Because of her we can: Jarin Baigent

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Because of her we can: Jarin Baigent

To celebrate NAIDOC Week 2018 ‘Because of her we can!’ - held across Australia 8-15 July - we were fortunate to talk with four remarkable Indigenous women making huge changes in our communities. All imagery supplied is by Wayne Quilliam whose photographs showcase real indigenous women living in contemporary society. With more than 30 years’ experience Wayne is Australia’s most respected Aboriginal photographer.

Redfern Senior Constable Jarin Baigent comes from an impressive linage of inspiring Aboriginal women who were pioneers of positive change. Her grandmother, Millie Ingram, is a long-standing advocate for Aboriginal rights, and her great-grandmother was involved in the Day of Mourning in 1938.

Having been with the NSW police force for 12 years specialising in youth affairs, Jarin works at “the pointy end of the stick to affect change.” She is a passionate advocate for justice reinvestment, teaches the IPROWD program, assisting Aboriginal people to join the Police Academy, and is also a mentor for Clean Slate without Prejudice, a routine boxing mentorship program for youth in Redfern.

We talked to Jarin about her steadfast family values, why she never imagined herself becoming a police officer, and the critical role women play in the success of the police force.

Westfield: NAIDOC Week is a significant calendar moment celebrating the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. How important do you believe it is for Australians, from all walks of life, to recognise the event and get involved?

Jarin Baigent: Paramount, it’s extremely important that all Australians feel in touch and included in NAIDOC Week. It gives Aussies the opportunity to see the amazing work being done in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

We’re often faced with negative media, so for Australians that don’t necessarily know much about our culture it’s a great opportunity to learn and see how much is being achieved by Aboriginal and Torres Strait people.

It’s also an opportunity for inclusiveness, our culture is all about belonging, learning and connecting for everybody. It’s the responsibility of all Australians to know about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and their culture.

W: This year’s NAIDOC campaign, ‘Because of her, we can!’ celebrates indigenous women who play an active and important role in the community. Have you always been passionate about sharing your culture and stories with the wider community?

JB: I've always been passionate about my culture. The way I was raised I was taught to respect and be proud of my culture and who I am. It’s always been something I’ve felt responsible to uphold. With everything I’ve ever done I’ve tried to encourage and to educate those around me who might not know enough - if they're willing to learn. Learning about our culture is a valuable gift.

People have to want to learn about it, so it’s about finding right opportunity to share that knowledge with the right people.

W: You come from a long line of strong women who have strived for empowerment within the Aboriginal community. How did this shape your values and views growing up?

JB: The strength and resilience shown by women in my family before me - the nurturing, the education that they’ve given me, the learning, the protection, the skills - is everything that I am. It’s shaped how I live my life, what I do for work, how I raise my family, how I educate my kids. Every aspect of my life has been shaped because of those women.

With that comes the responsibility to honour and value the legacy they brought me. I’m responsible for passing that on to my kids and living my life in a way that makes them proud and upholds those values.

Interestingly it was also - without me knowing it - a motivating factor in me joining the Police. I come from a long line of women who were real pioneers. My great-grandmother Louisa Ingram was involved in the 1938 Day of Mourning, and my grandmother Millie Ingram she can move mountains. She founded so many things together with my aunties (Norma Ingram, Sylvia Scott, Esther Carroll and so many others) that have transcended across the country. I realised I wanted to affect positive change just the way they did, I just did it in a different way.

W: You’ve worked in the Police Force for over a decade. Has this always been a dream of yours?

JB: No, definitely not! As a kid, I did not have a great opinion of police, they were people not to be trusted, people that didn’t know us. They represented something negative in my life. But as I grew up and acknowledged my own strengths and discipline, I found I could help people in that role. I could help other young Koori kids that were just like me growing up. I didn’t want them to have a negative opinion of police like I did. If I could change that for even just one kid that was enough for me.

I’m most dedicated to reducing the incarceration rates around our young people. We hover around 50% juvenile incarceration rate in NSW, and in the NT recently we’ve hit 100% juveniles in custody.

To work as a police officer I see both sides of the coin and try to work tirelessly to strategise ways to reduce these rates.

In 2016 and 2017 I worked on the Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory where I was able to contribute to the many recommendations made to the government around diverting Aboriginal young people from the criminal justice system. I hope to see those recommendations have a positive impact soon.

W: What role do you believe women play in the State and Territory police?

JB: A huge role, I think without women we wouldn’t be a complete force in addressing the social issues that police are generally faced with. Women are integral to jobs that involve sensitive matters such as violence, family crimes and sexual assault. Many of the best criminal investigators I’ve ever worked with are female, we bring a whole different aspect to leadership and mentorship. If women weren’t an integral part of the police force we wouldn’t be able to completely serve as we should in the community.

W: In your experience, do female officers face unique difficulties to their male counterparts? If so, how have you overcome this in your career?

JB: We face the same difficulties that everyone does across the board. We’re fortunate that our Commissioner recognised a long time ago the importance of promoting and supporting women, and the NSW police force are quite progressive.

I’ve always focused on honing and acknowledging my strengths and doing the same with my weaknesses, seeking help if I need it. I’ve also been active in mentorship, which is important for every person to help overcome barriers and for guidance.

W: As a female role model within the Aboriginal community, who do you look up to and aspire to be like?

JB: My Nan, she is the person I want to be like. Of course, I’m biased because she is my grandmother, but as a Wiradjuri woman she’s incredibly articulate, intelligent, incredibly strong and resilient, and a good person. She has never stopped trying to work for everybody in the community but, in particular, her dedication to Aboriginal Affairs and fighting for our people. She works to such high standards and never falls below them. She’s a true Wiradjuri leader.

W: You are also the mother to three children, what advice do you give them to help them thrive and grow?

JB: My kids are little, the eldest is six. I tell her to always be strong and be proud of who you are. The biggest gift I can give my children is to know where they come from, who their family are and where their roots are. Connect them to their culture as Wiradjuri kids. Every single day that’s what I do. Their bonds with their lineage – on both the Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal sides are very important. They have very strong bonds with all their grandparents which helps them to be proud of where they come from. The strength will just grow from there naturally.

W: You devote a lot of time to mentoring Indigenous youth; using boxing as a way to connect with them. How does the Clean Slate Without Prejudice program benefit young people?

JB: It’s a meeting place as well as something healthy to do. It gives young people, kids, families, and the community a place to meet and a place to belong, where all are welcome. Through that, we’re able to utilise culture as another way to strengthen young people.

It’s three mornings a week with a 6am start, then we box for one hour. However, it’s also a mentoring program with the Redfern police in conjunction with Tribal Warrior Association.

I’m the police contact, a youth liaison officer. If I see a young person is not on a great trajectory I work with the mentors, and the young person, possibly their family, and we try and steer them away.

It’s a matter of the right people, at the right place, at the right time. I grew up in Redfern as well so … I went to the same schools as some of these kids and those things help break down the trust barriers. They know I'm there for the right reasons. We’re looking to help more than anything. I'm also visible in the community outside of work which also helps break down those barriers. Community see me as a community member doing her job.

As police we see people at their worst, when they need help the most. Lack of support for homelessness, no support – issues like that. We’ve always tried to work to help people in those areas, but in the past its been seen as outside of our role. Now, and for quite a while, it’s been acknowledged that pPolice often do have to go beyond the scope of their role as a Police officer to help someone to not reoffend, which might for example be connecting them with the right support service, or helping with emergency housing etc. We have roles specifically for those types of jobs now like Youth LiasonLiaison Officers, and School Liaison Police. and we can do it effectively.

W: What is your vision for the next generation of Indigenous women?

JB: The right to self- determination around issues that directly affect us. A voice, and a say in these matters. FLike for example the child removal rates, or family violence issues. I would like to see Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women in leadership and decision- making roles in this space and less paternal control. We as Aboriginal people need more rights to self determination across the board in relation to issues that directly affect our community. Very often its the wrong people who are in the positions making decisions for us and our families and. And when things don't work, it’s the Aboriginal community who are blamed for poor outcomes.

I'd also like to see Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women continue to achieve such amazing things despite the real and current barriers theyat are faced.

And lastly, I’d like to see Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women acknowledged more for the consistent and invaluable contribution they have always selflessly given. Which is why this years NAIDOC theme is so just special.

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