Christopher Saunders and Shantelle Thompson, photo: James Henry
Victoria leads the nation in placing Aboriginal self-determination at the heart of service delivery, and the Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation is proud to be a part of this way of working with First Nations people.
Victoria's Mr NAIDOC 2019, Christopher Saunders – a proud Gunditjmara man, La Trobe University student and Victorian Aboriginal Health Service staff member – welcomes this approach. ‘Self-determination can combat gambling in our communities. It provides an opportunity for Aboriginal people to help Aboriginal people, instead of looking outside for help. We've got the resources and the knowledge to help our own,’ says Christopher.
National NAIDOC Sportsperson of the Year 2019, Shantelle Thompson, aka The Barkindji Warrior, agrees. ‘Reconciliation, where people meet you in the middle, and determining for ourselves what we want, can really drive health outcomes for our mob,’ says Shantelle, a mum of three, and three-time world champion in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations are important
Christopher sees the role of Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations as important because their holistic approach to wellbeing enables staff to discover what’s really going on in people’s lives. ‘We have really good community-run organisations to help us and they’re not like a medical service where you get done and get out,’ says Christopher. ‘You can have a chat and people feel comfortable to say more than what they came for because we’re mob, we’re here to help community in any way possible.’
‘Self-determination can combat gambling in our communities.’
Christopher Saunders, Victorian Mr NAIDOC 2019
Shantelle, who started her career at the Mallee District Aboriginal Service, has a postgraduate degree in Indigenous trauma and recovery. ‘We know what our community needs, and there might be gaps in our knowledge and we might need people to partner with us, but that doesn’t mean we don’t know what we’re doing,’ she says.
‘Western culture likes to compartmentalise health, to separate everything, but Aboriginal people know there’s a holistic approach to health as well. Spirit, mind and body – they’re interrelated,’ says Shantelle, who runs self-empowerment and life skills development programs.
Gambling is so easy for young people to access
Christopher, 21, notes how easily accessible gambling is to young people. ‘You see it all around, at sporting events, dinner with family – it can be hard to stay out of that routine of gambling,’ he says.
Shantelle believes sporting clubs supported by betting should cut ties with gambling companies. ‘Our sporting codes have a massive influence, then you go to a family restaurant like the RSL and they’re driven by gambling. It influences young people having easy access to gambling and it’s a big risk factor. When someone turns 18, it’s “Let’s go to the pub and have a press or let’s go to bingo and have a press afterwards”, and it becomes socially acceptable.’
She says, ‘People turn to gambling to fill a gap. It’s about the adrenalin that comes from “Am I going to win?” and at times, for some of us, it can feel like the odds of winning at gambling are better than the odds of winning at life. My children love to play cards, we play for fun and there’s always that energy that comes from chance and luck, particularly when you haven’t had much of it in your everyday life.
‘For some of us, it can feel like the odds of winning at gambling are better than the odds of winning at life.’
Shantelle Thompson, National NAIDOC Sportsperson of the Year 2019
‘Finding Jiu Jitsu gave me a drive to want to do better. When young people are involved in sport, it can reduce interest in gambling and help mental and emotional health. It provides a social and physical aspect, and they can learn a lot, especially if they’re part of a team.’
Shantelle feels that as a role model, the best way to support young people is to lead by example. ‘I do storytelling, I share my story and speak about courage and resilience and challenging perceptions around what we can be. You CAN be what you CAN see.’
Culturally safe services improve health and wellbeing
Both award winners stress the importance of community, cultural heritage and having people around them who are supportive. Christopher says, ‘With Indigenous pride comes a sense of community, comes a sense of self, a sense of knowing how to deal with things and knowing there’s always someone to turn to. I feel like the pride that comes with being an Indigenous person helps.’
‘We’re mob, we’re here to help community in any way possible.’
Christopher Saunders, Victorian Mr NAIDOC 2019
Shantelle and Christopher make it clear the Foundation’s approach of reconciliation and self-determination is the best way forward. Culturally safe service provision delivered by Aboriginal-run organisations facilitates long-term generational change and support for individuals, families and communities affected by gambling harm. Overall, the health and wellbeing outcomes for Aboriginal communities is greatly improved by culturally appropriate service provision.