With Aboriginal art, Australia's first gay Indigenous Speaker promises reform

by Seb Starcevic | SebStarcevic | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Wednesday, 1 July 2020 12:57 GMT

ARCHIVE PHOTO: Aboriginal paintings cover cave walls in Kakadu National Park in far-north Australia. August 24, 2001. REUTERS.

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Chanston "Chansey" Paech plans to bring First Nations’ art into the parliament building

By Seb Starcevic

MELBOURNE, July 1 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The first gay Indigenous Speaker in an Australian parliament said he wanted to see more minorities in politics and would start by bringing Aboriginal art into the building.

Chanston "Chansey" Paech, who made history as Australia's first gay Indigenous lawmaker in 2016, holds the most senior position in the parliament of the Northern Territory, a vast outback stretching from central Australia to its northern coast.

"I'm a big believer in people can't be what they can't see," 33-year-old Paech told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

"I hope that my appointment as a First Nations person and as a person from the LGBTI community sends a message to people ... this moment in time is reaffirming that we can be whatever we want to be."

The country's 700,000 or so Indigenous people track near the bottom of its 25 million citizens in almost every economic and social indicator, including child mortality and literacy.

Australia has struggled to reconcile with its first people, who arrived on the continent at least 50,000 years before the British colonists.

They endured hundreds of years of brutal segregation and the forcible removal of their children, who were raised in institutions, foster homes and by white families until the 1970s, in a bid to eradicate Aboriginal culture.

"I want to continue to advocate for the Commonwealth Government to come up with a compensation scheme for the members of the Stolen Generation here in the Northern Territory," Paech said, referring to the survivors of the policy.

Many Indigenous people in the sparsely populated Northern Territory live in remote communities and face myriad disadvantages, including lack of access to healthcare, education and employment.

Paech served as Deputy Speaker before his election as Speaker, following the resignation of Kezia Purick last month after she was investigated for corruption.

Another Indigenous lawmaker, Ngaree Ah Kit, was appointed Deputy Speaker to replace Paech - the first time Indigenous people have held the top two positions.

"Now two People of Colour are running the show - we're trailblazing," Peach said.

He said his goal "has always been and will always be improving the lives of remote Aboriginal people".

One of his first actions will be to make the Northern Territory's parliament building in the city of Darwin more representative of its Indigenous citizens.

"Parliament having particular pieces of art or artefacts that are handmade by First Nations people to be inside the parliament itself is really important," he said, adding that a crocodile skin already sits on the parliamentary business table.

"I'm from the desert and I would love to see something representative of First Nations people from the interior, from the desert country. Those are just little things, but they can have a big impact."

Related stories:

Destruction of ancient Aboriginal site sparks calls for reform in Australia

Race protests turn spotlight on rights of indigenous Australians

What's in a name? Everything, say Australia's indigenous people

(Reporting by Seb Starcevic; Editing by Katy Migiro. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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