Last Friday was National Sorry Day or National Day of Healing. This day is in memory of ‘The Stolen Generations’ of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, many of whom were forcibly removed from their families to be assimilated into ‘white’ Australian culture.
I recently had the privilege of participating in SANE’s National Sorry Day event at the National Centre of Indigenous Excellence in Redfern, Sydney. The event gave us the opportunity to walk with some of our Indigenous friends to hear their stories and gain a better understanding of some aspects of their culture. We heard their personal experience of loss with some of their own close relatives being forcibly taken away from their families. I think we all felt a real connection.
This event signalled SANE’s own reconciliation journey walking with Aboriginal friends, partners and colleagues to build their voice within SANE. After all, SANE is about embracing diversity, building respectful relationships and ending mental health inequity, discrimination and exclusion, a vision that embraces walking with First Nations people.
SANE is currently in the process of establishing a Reconciliation Action Committee and we were fortunate enough to hear from the recently appointed Chair of that committee, Tom Brideson. Tom was also the Chief Executive Officer at Gayaa Dhuwi and Deputy Commissioner of the NSW Mental Health Commission. He shared some of his own personal story that included a number of firsts for his family such as the first in the family to go to university.
We also heard that 5 per cent of SANE’s service users are Indigenous Australians. SANE’s reconciliation journey will help build understanding of respectful service provision to Indigenous people, delivered by Indigenous staff with lived experience of mental health challenges wherever possible.
For me, the SANE event reinforced the need to vote yes in the referendum to be held later this year recognising First Nations people. They have been treated badly by the non-Indigenous population from the time white people landed in Australia, and we continue to do that to this very day. As we learned, we continued to take some Indigenous children away from their families forcibly within my lifetime. It is also distressing to learn that Indigenous people have a 10 years’ shorter life expectancy than non-Indigenous people.
We can play our role in helping to end this by voting yes in the referendum.
SANE has declared itself as an organisation that supports the yes vote in the upcoming referendum. After all, reconciliation is about building respectful relationships between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and other Australians to enable us to work together to close the gaps, and to achieve a shared sense of fairness and justice. Isn’t that what we want through SANE for our people with complex mental health conditions? Isn’t that what we all want for all of us?