Kylie Degenhardt has heard it all.
As a fair skin Palawa woman, the Youth Support Worker has had her identity questioned, been mocked for being Aboriginal and told she doesn’t belong.
“People say things like `how Aboriginal are you?’, like I need to prove it,’’ Kylie says.
“There’s still that mentality if you don’t fit the usual picture of what an Aboriginal person is meant to look like. The racism and stereotypes, they never go away.’’
The conversations Kylie’s skin colour provoke are a constant reminder of the challenges around identity and acceptance that endure today for many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
The 43-year-old is passionate about reversing this `cultural disconnect’, born from past government policies and felt so painfully by her grandfather Robert, a member of the Stolen Generations.
“He didn’t see his sister until he was 60 odd years old and then they both passed away six months later – after a lifetime without each other,’’ Kylie says.
“It’s that disconnection: What he was made to think about his mum; what he was made to think about his culture; how policy and thinking turned our people against themselves.’’
In her role at headspace Port Adelaide, Kylie helps young people to embrace their heritage by connecting them to community and other supports for challenges such as depression and anxiety.
In addition, she teaches community service professionals to view mental health through a cultural lens, as one of a handful of facilitators in the state delivering Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Mental Health First Aid training.
Participants learn how to assist an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander adult who may be experiencing a mental health problem until appropriate professional help is received or the crisis resolves.
“Every day I see the trauma but I also see the resilience in people,’’ Kylie says.
“The younger generations especially are using their voice positively. Yes, they are angry, but they are also getting their message of survival out there: that we are still here, thriving and surviving!
“They are proud and they’re speaking up.’’