How Taliah pushed back against Indigenous stereotypes and statistics

Growing up, I had a lot of support from my family and was surrounded by my Aboriginal culture. My mother and Aunties encouraged me to be involved in Aboriginal dance and taught me all the traditional language they know. This makes me extremely lucky.

One of the most important things I have learnt is to be myself, to follow my own interests and to set my own goals. Towards the end of school, I received an offer to study law. I felt like a lot of people in my community wanted me to take up the offer, and I understood that this was because they wanted me to be successful. I didn’t take it, but instead applied to do psychology at a university away from home. Home will always be where my family and community are.

young woman with brown hair wearing glasses smiling

Learning about the statistics

During high school, I became more aware of the way Aboriginal people are often identified with the statistics that represent us. This can be really confronting for a young person, and at times I felt like my future was planned out for me already. I really valued my education and put a lot of energy into studying. It was lucky that I had many inspiring women around me. They taught me that I have power over my future, and that I’m free to write my own story.

In May 2020, the Black Lives Matter movement started sparking a lot of discussion. No matter where you turned, the movement was being discussed – on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and the news. The footage of George Floyd’s death was very scary and horrible. It caused protests in America and Australia. However, Australia’s conversation was much more focused on the treatment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, particularly deaths in custody.

Just like at school, I was faced with intimidating statistics. It’s important to recognise the terrible realities that the people the statistics relate to are facing. These are a few facts that stand out for me:

  • Indigenous prisoners are 1.26 times more likely to die in prison than non-Indigenous prisoners.

  • Indigenous people who have died in custody are significantly younger than non-Indigenous people who have died while imprisoned.The death rate for Indigenous women in custody is higher than the corresponding rate for Indigenous men.

  • More than 400 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have died in custody since the 1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.

Understanding the statistics

These statistics can be overwhelming, especially when they are being constantly reported. I found it upsetting and frustrating knowing that so many of my people were dying, and I had to find a way to cope with that knowledge. These are a few of the things that have worked for me:

  • I read official summaries of the statistics on Indigenous deaths in custody. This gives me an overview – a holistic view – of the situation.

  • I listen to a range of different perspectives and then come up with my own thoughts based on what I’ve read and heard.

  • I talk to people I trust about my thoughts and feelings.

Talking, listening and reading about these matters can really take it out of you, though. It took me a long time to learn more about the different challenges that many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people face in a range of areas, including the legal system.

I’ve spent years developing my understanding of the issues behind many of these statistics, including taking Aboriginal Studies in high school and university. I’m not an expert on these matters, but my point is that there is a lot happening and the issues tend to be really complicated. This can be scary, but my advice to other Aboriginal young people is to recognise when it might be getting too much for you and it’s time to take a break.

I am not defined by stereotypes or statistics.

Taking care of myself when things get tough

During those times when I’ve been struggling, I’ve had to learn how to look after myself. These are some of the ways I can practise self-care:

  • I try to remember that I get to write my own story. I’m not defined by statistics or stereotypes. I get to choose my hobbies, my job, my education and the people I spend time with.

  • I surround myself with the people I love and care for. I also make sure I have time to reflect and to be by myself. Sometimes this includes going for a walk, reading, listening to music, or just doing nothing and enjoying it.

  • I try to understand more about the situation that’s worrying me. This sometimes helps me to break it down and figure out how to cope with it.

  • I find that talking to people can be really helpful, if it means I can vent what I’m thinking and feeling. It also gives me a chance to hear how other people are feeling and thinking.

Your life matters. Taking care of yourself is the first thing you can do to buy-in to that. The world can be a scary place, and times like these serve to remind us of that, but I hope that some of these tips will help you to be mindful that you deserve to feel safe, valued and heard.

What can I do now?

  • If you need urgent support, call 13YARN (13 92 76) to speak with an Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander crisis supporter.