Black history

We cannot say her name. We cannot guess at why, and nor should we. What can be said is she was 10 years old. She was Aboriginal. This week, in the community of Looma, north of Perth, she committed suicide.

We know that, since December, 18 other Indigenous people have committed suicide in remote areas of Western Australia. Graves are lined up in the red earth.

These are communities that face forced closure. These are people whose existence Tony Abbott dismisses as a “lifestyle choice”, who in parliament last month the Liberal MP Dennis Jensen called “noble savages”.

Whatever preceded this little girl’s terrible decision, it cannot be separated from the facts of her history. It is not a problem just of poverty or social dysfunction; it is a problem of dispossession.

Aboriginal children are almost nine times more likely than white children to commit suicide. It is the second most common cause of death in black children under the age of 14. In Indigenous people aged 15 to 35, it is the leading cause of death. These are extraordinary facts. This is a nation’s shame.

The most important voices in this debate are black. They are voices such as Stan Grant’s, who wrote this week of living with the weight of history.

“I can’t speak to the specifics of this girl’s life or death, but I can say she was born into the sadness that too often is our world,” Grant wrote in Guardian Australia.

“She was born into the intergenerational trauma of so many black families. This was her inheritance … We are connected directly to the darkness of our past. We are born out of the legacy of dispossession and suffering and injustice. The crippling malaise that sits at the heart of so many black communities and lives in this country is seeded in that still unresolved grievance that underpins the Australian settlement: Terra Nullius.”

Nakkiah Lui, a writer and Gamillaroi and Torres Strait Islander woman, was once a 10-year-old Indigenous girl. She also thought about suicide. She still does.

“I often tell the story about being a fat, bullied, Aboriginal teenager and how when I held my arms up against the white lace curtains in my bedroom I cried,” she wrote this week. “I truly thought – in that moment – the world had no place for me. That I was worthless … But it goes deeper than that. That Aboriginal teen I talk about, the one who saw no space for her in this world, thought about killing herself, every day, multiple times a day. I heard ‘Abo’ jokes every day at school. Every day I was made to feel ashamed of who I was.”

This is not a story about individuals, it is a story about a people, a people whose land was taken from them, who were forced to live in the margins of their own country, whose culture was stolen and destroyed, whose humanity was always denied, who were wrecked with sickness and contempt.

“I want non-Aboriginal people to know that the destruction of a people this country depends on surrounds all of you, every day, and it is closer than you think,” Lui wrote. “Please think about that little girl today and the family and life she has left behind. But do more than think, try to find a way to help the people whose backs your life is built on.”

This little girl’s death was a black death. It is part of a black history this country does much too little to address. That must change.


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This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on March 12, 2016 as "Black history".

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