saw, that there’s a huge self-education. Go and learn more.
“Talk about it in your own circles. Don’t just wait for Aboriginal people to talk to you. Have these conversations in your family, in your workplaces, in your churches. The time for silence is over. We need to change that silence and each of us can use our voices to do that.”
Call For Churches to Pray and Support Indigenous Ministry
Churches and faith communities have an important role to play in meeting the needs of the Aboriginal community, Ms Prentis said.
“We need to have these conversations in our churches. I’m hoping every church this Sunday will have a sermon around the state of our nation and what we need to do as Christians to love one another, and to especially love Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander brothers and sisters.”
“Our chaplains are getting paid $40 a day to spend a whole day in one of the places where we need to bring the most hope.”
Common Grace are urging Christians to pray, and to ask their pastors about funding Aboriginal ministry.
“So many of us as Aboriginal Christian leaders are working for free, volunteering our time, and we do that because that’s the call of Jesus on our life,” Ms Prentis said. “But there needs to be much more.
“Aboriginal churches are getting closed down all the time, youth workers aren’t getting employed, prison chaplains aren’t getting employed. Our chaplains are getting paid $40 a day to spend a whole day in one of the places where we need to bring the most hope.
“So we need to change this, understand our reality, and start to stand up and ask for additional support.”
Since the Four Corners report, Brooke Prentis has written the following articles: