Meena Singh on embracing culture and championing the legal rights of Aboriginal Australians

Meena Singh on embracing culture and championing the legal rights of Aboriginal Australians

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Associate Director Aboriginal Services Meena Singh. Photo courtesy of SBS.
Associate Director Aboriginal Services Meena Singh

Meena Singh is Associate Director of Aboriginal Services at Victoria Legal Aid. She was recently interviewed by SBS Punjabi, talking about her personal experience of growing up embracing different cultures and championing the legal rights of Aboriginal Australians.

As the daughter of her Yorta Yorta mother and her Fijian-born Indian father, Meena grew up valuing cultural heritage, something her mother in particular was very strong on from an early age.

She says she is ‘the Aboriginal girl with the Indian name’ and that it was her mother who insisted Meena also learn a little Hindi, which she believes was motivated by her mother’s experience of being Aboriginal and being denied the opportunity to share her language and culture.

While learning just enough Hindi to get her by but ‘not enough to get me out of trouble,’ she says always knew she was a Yorta Yorta woman.

Meena says her understanding of culture deepened as she grew older. She says that ‘it’s really interesting hearing different communities’ understanding of Aboriginal culture, particularly newly arrived or migrant communities.’

She says that while there are many similarities people can take away, ‘it’s really important that people understand our history… also the policies, the laws that have been forced on Aboriginal people that create continuing disadvantage today.’

'The experience of Indigenous people often isn’t something people can understand – that idea of being made to feel that you’re not welcome in your own country.

'I would say to anyone: take the chance to learn and find out as much as you can. Don’t rely on stereotypes.’

Associate Director Aboriginal Services Meena Singh

Meena spoke also of her work at Victoria Legal Aid, in a role she described as being like ‘an internal consultant.’

‘For so many people coming to a mainstream service like us is really daunting… [but] services specifically for Aboriginal clients are under-funded and they can’t service everyone.’  

She emphasised the need to provide services that not only meet professional obligations working in with various laws, but that make Aboriginal people feel safe in coming to us, meet their cultural needs and aren’t based on stereotypes.  

‘What we are finding more and more, particularly in Victoria, is that we are trying to incorporate a really specific Aboriginal lens or focus or way of doing things on to existing legal systems.’

Listen to the interview

Listen to Meena’s interview with SBS Punjabi at Meet Meena Singh who champions legal rights of Aboriginal Australians.

More about our work

We helped 4,102 clients in 2016–17 who identified as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander. While only five per cent of our overall client number, this is still a notable increase of 19.3 per cent on the previous year.

We are starting to plan for our second Reconciliation Action Plan, looking at ways we can do better for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Aiming at improving service delivery in culturally appropriate ways are three recently employed Aboriginal Community Engagement officers based in Melbourne, Mildura and Morwell. This work is part of a two-year pilot program delivered through our Mallee health-legal partnership.  

Our employment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people has also increased through our new law graduate program and clerkships, with 15 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people currently employed.