It has been incredibly heartening of late to note the amount of Aboriginal social media groups posting up stuff about violence against women in our community. We need to do a lot more, granted. The fact though that I have seen a vast range of social media spaces make a choice to talk about an issue which affects our communities at horrific rates, particularly in the face of how the government, the police force and the mainstream society tends to use that information against us, is important. But while we're talking about it more and more, I do wish to address how we speak about it and, in particular, how we speak about Aboriginal women.
You see, a lot of the time when I have observed statements being made, the comments fall into that old trope when speaking about women: "she's someone's mother", "she's someone's wife", "she's someone's sister", "she's someone's daughter", and so forth. And I understand why people continually frame Aboriginal women (and indeed, other women) this way. They wish to try and make cases more relatable so people, when witnessing abuse or actions which excuse or allow for abuse, are more likely to take action. Yet by doing this, we continually end up framing our women by our relevance to other people, and this in itself is a problem. It means that we need to be viewed as relevant to others in order for them to see our worth and take action. It means that as individual, autonomous people who should have status, liberty and the ability to take up our rightful space in society like everyone else, we are denied this right.
And it's even more weighted than that. Sure, all of us are indeed born "someone's daughter", but this does not always remain the case. Sometimes our parents die. Sometimes our parents cannot care for us. Sometimes the government decides our parents, by virtue of their race, are unsuitable and then takes us away for the purpose of our mainstream assimilation. Culturally and politically, we are mostly always "someone's sister". Except some of us are still finding our ways home and connecting with families denied to us for generations. Definitely not all of us are mothers, though culturally some of us fill that role without giving birth and some of us who have given birth can't fill that role for whatever reason. Therefore always describing us as our relevance to other people not only erases our own identities and importance as individuals, but it might not actually be accurate or a description of our role which we are comfortable with.
To put it this way: Aboriginal men are also significantly more likely to be victims of violence than other men in this country. Yet when raising awareness of these victims, we don't refer to him in terms of his relevance to everyone else. He's not possibly "someone's dad", "someone's son", "someone's brother", "someone's husband". He is simply someone.
Unless it's the mainstream referring to the case, then he is rarely someone. And she is rarely someone. Aboriginal people are rarely anyone when referred to by the mainstream. We have our culture erased, our autonomy erased, our humanity erased, continually. And for this reason more than any other, in the face of continuing colonisation, I feel it is even more important to ensure that we are recognising our own importance and autonomy, and elevating each other.
So how do we grapple with this then, as a people for whom our connection to each other is crucial to our cultures and lands? I think it's about knowing we all have importance, we all play various roles in our communities and in broader society, and we are all survivors: the current links to the longest continuing cultures in the entire world. It's about recognising the role that we all play in this survival and continuation - women, men and children - and recognising the complexity of that role, in the face of our ongoing struggles for autonomy and self-determination against colonisation. We need to therefore ensure we are recognising the rights of all of us to this self-determination because if we don't, the struggle will never succeed. But finally though, and perhaps more bluntly, when it's framed as always about her relationship to you, then it is always about you and not her and her need to not be harmed, to not be dehumanised and to live a free life. Her right to this safety and respect in the first place is much more urgent than your right to not have your family torn apart at her loss down the track.
She is someone. She is crucial.