Alice Springs elders fear NT’s youth crime plan could create new stolen generation

Strong Grandmothers say government should work with communities instead of taking children found unsupervised on the street at night into custody

Alice Springs elders are pleading with the Northern Territory government to work with them on solutions to youth crime before implementing policies they say could lead to another stolen generation.

The Strong Grandmothers group of central Australia say they don’t want the NT government to keep introducing “failing” programs.

Their comments came after the Fyles government said it was considering taking unsupervised children off the streets at night and into child protection, in response to youth crime concerns in Alice Springs.

A government spokesperson said children taken into custody would be assessed and returned to their families if it was safe to do so. Alternative “safe place” accommodation would be a last resort. The spokesperson said details of the safe-place accommodation were still being worked out, and any accommodation would be appropriate.

The proposal comes amid frustration over a perceived lack of action to combat property crime in Alice Springs.

Doreen Carroll Nungurla is a great-grandmother who has lived in Alice Springs for many decades. She spent several years in a government-run institution as a young girl.

The Western Arrernte woman is a member of the Strong Grandmothers group and said she feared the government’s latest plan could lead to more children coming into contact with the out-of-home care system.

“It’s another intervention … there is another pain of stolen generation,” Carroll said.

Elaine Peckham, an Eastern Arrernte woman, said elders, local police, community organisations and the NT government need to be working together to find solutions.

“We are grandmothers, great-grandmothers, and we are here to say, enough is enough from us as well. Where are the parents of those children?” she said.

“We’ve been asking for this for a long, long time … We’ve got to work out a solution.”

Group member Pat Ansell Dodds said governments needed to learn from the past.

“They should be listening to all of us – not just taking second-hand programs that they did in the past. That has to stop.”

Ansell Dodds said colonisation, intergenerational trauma from the stolen generations, and loss of culture are still affecting Indigenous youth, along with a lack of services and disconnections from traditional homelands.

“It’s worse now. The kids should be learning their culture, and their country and their language from their people. They are lost here in this town and then for them it’s like ‘we’ll go look for food and smash things’,” she said.

“Even when they put them in these home-care programs, the kids lose their own culture, their language. They learn white men way and that’s not acceptable to us.”

Carroll said crime and antisocial behaviour were a problem in Alice Springs, where families from remote communities came to access services and where there was a lack of programs aimed at young people.

“There’s lots of kids, sometimes 40 or 5o running around, nobody can handle them, but the organisations [are] not doing anything,” Carroll said.

“The kids [have] got nothing. There’s a swimming pool, that’s all they’ve got really, so they really need to open up a place to entertain them.”

Strong Grandmothers member Brenda Shields said that as elders were lost, families often struggled with harms such as drugs, alcohol or gambling, with many children lacking role models.

“They come into town and with the parents doing their own thing. Either gambling, grog, ganja, or else social media and it’s sending out the wrong messages.”

Shields believes a rethink in managing the issue is needed.

“They’re pouring money into projects that are failing, it keeps failing the people and it keeps failing the community,” she said.

Chris Tomlins, who works with young people in Alice Springs and also ran as a Greens candidate in the recent NT election, said the 2007 NT intervention caused deep-rooted harms to many Aboriginal people.

“That military intervention into the Northern Territory, people are saying it’s over – it’s not over. This is going to stick with our kids and our grandchildren for many, many years,” the Arrernte and Warlpiri man said.

He said authorities, governments and organisations need to work with families.

“It’s about engaging more with the communities, with the parents.”

The NT government said it was working closely with territory families, housing and communities to support young people on the streets at risk due to a lack of supervision.

A government spokesperson said it would not be seeking to reform legislation, and removing children from families would be a last resort.

“The safe-place accommodation will only be used where all other options for returning the young person to their family have been exhausted,” the spokesperson said.


Sarah Collard

The GuardianTramp

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