Ahead of Indigenous Business Month, we launched a new podcast – something I’ve wanted to bring to life for a while now. In an evolution of different ideas and directions, Beyond the Gap became an Australian-first investigation into best practice reconciliation and Indigenous engagement for corporate Australia and beyond.
I wanted to have meaningful conversations with industry leaders about the relationship between corporate Australia and Indigenous people, something that seems so obvious in the journey towards reconciliation but was still being tiptoed around.
There was so much out there about the need for corporate Australia to engage First Nations people, without really getting to the meat of how, and what does this even look like, and how organisations can do it meaningfully.
Throughout my conversations with the guests, recurring themes about truth-telling, cultural understanding, and building genuine relationships were mentioned by guests like Dr Simon Longstaff, Karen Mundine and Ian Hamm; and how without these, true reconciliation will always be out of reach.
There was one particular episode that will stay with me forever – when I spoke with Dr Tracy Westerman, an Indigenous psychologist whose resume is seriously impressive let alone her insights.
In our conversation, Tracy explained that 30 per cent of trauma amongst Indigenous Australians is intergenerational – meaning almost a quarter of a million Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in this country deal with trauma related challenges that have been locked in even before their first breath.
How do we begin to close the gap using all the learnings that were drawn out over the course of the podcast series, when we are still navigating through intergenerational damages?
Just like we see in health, education, and the justice system, there are serious consequences of this inherited trauma for the financial empowerment and resilience of First Nations people.
Growing up in Aboriginal housing commission, I was always trying to figure out why we had less money than others. It wasn’t until my 20s that I witnessed a stark comparison between what my non-Indigenous friends’ families could focus on – teaching their kids and grandkids about personal finance and building wealth – and what the mob I knew had to take on instead… mission life and living on rations, proving they were ‘clean’ enough to work alongside non-Indigenous colleagues, balancing their cultural obligations with a career.
It struck me hard when I saw the huge juxtaposition of financial literacy between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people of roughly the same age – not just what assets were being handed down generation to generation but what understanding was too.
In 2019, along with NAB and the Centre of Social Impact, First Nations Foundation launched Money Stories as a first-of-its-kind research piece into the personal wealth and finances of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
The findings were confronting and reiterated what I’d witnessed in my 20s. More than 48% of Indigenous people were experiencing severe or high levels of financial stress, compared to just 11% of the broader population. 52% of Aboriginal people reported they had no savings compared to 13.5% of non-Indigenous people, and 33.9% of the broader population felt as though they had financial security, while only 9.7% of the Indigenous population did.
While confronting, these findings really make sense. Most of our life skills are a product of what our parents can work with us on or at least someone from our family. When we don’t have that type of role model, those skills are lacking – especially when it’s something like financial literacy and wellbeing that is not extensively taught in schools. For a lot of First Nations kids, just like me, that go-to person to ask about money and savings and investing simply doesn’t exist.
It is time for initiatives involving reconciliation and closing any gaps to factor in the unique position of Indigenous Australians; to truly understand who we are, and to build the bridges that we all need to bring our cultures closer together.
I hope those following the Beyond the Gap podcast find their own insight or pivotal moment that strikes some inspiration for enacting real change for Australia’s First Nations people.
You can listen to the conversations yourself here.