Jordy Dwyer is passionate about helping Indigenous Australians improve their financial well-being.
The 30-year-old Wiradjuri, who grew up on the NSW Central Coast, now works as a community engagement and projects officer at the First Nations Foundation.
The registered charity provides financial education to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
It’s important and rewarding work for Jordy, but it’s also helped him better understand his own relationship with money.
For ABC Everyday’s Money Q&A, we sat down with Jordy to hear her story.
What are some of the financial barriers faced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people?
What is lost are the economic injustices that have happened recently, to be honest.
Were [the] first or second generation Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people able to participate fully in the economy.
This is a result of increased access to education and recognition by the wider community of the value and knowledge that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people can impart in their workplace.
But that only happened recently. My father was not classified as a citizen until he was five years old. It keeps it under control for me.
How has your relationship with money changed over the years?
I was a survivor of child sexual abuse. I kept that to myself for about 15 years.
Thinking about it now, you’re living a double life, I guess. You are trying to paint a false picture that everything is rosy. For me, that included some pretty generous spending.
Until I was sorted in terms of sanity, it was always going to be difficult to manage the money.
Even last year I had a bit of a reality check at the age of 30 and realized that I didn’t have a lot of money in the bank, even though I’ve worked steadily since I left school in decent jobs.
I’ve always had this kind of survival attitude with money, just to get through the next week. This is a widespread attitude in our communities because we are so used to it.
It’s really about trying to change that mindset now.
We now have the opportunity to set up the next generation as well as ourselves.
What problems do people face when it comes to money?
We have had the chance to travel to special places to lead workshops and be part of community initiatives.
The big thing is the lack of knowledge that has been imparted.
In communities across the country, we see people taking out payday loans, buy now pay later, or rent to buy programs that end up costing them twice as much as they should.
We look for ways to help people out of desperation, which likely exaggerates this cycle of financial disadvantage.
It’s really about trying to make sure everyone understands what they’re signing up for.
It’s also about trying to start those conversations around money. It’s hard to talk about it when you don’t have it.
What is the impact of financial hardship on people’s mental health?
We have such a big problem in our communities with men in particular dying at ridiculously young ages. Mental health is obviously a contributing factor.
For me, I know looking back now, keeping up appearances and trying to keep up that facade was a big part of my money issues, that’s for sure.
There are so many black men across the country suffering in silence – not just black men, but non-indigenous men as well.
It’s important to try to remove that shame, especially when it comes to money.
If you didn’t have those conversations growing up, that grounding around financial literacy and wellness, it’s very difficult. You are starting from square one.
The reality is that many of us didn’t get the grounding from our parents or grandparents that a lot of non-native people probably get with these conversations about money.
What are the most rewarding aspects of your job?
As a Native, it’s always a great time to be able to get out and see other crowds across the country.
Sometimes you see people have those light bulb moments – they watch how much they spend and set financial goals. You see their optimism. That’s really what keeps us going.
It’s obviously hard to hear some of the stories, in terms of people who signed up for bad loans in vulnerable situations.
They might need to go to another community for some bad business, and they don’t have that money, and a payday lender gives them easy access, so they can end up in a hole.
Otherwise, when people sit down and weigh their budget and make one for themselves, it will often be the first time they’ve done it. It’s a high point.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
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