Queensland organisation Canvas3 prides itself on its social justice consultancy and Indigenous workforce support.
After seeing many campaigns and initiatives come and go without any sustainable success, CEO Selena King said one of the organisation’s main objectives is to increase Indigenous participation rates and leadership.
Another key focus for Canvas3 is social justice, particularly given that over 70 percent of children in Queensland youth detention are of Indigenous backgrounds and aged between 10 and 17-years-old.
“We have a strong social justice stance, so we are particularly concerned about the number of Indigenous kids in custody and … adults as well, it’s all part of the same cycle and system,” Ms King said.
“From an international human rights perspective, we’re certainly failing in those … areas.”
Ms King said Canvas3 looks not only at support services, but tools that can bring self-determination and economic empowerment to Australia’s First Peoples and create tangible change.
The inspiration behind the organisation’s name, Canvas3, paints a unique picture as to what their work is all about.
“It started off as a blank canvas. We’re very much about acknowledging historical legacy but then moving towards creating a new chapter … and changing the story,” Ms King said.
“And then the three … initially we see health, justice and education as core components within the Indigenous space.”
Reconnecting to country
Canvas3 works significantly in youth justice with Indigenous youth workers who help reconnect Indigenous youth in custody with their culture.
“Part of our focus is about reconnecting young people to community and culture which we see as significant in addressing recidivism as well,” Ms King said.
Ms King said the youth workers engage in a range of activities with kids in custody including basic life skills like cooking, cleaning and self-care, among others.
“Youth workers will … go out of their way to help [kids] learn about their own mob, culture, community, and really drive some of those messages prior to going out [from custody],” Ms King said.
Ms King said it’s not just about art and dance, but about true connection to community, country, storytelling and helping these young people understand who they are as a culture.
“A lot of these kids aren’t learning who their mobs are, or where they’ve come from, or their heritage until they’ve gone into custody,” Ms King said.
“There [are] some devastating reports of kids committing crime to go back into custody because that’s where they feel they’re actually learning about their culture and heritage.”
To remedy this, Ms King said educating Indigenous youth about culture needs to be seen on a continuum – it shouldn’t be left up to youth workers only.
“It’s not just about the youth workers, it’s about schools, it’s about culture and the community and the families as well,” Ms King said.
“Youth detention really is a microcosm of what’s happening for Indigenous young people generally in their world. It’s just magnified and intensified within custody.”
Ms King said sustaining connection to culture is an important part of working with Indigenous youth in custody.
“It’s part of their birthright, their inherent spirituality and connection as a person,” Ms King said.
“For Aboriginal Australians, that displacement or feeling of lack of identity … is about being dispossessed of your own birthright.”
Ms King said a lot intergenerational trauma is a result of colonisation and the Stolen Generation.
“I think when you really sit down and think about it, it’s quite horrifying that that has happened here.”
Creating a model for change
Ms King said it becomes a social responsibility to ensure Indigenous youth have pathways that allow them to engage with their culture and heritage outside of the youth justice system.
“I’m not particularly convinced that we take our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community organisations seriously enough,” Ms King said.
“I think the Aboriginal Community-Controlled Health [Organisation (ACCHO)] sector do a great job, but I’m not sure that there [are] a lot of other comparisons.”
Ms King said organisations need to consider replicating the ACCHO model and taking guidance and learning from that model’s successes.
The CEO also said Canvas3 looking at international models from countries such as New Zealand, Canada and parts of the US.
“The issues that we have here in Australia, though, are much more complex … in terms of having that unification across Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander groups. We’ve got a number of languages, mobs, groups, families, communities. It’s really trying to drive some of that unification within community,” Ms King said.
“That … is historical, a lot of those communities were segregated and then pushed together in really inappropriate forms. We have a responsibility to start changing some of those stories and patterns.”
Canvas3 is now in the process of developing a new project with research partner Queensland University of Technology (QUT) – a cultural mentoring framework.
The organisation is also working with regional Queensland health services and assisting with corporate change.
“We’ve really got a few different tangents that we pull on to create a holistic picture, rather than funneling into one specific area,” Ms King said.
“We’ve got some good relationships – we’re very relationship focused. We think having a strong cross section of people who bring different ideas and come with an open mind to looking at such complex issues benefits us in terms of validating the work that we’re doing.”
By Hannah Cross