A senior police officer has recounted her family’s history of conflict with white authorities, but says that despite the past, working in the force allows her to help Aboriginal people and advance reconciliation.
Sergeant Danielle James-A’Hang, Aboriginal Policy Officer for SAPOL delivered a powerful speech at the Reconciliation in the North event which was hosted by the City of Salisbury and City of Tea Tree Gully during Reconciliation Week this year.
In line with the “Don’t keep history a mystery” theme of Reconciliation Week, Sgt James-A’Hang spoke about her family’s history.
Her great-great grandmother was a Nauo person living at the time of the Elliston massacre, her great uncle was a veteran of the First World War who wondered if he would be allowed back into the country after fighting and her grandmother lived in fear of having her children taken away.
She says that her family’s story is a common one that should be shared, and in that way reconciliation can be advanced.
“I see a disconnection from actually knowing why we’re trying to create reconciliation” Sgt James-A’Hang told Aboriginal Way.
“It’s not a passing on of the baton of blame. It’s a reflection of what has happened and that those healings from that journey still continue today.
“We’re still living with the generations that were removed, the generations that came under the Flora and Fauna Act that were not considered to be human beings, that were not considered to have the right to vote. Basic principles that we take for granted in these days.
“So, reconciliation requires people to go back and ask the question, why do we need to have reconciliation today, in 2018?” she said.
Sgt James-A’Hang’s grandmother was a Kokotha and Nauo person. Her name was Maggie Way.
“The Nauo people were the people that were in the surrounds of Elliston. At the time, Elliston was the largest port in South Australia” she said.
“As a result of conflict in the area, between Aboriginal people and pastoralists, the Nauo people were rounded up at gunpoint and driven through the countryside and off a cliff” Sgt James-A’Hang recounted.
She is keen to point out that there has been healing around this historic site as the local district council in Elliston have erected a monument to recognise the incident.
Her great uncle fought in World War I in an era when there was uncertainty that Aboriginal soldiers would even be allowed back in the country after they had fought for the nation.
“My great-uncle went to the First World War in around 1915 and fought at Fromelles, in France, in the trenches. He was wounded, he was shot, and then he also suffered mustard gas, which led to his convalescing in England and eventually his return to Australia.”
Returning to Australia after fighting for the nation was not an automatic process for Aboriginal diggers like Sgt James-A’Hang’s great uncle.
“It’s really important to remember that time frame because, not long beforehand, Aboriginal trackers were taken from Australia to the Boer War around about 1890, where they served as trackers in the British regiment.
“They were then left in South Africa, never to return back to their homeland.
“So, for Aboriginal people who were joining up in the First World War, it was quite a time of trepidation and fear.
“They wanted to defend their country; they wanted to be a part of Australia. Yet, there was also an underlining uncertainty as to whether they were going to be allowed back in” she explained
The fact that her uncle was allowed back in and that he and his mother were accepted into the community is a unique story of reconciliation Sgt James-A’Hang said.
In fact her great uncle was a popular person in the local community and her great great grandmother was a valued nunkari.
“She became the healer and the midwife for the local Aboriginal people and also the local pastoralists and white people that had ultimately driven the Nauo people off the edge of the cliff” Sgt James-A’Hang said.
“One has gone to fight for Australia and one has gone on to birth the children of the people who most likely drove her people off the edge of the cliff” she said.
Sgt James-A’Hang believes that many Aboriginal people hesitate to share their family’s history for varied reasons, including the shame that comes from generations of being fearful.
“I think, for some people, you were made to feel ashamed that you were Aboriginal. It was the standard norm to keep it a secret, to squirrel it away, to hide when authorities came, to be
fearful. So, there’s a generation of not telling the story.
Sharing the story is very important as so many families had the same experience, she says.
“My story is not unique. My story is every single Aboriginal person’s story. We share that story together.
“It is replicated over and over again, not only in Adelaide, but South Australia and the whole of Australia. And because there’s such commonality with that story, perhaps we don’t realise the significance of it” she said.
Sgt James-A’Hang accepts the anger that some Aboriginal people have towards police and other white authorities, given this common story.
“I don’t refute it or reject this opinion. We share the story” she said.
“Even though I’m wearing uniform, we share the story and, therefore, we have empathy for an Aboriginal person who is spending time in front of us.
“Everybody thinks that policing is about arresting people. It is so not. It’s about having a connection with somebody and then helping that person in their most vulnerable time of need.
“Thirty percent of our prison population is Aboriginal. We have more removal of children than ever before. We have the highest rate per capita of domestic violence. The highest in the western world. So, the police are at the centre of that. They’re at the centre of arresting you, they’re at the centre of helping you, they’re at the centre of being at your side when you are most in need.
“I’m of the opinion that change will never come from the outside. You want to make change happen? You get educated, you get in the inside and then you work yourself up into a position where you can make significant change at a significant level” Sgt James-A’Hang said.
By Lucy Kingston
SANTS acknowledges that the land on which our office is based is the traditional lands for the Kaurna people and we respect their spiritual and cultural relationship with their country.