Geelong's Mathew Stokes has written the following open letter which relates to his personal views around certain indigenous matters. The club supports Mathew's right to express his personal views. They are re-printed here so that people can understand how important indigenous matters are to Mathew.
A couple of weeks ago, the Australian Prime Minister made some comments about the lifestyle choices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians living in remote communities. I don’t know Mr Abbott and I am not really into politics and neither are my mates yet the day after those comments were made, that was the topic of conversation amongst us.
The comments from my circle of mates ranged from ignorance, misinformed and that old Australian way of using humour to get away with some pretty offensive statements. I thought to myself at the time, if that is coming from the mouths of my mates – many who are educated and have some understanding of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander issues - imagine the conversations going on at smoko all over the country!
So my open letter today is not about politics, or a commentary on what we as a country do right or wrong. It’s not about past decisions made, dollars spent or programs funded. It’s about the damage caused by one single statement. It’s about the disharmony that can come from one man’s words.
The fact our Prime Minister is acknowledged as having done so much work in the area of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health - for him to make the remarks he did, as the leader of our country – what must the world think of us? His words have isolated Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders even more than they are already.
We, as Australians are made up of so many different religions & cultures, but we have such a divide from our First Australians and comments like this have ability to drive us further apart. I was fortunate to grow up not having to deal with too much racism but many people I know have had this in their lives. It saddens me to think that by the time I bring kids into this world, not much will have changed.
I am a strong supporter of the work being done to close the health gap between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-Indigenous Australians and there is much great work being done, but comments like those made recently by our PM only serve to empower the ugly side of our society. For what it’s worth, I don’t think Mr Abbott was deliberately being racist, but one comment from someone in such a powerful position can cause so much damage.
So this is my attempt to use those comments to draw attention to an issue important to me. Not as an AFL Player, but as a proud Aboriginal person and a proud Australian. I love our country and it concerns me that comments like this can impact, not only in offices in Canberra, but in our very own communities.
These are my thoughts, right or wrong, this is my opinion. I am willing to cop the criticisms this letter may bring but it’s all worth it because I’m passionate about issues facing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians.
One good thing to come from this is to see many Australians – of all backgrounds – come out to support the Close the Gap, Not Communities message. I encourage people to continue to listen, show respect and care for each other.