To gain a first-hand experience of the Racism Roundtable, InPsych interviewed two of the participants - an Indigenous psychologist and a non-Indigenous student of behavioural science.

Karen Ugle Assoc MAPS 

Karen Ugle Assoc MAPS is an Australian Indigenous Psychologists Association (AIPA) member who has worked in suicide prevention in WA and is currently a counsellor at Yorgum Aboriginal Health Service.

What has the experience of attending the Roundtable meant for you as a person and as a psychologist?

On a personal level I was honoured to be among such a group of leading researchers who were passionate about real change in this country for Aboriginal people. I came away hopeful as an Aboriginal psychologist that this Declaration - if it achieves anything - will begin to bring about positive change and an acknowledgement of the effect racism has on a people as a whole. This is an area that needs to be highlighted and brought into the minds of all Australians.

How would you like to see your profession and colleagues respond to the issues raised at the Roundtable?

I would like to see psychologists begin to examine their own practices to raise their own awareness of the effects of racism and be more informed of effective ways of utilising psychological practice with Aboriginal people. Racism needs to be examined and discussed in a more public arena. Psychologists as the experts on human behaviour are the best people to raise this awareness in the public and suggest change.

I would also like to see more research in the area of the positives, strengths and resilience that Aboriginal people possess. There is too much focus on the negative aspects of some Aboriginal people and the ill effects of behaviours displayed publicly, while not enough emphasis is given to the positive characteristics of Aboriginal people and our own means of healing. All psychologists need to respectfully learn from other Aboriginal people and build an affiliation with AIPA.

What did you come away wanting to say about racism towards Indigenous Australians if you had three minutes with key decision makers?

Self-determination and an end to racism in this country are essential to the wellbeing of Aboriginal people. We cannot begin to heal fully until we have the right to say what will work for us and for government to allow us to do that on our own terms. We have much strength, but racism in all its forms has crushed our spirit and makes simply living that much more stressful and hopeless for so many. Having experienced racism as an Aboriginal person first hand I know how it affects the self-concept. It exists in many forms, including the media, within government departments at all levels and within the broad Australian community, and it is the responsibility of all Australians to promote positive change. To be respected as the traditional caretakers of this country with our own unique culture, and to be supported in helping our own through self-determination is the ultimate goal that will help in the healing process.

Ashleigh Owen  

Ashleigh Owen is a student of behavioural science and politics at the University of Notre Dame in Fremantle, and a major ‘behind the scenes' organiser of the Roundtable. 

What has the experience of attending the Roundtable meant for you as a person and as a student of behavioural science?

Attending and organising the Racism Roundtable meant so much to me both as a person and as a young student studying political science, social justice and behavioural science. This opportunity to listen to the thoughts and experiences of many Indigenous and non-Indigenous academics and professionals will be a milestone in my personal and professional development. The Roundtable has left me with a greater understanding of how deeply embedded racism is within my society and therefore how critical it is that racism towards Indigenous Australians is effectively analysed and combated. To see the commitment of all attendees of the Roundtable towards fighting racism renewed a sense of hope in me, which had begun to vanish after the National Apology in 2008.

How would you like to see your profession and colleagues respond to the issues raised at the Roundtable?

As a young Australian who has a desire to see a positive change in the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians, I would like to see a continued dedication from academics and community leaders, such as those who attended the Roundtable, to educate Australians on the harsh reality of racism in our country. I also think that Indigenous rights need to be continually advocated for to government, particularly by those individuals who have the power and access to do so.

What did you come away wanting to say about racism towards Indigenous Australians if you had three minutes with key decision makers?

I think that the most important thing to say is that it is crunch time. Although combating racism is a daunting task due to its complexity and prominence, it is a task which needs to be undertaken. As a young Australian, I want to feel that there is a profound commitment by our nation's leaders to a reconciliation based on mutual respect and understanding, not one that is tainted by racism. I would tell decision makers that as the leaders of our country, they need to become properly educated on the racism that exists and the consequences of such racism in Australia in order to encourage a change in Indigenous affairs. n

Thanks to Heather Gridley for conducting these interviews.

InPsych August 2009