On average each year there are 3,000 deaths of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people, but many families cannot afford a funeral. The distress levels can damage families, displace anger, dishevelling people, condemning them to elevated risk to aberrant behaviours. Nationally, nearly half the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population lives below the poverty line, a damnation culminated by this nation’s past wrongs and cruelties, its horrific racism.
Jennifer Kaeshagen, the director of the First Nations Homelessness Project, who works to prevent evictions of families from public housing, has seen first-hand the impacts of families not able to afford funerals for loved ones. Kaeshagen has described families at elevated risk to aberrant distresses, displacing anger on each other and who are then depleted of energy, who all of a sudden become vulnerable to the never ending “surveillance” of authorities, whose children become at-risk of being removed by child protection authorities.
Kaeshagen argues that state and territory governments should establish funeral funds for Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander families who cannot afford them, or who do not have access to native title trust funds (which is the majority of families).
Mervyn Eades, the CEO of the Ngalla Maya Aboriginal Corporation which works exclusively with the marginalised backs Kaeshagen and says a Western Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander funeral fund is long overdue.
“Our people should not have to beg around to farewell their loved ones.”
Many impoverished and struggling families are calling for each state and territory to establish funeral funds for Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander families who are not able to afford to funerals. Western Australia is the nation’s wealthiest jurisdiction and boasts one of the world’s highest median incomes but its poorest are left behind.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), in 2015 there were 3,088 deaths of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islanders. Queensland recorded highest with 842 deaths, NSW at 822, Western Australia with 511, the Northern Territory at 537, South Australia with 167, Victoria with 141, Tasmania with 50 and the ACT with 17 deaths.
The Western Australian Government can establish a yearly $2 million funeral fund for Aboriginal families who cannot afford funeral costs. Families that are struggling should be assisted with say $5000 from a State Government Aboriginal funeral fund. Alongside Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples of the Northern Territory, Western Australia is the jurisdiction where Aboriginal peoples have it worst in the nation. The Western Australian Government can lead the way with the $2 million funeral fund – the rest of the nation will follow. There is no excuse say both Kaeshagen and Eades for the Western Australian Government to not spot each year the paltry $2 million. Two to three hundred struggling families would be assisted and there’d be change left over from this $2 million fund.
Distress levels can be reduced for impoverished families, the homeless, for struggling families if funerals can be paid for by the State.
60 per cent of Western Australia’s Aboriginal peoples live below the poverty line. 75 per cent in the Northern Territory. 40 per cent nationally.
Gerry Georgatos in working with suicide affected families through the National Indigenous Critical Response Service, has often raised the funds for funerals because of the distressing stories of family after family – having the body of a child or a parent remain longer in a morgue than should, or who break down altogether because they cannot afford the last dignity of a funeral, depleting the last vestiges of strength.
Many people find themselves raising the funds for those who cannot afford a funeral service; in Georgatos’ case for homeless and for impoverished families, for suicide affected families. The dignity of a farewell to a loved one is imperative.
Eades, Kaeshagen, Georgatos, others experience first-hand the pressures and impacts on families who cannot afford funerals, and subsequently who are not able to mourn in an effective manner – they can be reduced to composite and multiple traumas, to the direst. The constancy of the psychosocial negative can culminate in aberrant behaviour, and vulnerable families become at-risk of needless confrontation with the personnel of various agencies and authorities. There is displaced anger, their children impacted, children at elevated risk to being removed. We are not being dramatic – this our eye witness and this is the pain and suffering, the misery that we have been asked by many to translate into a campaign to galvanise state and territory governments to set up a funeral fund.
Many of us work at pace to improve the lot of others, but the grim reality is that because of the impacts of past wrongs and horrific cruelties by one government after another, here in Western Australia, and nationally, many will live poor and marginalised their whole lives, many families will remain downtrodden and this government funeral fund is one of a number of simple steps that will guarantee dignities, reduce distress, keep families solid. We must do everything we can to help.
It is sad, but this is the least that we can do in death for those we as a society have failed and wronged in life.
Western Australia’s life expectancy for its Aboriginal peoples remains the lowest in the nation, with the state’s Aboriginal males expected to live 15 years less than the state’s non-Indigenous males and the females 14.4 years less than the state’s non-Indigenous females. From 2013 to 2015 Western Australia’s median age at death for the state’s Aboriginal males was 51.5 years, the lowest in the nation. That means that half the deaths were aged less than 51.5 years. For females the state’s median average at death was 58.8 years.
Western Australia has the highest total of Aboriginal suicides in the nation.
If the Western Australian Government does not establish a funeral fund then that’s disgraceful.