The Voice debate is an important and historic one. But the referendum process and related conversations will likely be challenging – and potentially distressing – for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples.
However you intend to vote, the safety, wellbeing, and respect of our First Nations Peoples should be everyone’s priority during what may be an emotional and traumatic time.
We'd like to offer some practical ways to be sensitive to First Nations Peoples during The Voice referendum debate, and to be conscious of your own self-care as an ally.
While we should be seeking to listen to First Nations voices, it takes a toll on First Nations Peoples to continuously share their stories, educate, and advocate.
Whatever your stance on The Voice, it’s your responsibility to be informed and educate yourself on First Nations Peoples’ perspectives of Australian history and the ongoing impact of colonisation, including the upcoming referendum.
Familiarising yourself with The Uluru Statement from The Heart and understanding the background of the call to enshrine a voice to parliament is a great place to start.
Acknowledge the Impact
Opinions and feelings surrounding the referendum are strong on both sides.
Sadly, First Nations Peoples will likely experience increased instances of racism and cultural bias as people publicly share their thoughts online and in person.
It’s important that we’re aware of the impact The Voice debate and related conversations may have on First Nations Peoples and their immediate non-First Nations family members, close friends and allies.
Being the focus of such strong political opinions and misinformation can severely impact their mental, emotional, social, and spiritual wellbeing.
Some impacts might include:
- Increased anxiety and depression
- Changes in sleep and appetite
- Feeling fearful and unsafe
- Feelings of shame
- Trauma and PTSD
- Chronic stress
- Suicidal thoughts.
Being mindful of these impacts can help us be more understanding and empathetic and remind us to look out for each other during this time.
Create Safe Spaces for First Nations Peoples
Now more than ever, we each have a responsibility to consciously create culturally safe and inclusive workplaces and communities.
A culturally safe space means everyone feels comfortable, supported, and respected.
You can do this by:
- Recognising and avoiding stereotypes
- Confronting your own racism and biases
- Never assuming someone’s cultural identity
- Being aware of cultural differences in communication by seeking to understand how First Nations community members in your local area use body language that is respectful and welcoming.
Don’t Speak for First Nations Peoples
People will have different opinions and perspectives when it comes to The Voice – including First Nations individuals.
Allow First Nations Peoples to speak for themselves, and don’t assume where they stand on the topic.
Truth-telling and storytelling are two of the most important tools to educate non-First Nations Australians about these issues and to learn what issues are priorities to First Nations Peoples.
Truth-telling requires us to suspend our own experience and personal biases and engage in deep listening with First Nations Peoples about historical Truths. These Truths can sometimes be uncomfortable, but Truth-telling is crucial to build respect and understanding and begin the healing journey to reconciliation.
This might involve listening to practical examples of current incidents and historical precedents witnessed and/or documented by:
- First Nations Elders, Leaders, and community members
- Respected sources such as Reconciliation Australia and Australians for Native Title and Reconciliation
- First Nations academics, historians, and health professionals
- Royal Commission Reports, courts and law reports, mental health reports.
Storytelling refers to First Nations clans or individuals sharing their wisdom, knowledge, and lived experience. Storytelling might take the form of sharing a personal history, such as Stolen Generation survivor, Barkindji woman Aunty Julie Black, sharing her experience as part of The Healing Foundation’s ‘Telling our Stories – Our Stolen Generations’ series.
Listen to the Truths shared in Truth-telling and storytelling, and centre First Nations Peoples in conversations on The Voice – and all issues impacting them – to ensure their voices are heard.
Be Respectful and Open to Learning
Respectful communication is important no matter the context.
When First Nations Peoples share their feelings, lived experience, and wisdom, remain respectful and openminded. Don’t interrupt, raise your voice, or use disrespectful language or body language.
You don’t have to agree, but you do have to be respectful.
We offer tips to be a good listener in this blog post.
Stand up Against Racism
When safe to do so, standing visibly against racism and discrimination can be one of the most impactful ways to show support.
This includes calling out microaggressions within your own family or social circle. It may be uncomfortable, but having these conversations is a crucial part of being a true advocate. Silence condones racism.
You don’t have to engage in political discussions or advocate for your position on The Voice, but you do have a responsibility to advocate for the respect and dignity of our First Nations Peoples.
If we seek to be a more caring and respectful society that values all members and their safety, we’ll find better ways to work and live together.
We offer advice to address discrimination in this blog post.
We understand this topic may raise difficult emotions for some people. Help is available.
RAQ offers culturally safe counselling and support services for First Nations Peoples. You can call 1300 364 277 to make an appointment or get help finding the right support for you.
For 24/7 crisis support, call 13YARN on 13 92 76 to talk with an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander Crisis Supporter.