Wiradjuri man Peter Harris has chosen to stay away from the political jargon surrounding Voice to Parliament.
“I think it puts a lot of stress on my back because a lot of people have come to me asking these questions and I don’t have the answers to all of them,” he said.
In the run-up to the referendum, Mr Harris became the holder of cultural knowledge within his inner circle, which he said left him stressed and overwhelmed.
“For them to come to me and really trust what I’m telling them, it’s really stressful,” he said.
Mr Harris said First Nations people were being challenged to teach others about the referendum and how they should vote.
“I think if someone comes to me with a question or for help, I’m going to try to help them as much as I can,” he said.
But he said he often wonders if he’s doing enough to support his community.
“I don’t know if I’m saying the right things, you know? But at the end of the day, there’s only so much I can do,” he said.
“So I really have to pay attention to my social and emotional well-being and make sure I’m doing the best I can by making sure I’m taking care of myself as well.”
Charities see rising suicide rates and call for support
Cultural burden can be described as the invisible workload placed on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to provide knowledge, education and support to those around them on First Nations issues.
Monica Barolits McCabe is executive director of the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organization (NACCHO), which has distributed $7.8 million in government funding for mental health programs for First Nations people as it approaches of the referendum.
She said an increase in racism and discrimination against First Nations people had led to increased suicide rates and calls for support among communities across the country.
“It’s uglier than ever, and I think a lot of us are,” she said.
“People are coming, they’re challenging us. It’s like, OK, this is an Indigenous issue, so we have carte blanche.
“Social media, walking down the street, in your own backyard, various other things.”
For Ms Barolits McCabe, juggling the enormous load, both in the workplace and in her personal life, has been only part of the challenge.
“I can’t go a day without random people asking me, ‘How do I vote? What do I think? Convince me to vote one way or another?'” she declared.
“To be honest, it’s absolutely exhausting.”
“You can never ring a bell”
13YARN, a national crisis support line for First Nations people who are feeling overwhelmed or having difficulty coping, reported a 108% increase in callers reporting abuse, racism and trauma between March and June.
The overall number of calls also increased, with three of 13YARN’s busiest weeks occurring between August and September, two months before the referendum date.
But Ms Barolits McCabe is concerned about the impact the referendum debate could have on communities well after October 14.
“There will be relief one way or another, but … you can never ring a bell,” she said.
“Exposure to the high levels of ugliness and racism that we’ve experienced in terms of discrimination…in all areas, where we wouldn’t normally want to see it or experience it, this is not going to be fixed overnight on the next day.
“All this trauma is not going to go away. It will still be there for a while.”
“A multitude of information is going on in my head”
Living overseas in Goulburn, New South Wales, Wiradjuri woman Cecilia McKenzie looks forward to spending time by the Wollondilly River where she can reconnect with her culture when she feels overwhelmed.
“For me, the river is about renewal, the river is about connection, and the river flows through and washes away new things, so I often come here to feel fresh and connected,” she said. declared.
“I feel my ancestors. I feel my father. I feel my grandmother. I feel my people with me when I’m here and I feel comforted by that.”
Ms McKenzie said she struggled to be present at work, with family and loved ones while she too faced the challenges of educating others around the Voice.
“It presents itself for me in exhaustion, in not being able to remember what I want to remember, not being able to make sense of it,” she said.
“It’s just a smorgasbord of information going through my head.
“I think we need to recognize that, for First Nations people, everything we’re talking about, the statistical impacts of colonization and the intergenerational trauma that’s still happening in people’s lives, intertwined with all the conversations around the referendum .
“It’s kind of like you’re under the microscope and you’re kind of really being evaluated.”
Ms McKenzie also fears for the future of Indigenous communities after the referendum reaches consensus.
“If after October 14, it’s yes or no, it’s not the whole story for us as Indigenous people,” Ms McKenzie said.
“After this date, all that will remain is how we treat each other, and I think it’s important that we treat each other with kindness, respect and dignity.”
Advocates call on politicians to have respectful debate
Earlier this month, First Nations experts and leading mental health organizations visited Parliament to speak with politicians and encourage them to be careful and considerate in their comments on the referendum.
Director of First Nations Strategy and Partnerships at the Black Dog Institute, Clinton Schultz, said the government needed to stand up and engage in the debate in a respectful way.
“Our pledge called on politicians to be more mindful of their words and how they use them, and the influence those words can actually have, and to do so in a way that actually preserves the good- be social and emotional of the crowd. at its heart.”
Mr Schultz believes that whatever the outcome of the vote, social and emotional difficulties will be at their peak after the referendum.
“If the vote is negative, I think the overwhelming majority of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are at risk of being ostracized on a societal level,” he said.
“If that translates to a yes, what we’ll actually see is a spike in elation, but very quickly what we’ll see is exhaustion kicking in.”
Mr Schultz said there would need to be a level of acceptance for First Nations employees and encouraged all Australians to be considerate and supportive during this time.
“The first thing that organizations need to be aware of is the fatigue that is going to be there, the burnout that is going to exist among our Torres Strait Islander Aboriginal workforce, and there needs to be accommodation for that,” he said. he declared.
“People may need to take additional time off work to undergo treatment and healing after this referendum journey.
“Remember that there are human beings at the center of all of this and we need to consider their social and emotional well-being through this.”
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