When reflecting on the 2023 NAIDOC theme, ‘For Our Elders’, Stanley says there are two main things that come to mind.
“There is a disconnect between our Elders and our young people,” he says. “I observed this myself.”
Stanley’s work in Indigenous support has taken him to hospitals, clinics, homeless shelters and outer-regional Indigenous communities. Over time, he’s found that while many young Indigenous Australians aren’t participating in or aware of cultural traditions passed down from their Elders, the Elders and older generations aren’t sure how to engage their youth, either.
“I believe that’s why we’re having a lot of problems with our youth. They’re not being educated, and they’re not learning from our Elders,” Stanley says. “But I hear young people saying, ‘Our Elders are holding us back’. That’s valid, because you do have to go through Elders for decision making in your community, and many Elders cannot read or write, so even things like email communication can be quite slow.
“Education is imperative. Until the start of 2023, I worked in the homeless space in a child safety role, and the biggest contributor to homelessness in young Indigenous people is illiteracy. If they can read or write, it’s only enough to get by.”
The 2022 Commonwealth Closing the Gap Report shows only 34.3 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children were developmentally on track in the five key domains of early childhood education. Of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 20 – 24, 63.2 per cent had completed Year 12 or an equivalent qualification.
With a lack of education clear in both old and young generations, Stanley emphasises the impact of Indigenous Australians’ recent history. “There was a purposeful stratification of Indigenous people, particularly on missions, that continues to affect Indigenous people today,” Stanley says. “Because of internal policies that were passed not even thirty years ago, there is an element of systemic racism at work here, which further complicates an already complex issue.”
Activities that can bring multiple generations together present potential avenues to overcoming both the disconnect between Elders and youth, and the education divide. Community hubs, men’s sheds and repair cafes all have the potential to bring cohesion to a community, and enable many to learn a new skill or piece of knowledge.