Sandra Creamer, interim CEO of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Women’s Alliance (NATSIWA) explains her work succinctly: “To be a voice and support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women in Australia.”
At NATSIWA this mission shapes a broad range of innovative projects and advocacy work. There is an e-leadership program in Alice Springs with the National Rural Women’s Coalition involving workshops to empower and provide information to Aboriginal women who are business owners; a collaboration with Harmony Alliance on the Judicial Council on Cultural Diversity, as well as the many submissions NATSIWA makes in response to changes in legislation or policy.
One major current project is the co-development of a domestic violence framework in traditional language with Mura Kosker Sorority. The creation of resources in traditional language is a practice Sandra would like more services to adopt, “as English is not always the first language for some communities.”
When asked about other key issues for addressing family violence for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, Sandra is again succinct: “We need to heal.”
Sandra believes many Australians may not understand how the impacts of colonisation, separation from family and other intergenerational trauma can be experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people - something she is keen to see change.
“A lot of Aboriginal people were removed from their parents and put in dormitory living or in homes, to be brought up in an environment where their understanding of being in a family was lost.”
“There is a saying: ‘First things learnt are hardest to forget, from one generation to another we need to change.’ It’s hard to forget the violence that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were taught from colonisation, we have to go back and learn the circle of family and healing.”
It is essential, however, that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women be at the table when considering issues that affect their own communities, she continues.
“We cannot have someone else from another area talking about the women, the women need to be the voice.”
She highlights the importance of acknowledging lived experience, cultural and community knowledge, and other skills when filling roles.
“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people need to be placed in the jobs, just because they don't have a degree does not make them underqualified, we need to be at the table and to be a voice in decision making.”
For Sandra, confronting the challenges of the work is made easier when remembering what has already been achieved: “It is through our strength and voices that we are slowly making changes.”
This is bolstering when she considers the work that is still to be done for some Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities
“Some remote areas lack certain services, so elders or those in need have to move to the cities, away from their families or communities.”
Sandra would like services to be more culturally appropriate and able to adapt to the needs of each community. She’d like to see more funding for mental health, women’s and men’s services.
When asked about the changes she would most like to see come about in her lifetime, Sandra talks about the importance of funding and employment in remote communities, as well as a broader social acknowledgment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as the First Nations people of Australia.
“We are here with a culture, language, values and traditions,” she says. “People need to accept us and support us.”
She says she would like to see more people, men in particular, calling each other out when it comes to violence and disrespect towards women and making bolder moves in joining with women to end gender-based violence.
Like all significant social change, this will take time and requires unified action from service providers, individuals and society as a whole. Sandra, however, is confident about what can be achieved when women are empowered by opportunity.
“Aboriginal women are making changes and becoming leaders, we then in turn can empower those following us. It’s hard to get rid of violence when violence was put on us in a brutal way, but we are overcoming.”
Sandra Creamer is the interim CEO of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Women’s Alliance (NATSIWA), and a member of the 1800RESPECT National Sector Advisory Group.
The 1800RESPECT National Sector Advisory Group brings together domestic and family violence and sexual assault experts with knowledge and experience in disability and family law areas as well as on issues facing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, same sex relationships, young people and Australians in rural and remote areas. The members provide advice and strategic direction to ensure 1800RESPECT continues to be the best possible sexual assault, domestic and family violence support service.