Reconciliation Week Interview with Toni Janke - Centacare Brisbane

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During National Reconciliation Week (27 May to 3 June 2020) we speak with Toni Janke, Indigenous Services Co-ordinator Centacare.

The date of the annual National Reconciliation Week commemorates two milestones — the 1967 referendum and the High Court Mabo decision. We talk with Toni, about how we can reconcile the relationship between the broader Australian community and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples for a unified future.

Why is it important for Catholics across Australia to acknowledge this week?

I think Reconciliation Week is a time to stop and reflect and acknowledge what reconciliation really means for us as a nation. As Catholics, we tend to speak about reconciliation in the sacramental sense – saying sorry for past wrongs we have committed and seeking forgiveness. As a nation, we need to think about the grave injustices that have been inflicted on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and to stand up against discrimination, racism and all of the historical wrongs so that they never happen again. We need to acknowledge the need for deep healing and to move forward together with respect and understanding. One of our biggest challenges is acknowledging the truth of this country and the historic justices that have occurred in the past.

It’s 2020. Have times changed when it comes to reconciliation?

Sadly we have still so much to do as our families and communities are still vulnerable or struggling with life challenges and many complex issues. It is not acceptable. We need to constantly review the way we treat Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and how services are being provided. It is not acceptable in 2020 for any family to be denied access to basic services such as health, housing and education. It is not acceptable for us to stand by and see others suffering without speaking up and offering support wherever we can. But this is something we must all do. Everyone is entitled to live well and enjoy fundamental freedoms. Reconciliation is not just about increasing our awareness and understanding of the issues. It is an ongoing process of healing through responsibility and action.

How has your life experience impacted where you are today?

My life experience has completely shaped who and where I am today. Nothing is accidental or irrelevant. Every interaction, every experience has led me to become the person I am today. I am proud of who I am but I am also deeply saddened by the fact that many of my brothers and sisters are still suffering with domestic and family violence, addiction, homelessness, poverty, mental health issues, imprisonment. Through my own lived experience, I hope I am able to reach out to help others who are in need of support or are experiencing difficulty in their lives.

Talk us through a day-in-your-life as Indigenous Services Co-ordinator with Centacare?

Centacare provides counselling support for families who are usually going through difficult times. We provide a range of services – domestic and family violence support, relationship counselling, parenting support, mediation and family dispute resolution. We also provide specialist support for women, men, children and young people on an individual, couple or group basis. In my role I am privileged to work directly with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families to offer support. I am also able to advocate for others and work with other services by making appropriate referrals and providing much-needed information to clients. Every day is different whether I am working in the front line with families or working at a leadership or policy level. However, the focus is the same – it is always about supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families. While the work we do day-to-day is important, we also need to address the bigger issues of systemic and institutional barriers to reconciliation.

What actions are you seeing, within the Archdiocese of Brisbane and Centacare, to contribute to Reconciliation?

The Archdiocese of Brisbane is committed to developing and implementing a Reconciliation Action Plan which will keep agencies accountable to First Nations communities.  This plan will address specific goals and targets that will deliver against key issues for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. This is a significant and essential step in improving relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in our community. There is a large percentage of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living within the Archdiocese of Brisbane across many communities in South-east Queensland. We need to continually do more to reach out to communities and build stronger partnerships with them, so that we are truly inclusive in acknowledging the vital role Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people play in society as First Nations peoples. We need to demonstrate strong leadership by speaking up about injustice and actively support the reconciliation agenda.

Do you have any advice to current or future Catholic Aboriginal leaders and community members?

As Catholics we value the teachings of Christ and the importance of loving and serving others. Each of us is called to make a difference in the lives of others. In this way, true reconciliation is about coming together to love and respect each other despite our differences or challenges. My advice for other leaders and members of the community is to ask yourself the questions – how exactly am I making a difference to the specific lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, families and communities? What do I need to do to learn more about First Nations people? Who do I need to consult or speak with? What can I do to promote reconciliation in my own community, parish or workplace? Is there an opportunity in my own life to do something specifically for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people? How can I do my bit in advancing the agenda of reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in this country? We must also take responsibility for educating ourselves and learning the true history of this country and why reconciliation is so important to all Australians.

How can National Reconciliation Week help forge stronger, long-lasting ties between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities? The focus of the week is to essentially profile the importance of reconciliation – although we need to work consistently all year round on developing stronger, long-lasting ties.

I strongly encourage others to use the week to raise awareness about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander issues and the importance of building ongoing relationships as well as finding ways to take action in your own community, agency or parish. Whilst change is at times painfully slow, we still need to keep moving forward. Every little bit counts as we are all in this together.