This piece is dedicated to my Aboriginal sisters and brothers who have to use the court system when experiencing family violence. Sometimes we have no choice and the challenge of this is not acknowledged or spoken about enough. This is also for those who are supporting mob experiencing this. I know that reading a piece can be the last thing mob want to do when just trying to survive, so read it for your family or friend.
As a young Koorie woman, I am coming to the realization of the fact that there will be countless moments in our lives whereby out of desperation, fear and lack of options, we are forced to do things in order to survive – at the temporary cost of our cultural values and beliefs.
The Australian Court system was not built with us, by us or for us. It was in actual fact, one of the systems that was built to dehumanize us as a people. It was built to sustain colonization, invasion, genocide and to instill fear, power and control into Aboriginal people.
Everyone’s stories and journeys are different but one common sickening reality faced by Aboriginal people, is we are forced to seek ‘safety’ and ‘justice’ from the very same system that was built to discriminate, exclude and destroy us.
I never knew what this felt like until I had no choice but to use the court system to obtain family violence intervention orders.
There’s nothing that can quiet describe the feeling and the sense of powerlessness you experience when walking up the steps of a court-house for the first time. You literally feel naked, with each step you take closer to the building, you feel as though you’re leaving one cultural belief/value behind at a time. And to even think you’re seeking safety from this place is almost incomprehensible as an Aboriginal woman.
Your heart feels like it is in your throat and you’re trying so desperately to hold back the tears and the complex waves of emotions that flood your body, mind and spirit.
There is nothing that can quiet compare to the shame the entire system places on Aboriginal victims of violence when it comes to having to ‘act protectively for your child’ in fear of being judged, reported or having your child removed. I have heard it time and time again, where primarily Aboriginal woman are given no other alternatives than to put themselves through the trauma of courts to prevent children being removed.
As many people would know, cases are not over and done with in one day at court, especially in complex cases of family violence.
In my experience, I felt disgustingly sick in the lead up to court, at court and then the days following court. The anxiety that grows inside your stomach feels like you have prickle bushes strangling your organs slowly throughout your body.
This feeling forces us to strip to the very core of who we are. If we don’t do this, it takes over, it spreads like wild-fire and has the very high risk of forcing us into a deep deep depression.
I am no expert but after having to go to court time and time again, I began to search deep within myself for tactics to literally survive, and those tactics for me were control and self-determination.
The reality right now in this country, is that we do sometimes need to use the court system, as much as it really hurts me to admit and type that very sentence. At the end of the day, we are not dealing with ‘Aboriginal issues’, we are dealing with white-issues that have been imposed on us and therefore we should in some cases expect that ‘they’ have the solutions to their issues. Hopefully one day the system will change/be dismantled, but for now, we must control what we can control and this is where the title of this piece ‘Self-Determining Your Court Day’ comes into action.
It took me a while but I have learnt that we can self-determine so much about these very white processes and we can control some-things within such a crippling experience.
The day I wore earrings to court made by black women, was the day I came to the realization that we can enact self-determination on a smaller, individual scale.
I never used to wear earrings, but at the time I was participating in a program for Aboriginal women called ‘Her Tribe’. As part of the graduation we were given hand-made earrings made by an amazing Aboriginal woman who runs her own business ‘The Koorie Circle’. I remember wearing these earrings to court for the first time and something about wearing them gave me this sense of pride, strength and safety. Suddenly I didn’t feel so alone.
Wearing these earrings was more than just wearing earrings. They changed conversations (literally) in court waiting rooms, they represented self-determination through being made by Aboriginal businesses, they represented strong black women and they represented culture and survival.
I felt like I was suddenly controlling something. I was controlling what I was wearing and I was taking strong mental notes of this. Telling myself ‘this is your choice’. ‘I am choosing to wear deadly earrings’ and ‘I am controlling an element of my court appearance’.
From this I begun taking strong mental notes of the choices I was making in the lead up to court and at court. I really want to emphasize the power this can have.
Eat your favorite for food – Eat what you want. I could only ever eat the day before. And made a mental note of that decision. If I didn’t want to eat on the day, I didn’t force myself too. A lot of people try tell you – you need to eat, but if you feel too sick with nerves to eat, don’t. And take a mental note of the control you chose to take over this.
Listen to your favorite music / take headphones to court – Something I found that added trauma to the already traumatic day was being amongst people’s pain. When you’re just hanging on by a thread, you don’t need to hear what other people are going through. Put headphones in when you can.
Wear your favorite clothes, wear your best undies, wear or don’t wear make-up, wear your favorite shoes and socks. Everything about this part of your day is up to you and up to you only.
I have only listed a few things here (earrings, food, music) and I know it is really hard to see any light amongst the darkness of family violence, but I challenge you to try. Do it for you. No one else. You are not only worthy of power, control and self-determination, it is actually your right and you’re in actual fact worthy to enact that right.
You are powerful
You have strength
You have control
I believe in your power to navigate and control an experience that wasn’t built for you, for us as Aboriginal people. This is powerful and this is brave.
Be strong. Be black.