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Cry from the heart: Tania Major

Sunday, July 30, 2006
Interviewer: Welcome to the 60 Minutes chat room. ninemsn in association with 60 Minutes present a live interview with Tania Major, here to discuss the harsh realities of our Aboriginal communities around Australia.

Interviewer: Tania, thank you for joining us tonight in our live online chat.

Tania Major: Thanks for having me and I'm happy to answer your questions.

dizzy1 asks: Tania, I would just like to say well done and good on you for speaking out and finally telling it the way it really is.

Tania Major: I'd like to say thank you for your encouragement and it's people like you who inspire me to continue to do what I do even though the road is constantly bumpy.

jimzzor asks: How long do you think it will take before abuse within Aboriginal communities has ceased to occur?

Tania Major: It's not going to stop immediately; it will take a whole new generation. Part of my role is to educate the next generation. How do you shift the mindset? It will take my generation and the one after to change that mindset.

jeremy asks: Tania, have you considered developing a good education system within the place you are from?

Tania Major: I have considered it, but in a community like Kowanyama the options are there but we still need work to ensure that education is valued.

ljt04 asks: It was mentioned as a discussion in my lounge room just then that Aborigines cannot control their alcohol intakes as well as white people? I don't believe it is true. Tania, can you confirm that for me?

Tania Major: No, that's not true at all. Aboriginal people in remote communities don't have the same lifestyle as most white Australians. They have welfare, they have a lot of spare time and a canteen open all day. There is no real industry in these communities. Anyone of any race in this kind of situation will possibly turn to alcohol. I am 6ft 2inches and when I go out clubbing I have been picked on by white Australian girls who have been drinking and I'm quite sober. If I retaliate I am the person most likely to be kicked out. Controlling the intake of alcohol is more about the lifestyle than the nationality of a person.

Jonah asks: Do you feel that because of the welfare there is a tendency to not aspire to anything. Is it the elders that need to drive the motivation and will they do it?

Tania Major: Good question. Yes, welfare plays a large role and as for the elders it is partly their role as well as the leaders within the community. The elders today have lost power and community social control. They need to regain the respect within the culture in order to move forward.

Kiah asks: Do you think customary law is being abused in the community?

Tania Major: Definitely, it is being abused in the community. As I said earlier, if we had strong customs and laws we wouldn't be having these problems.

mikey asks: Why is it that the women are so afraid to report this abuse?

Tania Major: Because it's like anything, you get threatened by the family and it's always the woman's fault. Therefore they are scared because they will be bashed up if they say anything. It is seen as the woman's fault that she was abused.

tobes asks: What will happen a few years down the track if the people you are helping now decide that this wasn't the right thing? Could we have another missing generation? All respect for what you have done, you are an inspiration.

Tania Major: By then the laws around communities will have changed and the community will have changed due to policy changes around welfare within our government. So a lot of the community people will have no choice. It is a personal choice. The programs I am doing now are based on functional families who want their children to succeed. It is more family-based than community-based, however families make communities.

Kari asks: Hi Tania. I admire what you're doing and feel accountable for white Australia's refusal to acknowledge its role in the status quo. Would you and Noel Pearson ever consider placing Aboriginal students in non-boarding schools, living with a family?

Tania Major: It's an option. It would be dependent upon the willingness of the community families to allow their children to stay with a host family.

Lis asks: How many students have you managed to place in independent schools to date?

Tania Major: We have over 20 students throughout Queensland.

Agrophobic asks: Alcohol, idleness, drugs are all symptoms. Don't you think the real problem is a loss of respect? Respect for the people, respect for the land and respect for self. Are community activities that showcase traditional ways a possible tourism activity?

Tania Major: I agree with your remark about respect. It is an important element in moving forward. However the culture needs to be strong to give identity and create respect for self and custom. They need to be able to respect that they are Aboriginal people of Australia. What role is Australia playing in nurturing respect for its first people? Without land, without laws and customs there is no identity.

Peter asks: I'm in Year 12 and I was thinking of doing a course in social work at uni next year. What can I do to make a significant difference to communities without seeming like an intruding racist white boy?

Tania Major: Get an insight into remote communities first by volunteering in an indigenous organisation while still studying. Be yourself, be interested. Don't go into a community being sympathetic, show an interest and be empathetic with the people. Don't get caught up with the innuendo in these remote communities — blacks on one side, whites on the other. Good luck with your studies and with getting involved and standing up for what is right in our country, we need more Australians like yourself.

Murdie asks: Do you think remote communities should be abolished in favour of integrating the people who live in these communities into mainstream Australia to break the cycle of what's happening in them, with help to adapt to the new environment? Good on you, sis.

Tania Major: No — the communities have significance to the Aboriginal people, it's who we are, it's our land and it would never work. It would be shifting the problem. We need to be responsible for our own problems and we need the opportunity to do that on our own ground.

Mike asks: Do you think there is not enough money focused on the issues facing Aboriginals or a case of the money not being used in the right way? If so, who should be in charge of directing the funds into the right areas?

Tania Major: We have 95 percent of the understanding and the experience of the problems and only five percent of the power and resources. Bureaucracy has 95 percent of the power and only five percent of the understanding and experience of the problem.

They need to meet us 50/50 to move beyond where we want to be. In indigenous affairs I don't think there is enough funding and a lot of it gets caught up in administration and one-off programs.

ellen asks: How important is it for Aboriginal children to keep a sense of their heritage and still be part of modern Australia with the same hopes and dreams as other children?

Tania Major: It is extremely important. It about having a sense of self, being culturally grounded, armed with a first class education and the ability to orbit between Cape York, New York, Paris and wider Australia. At the same time maintaining respect for their culture.

sledge asks: What is your role in the community now ... are you working at the school?

Tania Major: I was working as the crime prevention officer and am now working in policy, welfare and youth development at the Cape York Institute.

Gab asks: Tania, how can one contribute to the fund for providing boarding school education for Aboriginal children?

Tania Major: They can jump on our website www.cyi.org.au and read about the program then ring the institute and talk further.

Interviewer: Unfortunately, we are out of time, are there any last comments you want to make before we finish?

Tania Major: Thank you for your support and interest. If anyone would like to contact me you can e-mail me at tanmajor@hotmail.com and I will be happy to answer any questions.

Interviewer: Once again, thank you and goodnight. This concludes our live chat with Tania Major, July 30, 2006. Produced by ninemsn.com.au in Sydney, Australia © 2006 ninemsn.com.au. Thanks for joining us tonight.
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