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Breaking the Cycles Jul. 12th, 2010 @ 11:06 am
I only just learned of Yetta Dhinnakal Correctional Centre. It's out in western New South Wales, 70km from Brewarrina. Link goes to an ABC news article that's well worth reading.

The summary: Ten years ago, the chief commissioner of the NSW Department of Correctional Services read the report from the Royal Commission into Black Deaths in Custody and actually thought about it, and came up with this place. The name means "right pathway" in the local Djemba language.

It takes young Indigenous men who've committed non-serious crimes, like burglary and drug offences, and, instead of throwing them into the prison system where nothing good will happen, sets about breaking the cycle of crime and incarceration, instead teaching the young men trades, skills, and self-respect.

It's working, too.

I almost cried reading the article, because it's one of those things - and there are a few dotted around Australia, but not nearly enough - where you can actually see that even the government is learning. The Indigenous population of this country is in a terrible state, and they need help... but at Yetta Dhinnakal, like all the other genuinely successful programs I know of that are attempting to get the communities out of the cycle of misery that is the legacy of colonisation and institutional racism, the way it's being done is that the government provides infrastructure and support for the Indigenous elders to get the younger generation in line.

What so many people don't even seem to want to see is that this problem was created by whites, but we can't fix it. It just maintains the structures of paternalism and oppression. It doesn't work. But their are Indigenous elders out there, who have the authority within Indigenous culture to bring the younger generations into line, and the will to do it... if given the chance. If the young black men who commit crimes because they never got the chance to know a better path in life are given over to their care instead of locked away.

In an ideal world, programs like this would be there for everyone who commits these kinds of crimes (although the prison industrial complex in the USA would struggle, but that's another, far more depressing post), but as it is, it just gives me such hope to know that it's happening anywhere at all, because these things have knock-on effects of their own; the young men who go to Yetta Dhinnakal will have a positive effect on their own children, and on their communities, and the success of the program will make it more likely that others like it can be set up.

A related example, to explain what I was alluding to above: the problem with endemic alcoholism in some Indigenous communities in northern Western Australia is being improved by "grog bans", where mid- and full-strength alcoholic drinks are banned from takeaway sale. Allegedly this has been bad for some local businesses, but the local communities have found it very helpful; bans are made at the request of the communities.

There's just a profound difference between "you can't have strong alcohol because the white man says you can't be trusted with it, because you're an irresponsible child even if you are old enough by law" and "you can't have strong alcohol because the elders disapprove of it, and forty thousand years of tradition says they're in charge, son, so suck it up and learn to like it".
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