It was a moment in a regional Victorian classroom that stirred Jana Stewart.
- Record number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representatives elected to parliament
- This includes six new Indigenous representatives and the majority are women
- Two senators hope reps from different parties can work together on key issues
As she listened to her teacher read grim statistics about her people’s life expectancy gap, the young Indigenous student began to think differently about her future and the misconceptions she would face throughout her life. .
“I was the only black kid sitting in that class and basically the message I heard was, ‘I’m not going to own a house, I’m not going to go to college, I’m going to die 15-20 years later. earlier than my classmates and I will probably have children at a young age,” she said.
“I realized there were these negative things about being an Indigenous person, in terms of what my life trajectory was going to be like.”
For Mutthi Mutthi and Wamba Wamba’s wife, who had known hardship and poverty, this was a pivotal moment.
“I made a really deliberate decision in my mind that this is not who I’m going to be. Those stats don’t define who I am,” she said.
Now she is preparing to become the youngest Indigenous woman to sit in federal Parliament.
Ms Stewart made history in April when she was chosen as the Labor Party’s first Victorian Aboriginal senator, replacing the late Kimberly Kitching.
While there has been a lot of attention on the “teal wave” of independents, this new “dark wave” of women will have different priorities, Ms Stewart said.
Ms Stewart said this would include a focus on the devastating rates of domestic violence against Indigenous women and the growing number of Indigenous children being cared for outside the home.
“We have a national crisis on our hands,” she said.
As a survivor of domestic violence and the eldest of six children, the 34-year-old said her parents both struggled with addiction, which led her to work as a family therapist before entering politics.
“I’m not necessarily sad about these things, I think it’s shaped who I am,” she said.
“When I was about 10 or 11 years old, I remember my mother saying to me, ‘As an elder, it’s your responsibility to let all the sticks and stones hit you to clear a path for your brothers and sisters’.”
Ms Stewart will join a record number of elected Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, the majority of whom are women.
‘Infiltrate’ and ‘Unite’
In recent federal elections, Australians elected six new Indigenous representatives, including Northern Territory MP for Lingiari, Labour’s Marion Scrymgour, Robertson Labor MP Dr Gordon Reid and, in the Senate, Jacinta Nampijinpa Price of the Northern Territory Liberal.
Labor Senators Pat Dodson (Western Australia) and Malarndirri McCarthy (Northern Territory) as well as Linda Burney (New South Wales), who replaces Liberal Ken Wyatt as Minister for Indigenous Affairs, will return to the chamber.
Independent Tasmanian Senator Jacqui Lambie and Greens Senators Dorinda Cox (Western Australia) and Lidia Thorpe (Victoria) will also retain their seats in the Senate.
Senator Thorpe, who has been a strong advocate for women, said she would like to continue an earlier inquiry she submitted to the Senate into missing and murdered Indigenous women and children.
However, with a diverse array of political agendas currently in the hemicycle, it looks like continued push for a referendum on an indigenous voice in parliament could overshadow his plans.
“The priority is the survival of our people,” she said.
“Constitutional recognition at this time will not save the lives of our people…full implementation of the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody will save lives.”
Senator Thorpe said while other Indigenous parliamentarians may not agree with her on everything, she hoped to use the momentum of the “dark wave” to work together.
“The ‘black wave’ or ‘blackout’ that’s about to happen in this country…it’s something to celebrate, no matter what team we’re on,” she said.
“At the end of the day, we are blackfellas and we have increased our numbers in this place that makes laws for our country and our people.
“We are so oppressed and the boot is around our necks every day so we have to infiltrate the parliament and the laws of this country as we know it and that is to come together and unite.”
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