A man fuelled by a passion for his people, Jake Briggs is pushing for change for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples living with disability; particularly those who have interacted with the criminal justice system.

Briggs is the Managing Director and Owner of Culture Connex, an NDIS provider, on the central coast of New South Wales.

As a Wonnarua/Kamilaroi man and C5/C6 quadriplegic, Briggs has been inspired to push towards equity, working with Youth Koori Court in NSW, First Peoples Disability Network within project and business development, and is now sitting on the First Nations Advisory Group for the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability.

Culture Connex hosts 21 NDIS registered classes with 520 line items of support which range from Community Nursing Care and Innovative Community Participation to Specialised Disability Accommodation.

“We also have therapeutic support like occupational therapy and counselling which speaks to therapy. I think it is really important to have a holistic approach when it comes to service delivery, and that is why I got this company up and running and designed it the way it is,” said Briggs.

“We are trying to deliver tangible outcomes for the mob; to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders with disability. And also, the general community, doesn’t matter if you are Blak, white or brindle; Culture Connex is here to deliver the best services possible.”

While he is certainly a smart and savvy careerman, Briggs is first and foremost an advocate for his people.

“That is why I want to be that voice, for what I think is important to get across the line to the broader community, to try and deliver the message of what is going on in disability for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australia,” he said.

Briggs has been involved for some years with the Youth Koori Court. The program was established in 2015 in an attempt to reduce the number of Indigenous children in custody and provide support and guidance to those at risk.

“It is working with young individuals in a culturally sensitive approach to the court system. You’ve got Magistrate [Sue] Duncan who is leading the charge in Sydney helping deliver the best approach possible for these youngsters that are assigned to the Koori Court system,” said Briggs.

“It is so important to have the deliverance of this setting where Aboriginal Elders are involved and organisations with Aboriginal representatives are trying to deliver the best outcome possible.

“We all come together as a collective to get the best outcome. That is where I come across strongly in the disability sector, where it has got to do with NDIS or other general disability sector.”

Briggs’ role in Youth Koori Court is invaluable.

“At the end of the day, I’m an Aboriginal person, with disability, that knows the justice correctional system and that is why I’m doing this,” he said.

“According to [the NSW Justice Health and Forensic Mental Health Network] 73 percent of the young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander individuals that come through corrections in NSW and get picked up, have a disability.”

“The majority are cognitive, intellectual, mental disabilities. That is why I am so invested in this scene. It all starts with the youngsters, the juveniles.”

Briggs sits as a committee member on the First Nations Advisory Group to the Disability Royal Commission, a role he takes very seriously.

“As a collective, we all have different strengths, mine is through justice, jails and correctional facilities. I bring that to the table, also me being an Aboriginal person with disability, but I am a participant of the NDIS. I know the language of the NDIS and how to navigate it,” said Briggs.

“We, as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with disability, or with general disability, we don’t fit in boxes. We are out in the grey area.”

Briggs noted the story of Darryl Carr. A Wiradjuri man living with a mild intellectual disability, Carr has spent most of his life incarcerated. He was released from prison this year after it was found he was detained for 11 years for minor violations of his five-year extended supervision order (ESO).

“He doesn’t want this happening to any other of the mob. Whether that is juvenile or any other systemic incarceration that he has had,” said Briggs.

Briggs spoke of the important work of the Royal Commission.

“It is difficult, not just for me but for the people I am dealing with because it is opening up wounds. It is intergenerational trauma, and personal stuff the individuals have experienced,” he said.

“Ripping off the scabs, exposing these wounds and they know they have to dig deep because it is bringing that to the microphone. It’s not just exposing the wounds for themselves; it is going to go out and be broadcast to the open community where it is going to touch individuals, it is going to expose wounds for them also.

“Then hopefully it does bring in that inspiration, where although it does hurt for them … it does bring the inspiration for [others] to say, ‘Hey I’m going to tell my story too’.”

Briggs is encouraging those with a lived experience of abuse, neglect, violence or exploitation to come forward to the Royal Commission.

“Your story is going to help you find power within yourself, and it will empower the community. It is strength in numbers, what I always say is ‘high tide raises all canoes’.”

By Rachael Knowles