Gen Ys fighting the hard fight to support Indigenous communities

March 02, 2016
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Gen Y has been called entitled, unfocused and politically apathetic. One student actively disproving the stereotype is Evelyn Araluen Corr, a founding member of the collective Students Support Aboriginal Communities (SSAC).

At 22 years old, Evelyn balances the hefty demands of postgraduate research with student activism. Her upbringing, education and Aboriginal identity have made her keen to “give something back”.

“There has never been a time when my Aboriginality was not the central foundation of my being,” says Evelyn. “I've had some incredibly inspiring leaders, teachers, and elders in my life.”

Evelyn is no stranger to activism. Last year, she joined with a number of other students and locals to occupy and defend land in Sydney’s Redfern. The efforts of the Redfern Aboriginal Tent Embassy eventually secured affordable housing for the community. Many of the same students involved in the Redfern occupation went on to form SSAC.

The aim of the collective, Evelyn explains, is to support Aboriginal communities “using whatever platforms we, as students, have access to”. The students choose initiatives created by the communities themselves, believing that “Aboriginal people know what is best for their own communities”.

Go to an SSAC meeting and you’ll find students who are studying “everything from neuroscience to childcare”. Each student offers something different to the group, whether it be filmmaking, political understanding, writing skills, or knowledge of Aboriginal culture.

The students’ savvy with social media has already helped to create change. Earlier this year, SSAC member Georgia Mantle launched an online petition demanding that racist mobile phone game Survival Island 3: Australia be removed from several app stores. The game, which allows players to shoot and kill Aboriginal people, was pulled from Google and Apple online stores due to the huge success of Georgia’s petition.

We still have voices to raise awareness and demand better, and we still have bodies to stand firm in direct action.

In January this year, over 20 SSAC members hit the road to visit far-flung Aboriginal communities across New South Wales. They travelled in convoy, slept in tents, and listened as community members described the issues important to them.

Evelyn recalls some of the key issues raised during the trip, including high unemployment, incarceration of Aboriginal youths and adults, removal of Aboriginal children into state welfare, and high rates of mental health problems. The students also saw the damage caused by coal seam gas mining and the cotton industry.

“Runoff waste water from cotton factories in Queensland has poisoned fish traps in Brewarrina and Collarenebri, which knocks out an important food source,” says Evelyn. “Aboriginal rights are environmental rights … all these issues intersect.”

The students felt “overwhelmed by the hospitality [they] were shown by so many people along the way”. Yet they also found it “exhausting” trying to respond to so many issues. “We have been telling ourselves that this is just the beginning; that we’ll need to take our time and ensure that we’re supporting these communities in the most ethical and sustainable ways,” says Evelyn.

She recommends that any student wanting to support Aboriginal communities start by learning more about the issues. You can follow Facebook pages that share information about Aboriginal culture and upcoming rallies, including the Indigenous Social Justice Association, Blackfulla Revolution and Aboriginal Tent Embassy. You can also join the SSAC Facebook page and, for those in New South Wales, attend group meetings.

Evelyn remains confident that students can make a difference, even though we may not be as powerful as corporations or government organisations. “We still have voices to raise awareness and demand better,” she says. “And we still have bodies to stand firm in direct action.”

And, if SSAC is anything to go by, perhaps Gen Y offers its own unique traits for changing the world: creativity, access to new forms of media, a hopeful outlook, and the ability to listen.

Melinda Cooper

Melinda loves reading on rainy days, drinking cups of tea and making things. She is doing a PhD in English at the University of Sydney. 

Images: Charlie Murry

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