Saturday, November 5, 2011

"Statement by Northern Territory Elders and Community Representatives - No More! Enough is Enough!"

 If you are interested in learning more about the NT Intervention I have included the most recent statement directly below, and also links to a number of other relevant releases, statements, videos and sites below that. Have a look.

Statement by Northern Territory Elders and Community Representatives - No More! Enough is Enough!

"United First People’s Law men and women who are born leaders representing people of Prescribed Areas in the Northern Territory make this statement. Once again, they have gathered to openly discuss the future of our generation who have been subjugated by the lies and innuendo of the Federal Government, set out in the Stronger Futures document (October 2011).

The Stronger Futures report has created a lot of anger and frustration due to the lack of process and the ignorant way in which the views of the people have been reported. We therefore reject this report.

We will not support an extension of the Intervention legislation. We did not ask for it. In fact we call for a genuine Apology from the Federal Government for the hurt, embarrassment, shame and stigma, and for the illegal removal of the Racial Discrimination Act. It is our intention to officially call upon Government for reparation.

The recent consultations report shows that Government has failed to take seriously our concerns and feelings. This report is simply a reflection of pre-determined policy decisions. This is shown clearly by the absence of any commitment to bilingual learning programmes as well as the proposal to introduce welfare cuts and fines to parent of non-attending school children. Once again a punitive policy that is neither in the best interests of the child or the family.

Blanket measures have been central to the Northern Territory Intervention and have been the source of much distress. Where there are problems, they must be addressed on a case by case basis and preferably with the assistance through the appropriate community channels.

Since August 2007 till 2011, more than 45,000 First Nations Peoples living in the Prescribed Areas were traumatised when a Bill was passed through both Houses of Parliament (The House of Representatives and the Senate).

This legislation suspended the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 to put in place the Northern Territory Emergency Response. The Australian Greens were the only party to oppose the legislation.

These actions have placed Australia in breach of its international treaty obligations to the First Nations Peoples. Respectful discussion and negotiation with community elders did not take place before the introduction of the Intervention.
Discussions on a diplomatic basis are essential. There are elders in every Aboriginal Nation invested by the authority of the majority. These are the people with whom Minister Macklin should be negotiating, rather than with the chosen few, as has been her habit.

There has NEVER been acquiescence in the taking of our lands by stealth. Aboriginal people are sovereign people of this Nation. The process that will lead to legal recognition of customary law should be immediately commenced.

We believe that there should be an honest and comprehensive treaty negotiation with the Australian Government and facilitated by the United Nations.

We have a right under international law to self determination and after almost five years of the oppression of the Intervention, we demand that Government hand back to us control over our communities and provide adequate Government, long-term funding to ensure the future of Homelands.

Communty Councils have suffered from years of underfunding. The same is happening today with the Shires that have been imposed on us. There is a lack of funding for our Core Service.There is no capacity for Aboriginal communities to engage in long-term services planning without the certainty of long-term funding.

We have had enough! We need our independence to live our lives and plan our futures without the constant oppression and threats which have become central to the relationship between Government and Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory. We will not support policies that have not been negotiates with all elders of Prescribed communities and we will not support an extension of the Intervention, or an Interventionunder other names.

Since the Apology and since reconciliation, the level of incarceration of Aboriginal men has increased three-fold; our families are being punished for failure to attend a foreign school design; our capacity to govern our own lives has been totally disempowered; Aboriginal youth suicide rates in the Northern Territory are higher than anywhere else in Australia; and our people have been demonized, labelled and branded. This is not what an apology is and it is not reconciliation. These outcomes are the very opposite to their intent.

Australia is in breach of its international treaty obligations to the first nation’s people through it membership to the United Nations in the elimination of racial discrimination.

We as leaders of the Northern Territory acknowledge other peoples’ views. We acknowledge that some may agree and some may disagree with parts or all of the ‘intervention’; whatever the name the Government chooses to call it. The only right we now have left is to remain silent.

We as Aboriginal people call on the international community to hold Australia to account for its continuing crimes against humanity for its treatments of its first nation’s people. Again, we say to our visits by the Minister’s department; this is not consultation. Proper consultation is about listening and inviting and including the views of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Consultation is about outcomes that are progressive and agreeable to all parties.

The future is based on our children having a quality education, but to date this continues to be a systemic failure. A quality education for our people needs to include:
• Bilingualism in schools to be returned and strengthened to ensure our children learn their traditional languages, dialects and cultural knowledges.
• Attendances need to be rewarded, rather than children and families being punished for non-attendance.
• Aboriginal teachers in classrooms and school educational leadership roles are essential to building quality, localized schooling programs. This means also equal pay and entitlements, rewards and opportunities consistent with their important roles.
• Curriculum needs to change and reflect traditional knowledges not just for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, but importantly for the broader Australian population who know very little about their own first peoples.
• Aboriginal teachers need to be treated fairly and equally to their non-Aboriginal counterparts in delivering quality education to our children. This includes the opportunity to tell oral stories of Kinship, Creation Stories, and about important cultural knowledge and skills.

Failure to accept these views and work seriously toward their inclusion will simply mean more of the same."

Rev. Dr. Djiniyini Gondarra OAM
Rosalie Kunoth-Monks OAM
Japata Ryan
Harry Nelson
Djapirri Murunggirritj
Barbara Shaw
Yananymul Mununggurr

Greens Senator Rachel Siewert: "The Government's Stronger Futures Consultation Report wasn't surprising, but it was deeply disappointing."

Other relevant Statements.
Aboriginal Elders statement: 7th Feb 2011



Basic Rights not BasicsCard - Address to the Say No to Income Management Rally, Bankstown, 6th October 2011 Dr John Falzon - or watch the Video

Rev. Dr. Djiniyini Gondarra full response to Minister Jenny Macklin

Joint letter by Alastair Nicholson QC and others full response to Minister Jenny Macklin

Rt Hon. Malcolm Fraser full response to Minister Jenny Macklin

 Also check out:


Friday, November 4, 2011

Part-white or part-Aboriginal?

"Ignorant men raise questions that wise men answered a thousand years ago."

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

There are some calling for a national debate on Aboriginal identity... or in more accurate terms they are calling for a general free for all to slam Aboriginal people who don't 'look Aboriginal'.

Rather than a national 'debate', I am calling for a series of national lessons...

Today's lesson is about what happens when you combine two racist stereotypes:

1. The idea that Aboriginality is something that is 'bred-out' of people over time. That once a person's physical appearance and/or 'blood-quotient' reaches a certain point, then that person can be considered to be not Aboriginal and; 

2. The idea that Aboriginal people are a 'privileged group' in this country. 

The result? 
"the part-whites who are making a racket out of being so-called Aborigines at enormous cost to the taxpayers".

That is the heart of some recent and on-going tension in the media, but that isn't a recent quote. 

It was said in 1988, by Bruce Ruxton... but it sounds like something that could have been said much more recently.

This recent debate is actually quite old, and it is reliant on the fact that people don't know it is an old debate. Aboriginal identity has long been problematised by beauracracy, and by the assumption that all Aboriginal programs are available to Aboriginal people, which obvious to anyone who investigates that claim, is nonsense. ABSTUDY is means tested. Scholarships are competitive, as are 'identified positions' (which are often filled by non-Indigenous people despite being 'identified positions').

Any serious journalist with even a passing interest in Aboriginal identity, and an interest in serious reporting, would quickly find something like this research note, available from the Parliamentary Library, titled "Definition of Aboriginality". 

 It used to come up when you do a google search for 'Definition of Aboriginality'... 

 It mentioned:  

 "In his analysis of over 700 pieces of legislation, the legal historian John McCorquodale found no less than 67 different definitions of Aboriginal people

Though colonial legislation initially grouped Aboriginal people by reference to their place of habitation (e.g. aboriginal natives of New South Wales and New Holland), 'blood' quantum classifications entered the legislation of New South Wales in 1839, South Australia in 1844, Victoria in 1864, Queensland in 1865, Western Australia in 1874 and Tasmania in 1912. Thereafter till the late 1950s States regularly legislated all forms of inclusion and exclusion (to and from benefits, rights, places etc.) by reference to degrees of Aboriginal blood. Such legislation produced capricious and inconsistent results based, in practice, on nothing more than an observation of skin colour." 

Sounding familiar yet? "based, in practice, on nothing more than an observation of skin colour"!

What a long way we have come...

but wait, there's more:

"When policy entered a more progressive period in the late 1960s and 1970s the blood-quantum definitions, which had never been accepted as meaningful by Aboriginal communities themselves, were relatively easy to abandon." 
"In the 1980s a new definition was proposed in the Constitutional Section of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs' Report on a review of the administration of the working definition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders (Canberra, 1981). The section offered the following definition:

An Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander is a person of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent who identifies as an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander and is accepted as such by the community in which he (she) lives.

This three-part definition (descent, self-identification and community recognition) was soon adopted by Federal Government departments as their 'working definition' for determining eligibility to some services and benefits." 

"The advantages of this three part definition were not, however, apparent to all. In 1988 the Victorian State president of the RSL, Mr Bruce Ruxton, called on the Federal Government: 

to amend the definition of Aborigine to eliminate the part-whites who are making a racket out of being so-called Aborigines at enormous cost to the taxpayers'.
" the three part definition has generally been found to help protect individuals from the tendency among 'mainstream Australians' to consider 'real' indigenous people as people living somewhere else and others as manipulating the system."

 "It also sits well with the definition used by the UN Working Group on Indigenous Populations in 1986:

Indigenous communities, peoples and nations are those which, having a historical continuity with pre-invasion and pre-colonial societies ..., consider themselves distinct from other sectors of the societies now prevailing in those territories ... They form at present non-dominant sectors of society and are determined to preserve, develop and transmit to future generations their ancestral territories, and their ethnic identity, as the basis of their continued existence as peoples, in accordance with their own cultural patterns, social institutions and legal systems."

And here endeth the lesson...

... and to answer the question that is the title of this article:

I am not 'part' anything. I am entirely who I am.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Non-Racist vs Anti-Racist

Most people today are quick to tell you that they are not racist... and most of those people say so quite sincerely too. 

However, the most common translation of this sentiment is "I don't mean to be racist"... but if all the statement is really saying is what the person feels about themselves, what does it say about the feelings, interpretations and experiences of others? 

Saying "I don't mean to be racist" suggests that you have the moral will, but says absolutely nothing about your moral skill. Even the original version, "I am not racist", just says that a person is not openly pro-racism. It does not say anything about their stance against racism, or their knowledge of what racism is. 

Saying "I am anti-racist" however says: "I know what racism is, I am morally opposed to it and I am able to address it professionally". In any professional context, this is a minimum standard in today's workplace. 

This is not me on some sort of moral high horse by the way. This is policy.

The NSW DET has a very strong Anti-racism policy clearly saying that all staff are expected to have both the moral will and the moral skill to back up the claim "I am anti-racist".

The NSW Department of Education and Training rejects all forms of racism. It is committed to the elimination of racial discrimination – including direct and indirect racism, racial vilification and harassment – in its organisation, structures and culture, in its curriculum, and in the learning and working environments for which it is responsible.
All teaching and non-teaching staff contribute to the eradication of racism by promoting acceptance of Australia's cultural, linguistic and religious diversity, challenging prejudiced attitudes and ensuring that sanctions are applied against racist and discriminatory behaviours.
This means that fighting racism is no longer solely a personal choice, it has made the leap into professional standards of behaviour, and an expected level of professional skill and understanding. 

It is the responsibility of employers to ensure that staff are provided with the training, support and guidance to adequately ensure their workplace maintains a high level of professionalism towards colleagues and clients regardless of race, gender, age, ability or any other factor.

As I have said, it is easy to claim to be non-racist, but to claim you are anti-racist requires a keen insight into how to understand a given situation through the eyes of those who may potentially be offended, discriminated against, be made to feel uncomfortable or unsafe, or in any way receive less than equitable treatment. It requires having an intimate professional understanding of how to ensure these situations can be avoided, and also of how they must be addressed if they arise.

At the moment, many people instantly put up a brick wall at the mere mention of the words 'racism' or 'racist'. This is not just those who may be fearful of having those terms directed at their own behaviours, but also those who might fear long term professional repercussions from raising the issue of racism in either a 'direct' or 'indirect' context. 
It should not be something that professionals need to fear. Not if they, and their employers already have the moral will to be anti-racist. The moral will is usually the hardest part to teach. It can be encouraged, and situations can be provided that are designed to inspire moral will, but it cannot be forced upon someone. However, once someone has the moral will, developing the moral skill to back it up actually becomes a joy, and is quickly recognised as an essential professional tool. It also means that those who already have the moral skill can become more of a positive influence in the workplace, as their experience, insight and understanding becomes recognised as a valuable professional resource rather than a potential impediment to their professional development.

One comment from the blog I wrote about why "Indigenous" should have a capital letter sums up a sentiment I want to hear expressed at the end of an anti-racism or cultural awareness workshop.

"I'm very pleased to learn about this. In all honesty, I never thought of it before and now it's so obvious!" 

This is how anti-racism training, cultural awareness training etc needs to be viewed. 

Like any form of education and training, it needs to be relevant, engaging, challenging and rewarding.

So, they next time someone tells you they are not a racist, tell them you don't really care about that... you want to know if they are anti-racist. 

It is what every employee, employer and client has a right to demand in a professional context: To know the professionals they deal with will not tolerate racism.

"It is not so much our friends help that helps us, as it is the confident knowledge that they will help us". Epicurus.

It is safety in this knowledge that creates a 'safe work environement'. 

An anti-racism policy is nice. It says you have moral will, but there is no substitute for moral skill.

Moral skill is implied in policy, but is reflected in training, guidance and leadership; measured in long term outcomes and improvement of best practice; and experienced in the day to day lives of individuals.

Anti-racism is not about creating 'trouble'. It is about removing trouble.

Racism is a problem in Australia and anti-racism is simply about pro-actively finding solutions. It is about taking a stand and backing it up. 

It is about an entity being "committed to the elimination of racial discrimination – including direct and indirect racism, racial vilification and harassment – in its organisation, structures and culture" and ensuring all "staff contribute to the eradication of racism by promoting acceptance of Australia's cultural, linguistic and religious diversity, challenging prejudiced attitudes and ensuring that sanctions are applied against racist and discriminatory behaviours".


The terms 'moral will' and 'moral skill' which were a key focus in this blog I have linked back to their source (A TED talk from Barry Schwartz) and hope that people will watch it as well, it played a huge part in shaping my views on Cultural Awareness training and the need for a renewed focus on ability over policy. 

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

My favourite 'Aboriginal joke' :)

An Elder in a community goes out each year with some of the young men to collect and store firewood for the community, they usually grab a bit extra to sell, to buy provisions, like winter clothes for the the families and  extra blankets for the women and kids, and since this year had been an especially tough year for the community, they decided to get a bit extra wood to sell just in case.

While they are out cutting, a parks official comes up and asks him what they are doing. The old fella tells him... the official thinks about this and then asks how he knows how much to cut? The old fella laughs and tells him that they have been doing it long enough to know how much to cut. The official says that this simply will not do and that he will have to get an estimate from the Bureau of Meteorology to determine if it is indeed going to be a cold winter... He contacts the BofM and asks for the forecasts. He is told that initial reports indicate it will indeed be a cold winter, even colder than last year.

The official returns and informs the Elder that it is going to be colder than last year, and while he will keep them posted on further reports from the BofM, they should probably go and get a bit more wood to make sure. The Elder does not think this is really necessary, but is happy to take the opportunity to get a bit of extra work for a few of the local men and make sure everyone has a few extra dollars throughout the winter. So they go and stock up...

A few days later the official calls the BofM back to check on the forecasts... he is told that the latest data indicates that this winter will actually be much colder than they initially projected. The official races back to tell the Elder, and while initially being met with laughter and is told that the upcoming winter is not going to be that cold... the official persists, and insists he and the men go and stock up on more wood and simply says, "if I am wrong, you will have a bit extra to sell, and we could actually benefit from a few large trees being removed around this area, so you'll be doing everyone a favour"... The Elder agrees and they organise the jobs to be lined up...

This goes on a few more times... the official getting reports of a colder winter, the men going out to get more wood, back and forth back and forth... each new report worse than the last... eventually the official starts to panic and says "what on Earth are you expecting to happen this winter"?... the BofM replies and tells him that they are not really sure, but their data shows that the local Aboriginal people are gathering a lot more firewood than usual, which tells them that this winter is going to be as cold as hell...


Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Racist jokes

There has been enough stupidity around this debate so I will not add to it, I will not lecture you about why something is or is not offensive, I just want to pose a few questions for you to consider, if you are interested in the issue of racism in comedy.

Is there a difference between someone using comedy to come to terms with the racism and discrimination that they experience vs someone who uses comedy to normalise and justify the racism that they inflict on others? or are they both just racist jokes? or are they both perfectly fine?

If you identify as a 'white Australian' and believe jokes that play on stereotypes are not offensive, do you mind that some people at home and around the globe make jokes about white Australians being racist, ignorant, uneducated and 'simple', or is that just 'in good fun' too? Does it matter that these jokes represent an actual belief that this is true? Do you think it is true? Why do you think others might think it is?

If I ridicule you by making a rude joke about your weight, or height, or lower intelligence, or family, or looks, or because I have more money than you, does it matter if I think you shouldn't be offended? or if I think that if you are offended then that is just because you are too stupid to see that it isn't really offensive? Would me thinking that make me more or less offensive or not matter?

If I tell a racist joke to a child is that wrong? What if the child is a member of the race the joke is about? Does that make a difference? What if the child isn't of that race, has never heard anything about this race and doesn''t understand the joke is based around a stereotype? Does that matter?

Now for the fun one. People are saying that if they don't mean to offend then people should not be offended...

If I throw a rock, but I don't intend for it to hit someone... or let's say I do want it to hit them, but not hard... let's just say 'I don't intend to hurt them'. Is my intent more relevant than the damage I inflict on the other person after I have hit them with a rock? or should the person who has been hurt, simply toughen up... or should they start throwing rocks back?

I don't think Australians really want a rock fight, I think some people would like to be able to keep having fun by throwing rocks at others though... but if they do then some people will start throwing rocks back... wouldn't you?

but I am sure there are some people who think that stereotypes are fun, and that no one takes them seriously... they are just jokes... Like the Tenterfield Councillor who said he didn't think Aboriginal people could be trusted to RAISE THE ABORIGINAL FLAG EACH MORNING because "they are a very undisciplined people'...

or the Government who know that because Australians believe the stereotype that Aboriginal people get free handouts, they will be able to take money out of the Aboriginal Benefits Account and use that money to purchase the leases on Aboriginal land... yes that is right, they are taking money that belongs to Aboriginal people and using it for the acquisition of town leases.

or FMG who know that because we have such a dislike and a distrust of Aboriginal people in Australia, they can make the argument that they are not going to pay money to people who own resources they want to mine because giving them money is like giving them welfare... Paying people for their resources and commodities is 'welfare'. Sorry, let me correct that, paying ABORIGINAL people for their resources and commodities is 'welfare'.

See, just harmless stereotypes and jokes... right? 

Wednesday, July 6, 2011


The theme of this year's NAIDOC Week is 'Change: The Next Step is Ours'. For those who are supporters of NAIDOC Week, it seems relevant to ask ourselves two essential questions.

What change do you want to see?

What steps are you planning to take to make it happen?

For me there is no bigger issue than education. Of course, no one issue is truly 'bigger' than any other, but as a teacher I am allowed a certain level of bias towards education. I know what changes I want to see in education and I am working towards achieving them both through study and through direct involvement in programs. In my job I am able to work with a wide range of students and professionals and can assist them directly to strengthen their skills and understanding in key areas. Not everyone is able to work in a field that directly impacts on Indigenous outcomes though...

Since I have joined the world of blogs and Twitter I have been able to better appreciate the perspective of those people who sit outside this circle of influence and have been given the opportunity to consider how I might be able to use social media to help contribute towards achieving these and other goals in a frustratingly indirect capacity.

Education of course does not just mean the education of children. Education is a life-long process. I have seen this in practice with learners of all ages and it seems that the most common 'teachers' in the everyday life for most adult Australians of various age groups about Indigenous issues is mainstream media, such as TV, internet, radio, newspapers etc. So while I like to think I have been able to reach a lot of 'students' in my work, I do not come close to the amount of people one episode of Neighbours does 5 days a week or one episode of any Triple J show. Since I am not likely to ever get that sort of audience it has become pertinent to ask myself: how can I support increased Indigenous media participation and representation to support the improved education of all Australians?  

This is already beginning to change due to the tireless work of many others before who have been advocating for decades on this exact issue.

This NAIDOC Week various media groups have made increased efforts to include an Indigenous focus which is a great step forward... but until it involves more Indigenous people telling their own stories all year round on a wider variety of programs, and not just non-Indigenous Australians talking about Indigenous Australians a couple of times a year or when something 'scandalous' occurs, it can only fall short of what is needed: Diversity and inclusion.

This means an on-going campaign within media organisations to more accurately portray Indigenous Australia. This means an increase in Indigenous employment on and off the air and opportunities for increased cultural awareness for existing staff.

Mainstream Media is the primary source of information for most people in Australia. How can we expect media to educate Australia when media is not educated?

This is true for a lot more media issues than just Indigenous Australia, but since it is NAIDOC Week, and this is Aboriginaloz.blogspot you will have to go to some other website for thoughts about those issues...

Indigenous Employment: media can't honestly promote it if they don't do it themselves. Same goes for government and corporate leaders.

We have non-Indigenous people representing Indigenous people in parliament, we have non-Indigenous police on the streets, and non-Indigenous teachers in the classrooms. We have non-Indigenous people telling us about Indigenous people on TV... these are all important changes I hope to become an increasingly active part of. AnOther is encouraging Government and organisations to discuss outcomes and not just policies, strategies and anecdotes. Another is helping them to attain the necessary skills to achieve better outcomes that they will be proud to promote. I am considering what steps I need to take and am trying to get as many different perspectives on these issues as I can to help me contribute towards these goals... I am confident that I will be able to continue to make a positive contribution to the things I want to see change. I know what steps I want to take, but I also know enough to realise that I will need to be flexible in my approach and be willing to work towards consensus with others to find approaches that work for as many people as possible.

A student of mine once pointed out to me that an anagram of NAIDOC is I Can Do... and I believe that he was right.

I Can Do. I will do.

What can you do?

What will you do?

What do you want to change?

What steps are you planning to take to achieve it?

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Indigenous Australians... "Should that have two capitals or just one?"

Funnily enough, 'Aboriginal' people didn't originally use a word based in Latin to collectively refer to everyone in 'Australia' (apart from the Torres Strait Islands) any more than it is likely that people living in the 'Torres Strait Islands' would suddenly choose to collectively name themselves after some guy with the last name Torres who did whatever it is he did, however long ago it is he was supposed to have done it. Neither did any group refer to all of the above groups collectively as 'Indigenous'.

There are too many words that exist for me to even to attempt to list them all here, but to give a brief example the names used by different groups include: Wiradjuri, Badu, Yorta Yorta, Yindjibarndi etc. It has also become quite common to hear collective terms for larger areas that encompass several groups, such as Koori, Murri, Noonga etc.

Traditionally, there would never have been a need to even consider a word that collectively described all the people who fall within the imaginary boundaries that constitute  'Australia'. Especially because this imaginary boundary did not exist until very recently. After all, Australia is only 110 years old.

The terms used to describe Indigenous Australians however are much older. Most of these terms were firmly in place long before Captain Cook ever stepped foot on Australian soil. They were packed and ready to go the moment he arrived. The choices he had on offer at the time included: native, savage, primitive, aborigine, and a whole lot more. It was also perfectly acceptable to the rest of the Western World for him to have used any word he cared to choose, as Western knowledge of Indigenous Australians at the time was almost non-existent. He would have been considered by many to have been perfectly within his right to have named us all 'Cookians' if he wanted to... and if that sounds silly to you, tell that to the 'Torres Strait Islanders', or the 'Rhodesians', or even the 'Americans', or at least those who know that they are named after some guy named 'Amerigo', who did whatever it is he did, however long ago he was supposed to have done it.

But like many other people around the world we didn't get the logical label, one derived from the label being given to the area of land we occupied ie 'Australians'. We instead were given a label deemed to be more befitting of our 'natural state'. 

We were called 'aboriginal'. 

Many people believe this is still the term that Aboriginal people still choose for themselves. 

It is not.

To many Aboriginal people, the difference between 'aboriginal' and 'Aboriginal' is as vast as the difference between 'turkey' and 'Turkey'... and in many instances, just as offensive.

Aboriginal (with a capital A) is probably still the most popular collective term used in Australia at the moment, but the term 'indigenous' has been gaining more and more popularity in recent years, especially on a public level through Government, various organisations and the media. There seems to be two camps though amongst those who use the term: “indigenous’ or ‘Indigenous’?

Some often ask, why did we need to change from 'Aboriginal' at all? This is a fair question and the answer is one that can be logically assumed, but it is harder to pinpoint exactly (at least from the perspective of this observer and commentator).

Aboriginal Australians were once called 'aborigines' and also 'aboriginal people'. Over time many people came to identify with these labels and so demanded that they become capitalised. It seems fair to say that over the decades since this was achieved 'Aboriginal' has won out over 'Aborigines' and become a common preference amongst a majority of Aboriginal people. There are even those who now consider 'Aborigine' to be an out-dated and offensive term. Different individuals however, have their own preferences and reasons and explanations for these. 

There were many who had already voiced the idea that 'Aboriginal' was not great to use as a collective term as it did not fully recognise and respect many Torres Strait Islander Peoples, who more often than not do not regard themselves as 'Aboriginal'. This is why for many years it was most common to see the phrase 'Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander', and even the acronym ATSI (as in AIATSIS, and the now extinct, ATSIC).

The term Indigenous seems to have found its foothold due to the combination of Torres Strait Islander exclusion from the term 'Aboriginal'; many people's general dislike of being referred to by an acronym ie an ATSI person; academia's love of being able to create new and improved 'metalanguage'; and the fact that 'Indigenous' is accepted on the international scene ie the UN speak often on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples around the world, and events like the World Indigenous Peoples Conference on Education have been around for a reasonably long time now. 

So the term 'Indigenous' was a very attractive option for many people, it appeared to tick all the right boxes and address everyone's key issues: Wiradjuri people were still Wiradjuri and Aboriginal people were still Aboriginal, but now both also fell under the broader category of 'Indigenous' which included not just all Aboriginal people but also Torres Strait Islander people, and it could also be used when appropriate to talk about our shared status with other people around the world who met the peculiar criteria that seem to classify a particular group as being 'Indigenous'.

When an adjective, adverb or noun is being used as a proper noun the rules of 'Grammar' can vary slightly from with its lower case counterpart. This is especially true when the proper noun is one which a group of people have claimed direct ownership of rather than simply being a 'label' placed on them. In this case, personal preferences can actually become more relevant that grammar or etymology. This is consistent with linguistic theories today which argue that the science of linguistics should be a more 'descriptive' than 'prescriptive' process. Of course, Muhammad Ali is a prime example of how many people can callously refuse to acknowledge a change that goes against their personal views (for many years after officially changing his name Ali was still referred to by many in the media as 'Cassius Clay'). This same attitude is believed by many Indigenous people to be at the heart of the media's refusal to capitalise 'indigenous' when referring to Indigenous Australians. That it represents a belief that Indigenous people do not deserve respect or acknowledgement, that rather than being in the same category of Greek, Catholic or Australian, we are once again being referred to in the terminology of 'flora and fauna'.

Whether or not it is in the mind of media editors a matter of grammar, of malice, or even one of ignorance is impossible for me to say, but I would suggest the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle (and also probably involves a lot more factors to consider, as it usually does in these hypothetical scenarios). What I am far more confident in saying about the media's refusal to capitalise Indigenous (as well as their use of Aborigine/s) is that to many Indigenous people it is both a practical and symbolic example of a lack of cultural understanding, respect and of a general lack of awareness and sensitivity when it comes to reporting on Indigenous issues. If media outlets are incapable of seeing linguistics in the same way that many linguists do (as a 'descriptive', rather than a 'prescriptive' process) and acknowledge that the role of Indigenous Australians is indeed significant enough to warrant capitalisation along with other groups of humans (like English people, Christians... or the Newcastle Knights) how on Earth can we expect them to appropriately report on the complicated and multi-faceted issues which face many Indigenous communities? Semantics and choice of grammar or phrasing in writing reflect to the reader a sense of the authors attitudes and values to a topic. This is one of the obvious problems when it comes to 'reading between the lines', it usually leaves itself open to interpretation and juxtaposition. It seems strange to many people, especially those who may not have the highest regard for media to begin with, that newspapers would choose to capitalise every other  proper noun except 'indigenous Australian'. The attitudes and values it appears to reflect to people who make this obvious observation are usually not entirely positive ones.
To give an example of how terms like aboriginal, Aboriginal, indigenous and Indigenous overlap and co-exist, according to my own personal understanding: Aboriginal Australians are in fact aboriginal, but we are not 'aboriginal Australians'. The same is true for 'indigenous'. Indigenous Australians are in fact indigenous, but we are not 'indigenous Australians'. In the strictest dictionary context, I may be an aborigine but I do not personally identify as an Aborigine, I identify as an Aboriginal Australian. I have no objection to referring to myself or being referred to as an Aboriginal Australian or an Indigenous Australian, but I never refer to myself as an Aborigine. To be referred to as an aborigine, aboriginal or indigenous Australian I believe to be disrespectful. This is especially true, where being mentioned as a part of a larger list ie "Dutch Australians, English Australians and indigenous Australians".

I am Gamilaroi, which contemporaneously means I am Murri, I am an Aboriginal Australian, I am an Indigenous Australian, I am one of the world's Indigenous people and I am an Australian.

It really isn't that complicated.

This following excerpt is from the NSW State Records. 

Protocols for Staff Working with Indigenous People


3.1 Definition of Indigenous people

An Indigenous person is a person of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander descent,
who identifies as an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person and is accepted as
an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person in the community which he or she
lives or comes from.

3.2 Speaking or writing about Indigenous people

3.2.1 How to refer to Indigenous people
Most Aboriginal people prefer to be identified as an Aboriginal person or peoples.

When using ‘Indigenous’ and ‘Aboriginal’ always use a capital I or A. Aboriginal and Indigenous are classified as a people, and therefore qualify using capitals. This applies only to Australian Indigenous people.

The written abbreviation of Aboriginal is Abl. and Torres Strait Islander TSI.
3.2.2 How not to refer to Indigenous people

Most Aboriginal people prefer not to be called an Aborigine.

Staff should not use acronyms to refer to Indigenous people e.g. ‘ATSIs’, Tis’ etc..

It is offensive to refer to the ‘amount’ of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander blood an Indigenous person has. The labels “half-caste”, “Quarter-caste”, “full-blood”, “octoroon” are offensive, racist and unacceptable. For a definition of Aboriginality see 3.1 Definition of section Indigenous person.

The term ‘Blacks’, ‘Gins’ and ‘Abos’ are offensive, racist and unacceptable.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Aboriginal people didn't 'OWN' the Land... so nerr!

I often hear a sad argument used against the idea of Aboriginal Land Rights on the basis that 'Aboriginal people didn't own the land, they belonged to the Land' and so therefore have no claim to Land Rights.

If people did not own the land, then what were the likes of Pumulwuy & Windradyne right through to Mabo and many others today fighting for? (NB: Eddie Mabo was actually Torres Strait Islander, not Aboriginal, but that is a topic of another blog somewhere in here so I will leave that point as is)

The idea that 'Aboriginal people didn't own the land, they belonged to the Land' is an idea that is meant to symbolise that Aboriginal people did not view Land as a commodity to be bought and sold but as a giver of life and something that they were responsible for protecting and caring for. Like any good person feels towards their Mother.

If someone asked me if I owned my Mother, I would laugh and say of course not. This doesn't mean I would be happy if someone tries to 'steal' her and then sell her to a major international conglomerate for export... even if they offer me an insignificant proportion of the profits and low level, underpaid, short term employment with their company.

'Nuff said.

Monday, May 16, 2011

What Reconciliation means to me...

For the last 10 years or so, 'Reconciliation' has been the term used by many Australians to describe the process of healing that needs to happen between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australia. 

The word ‘reconciliation’ also has a different meaning than the one most of are now use to. Accountants are very familiar with it.

The one we all know when we talk about "Aboriginal Reconciliation" (a phrase .the ending of conflict or renewing of a friendly relationship between disputing people or groups

2. The process of ensuring personal and/or business finanical records are an accurate statement of the balance sheet (according to the best available data); meet accounting standards and legal requirements.

The Australian Government under John Howard, who originally structured ‘Reconciliation’ clearly did not have definition two in mind. And not many people do today either.

But the truth is that Australia cannot achieve definition one, until after it achieves definition two. 

Australia’s outstanding debts to Indigenous people do not just include ‘moral debts’. 

They include the money, land and resources that have been and continue to be stolen from Indigenous Australians.

Not just the initial (and not to be forgotten) original theft of the entire Continent, accompanying islands and all of the natural resources and opportunities for 'wealth development' that came with them.
But that which has been stolen in the much more recent history, and continues today.

This includes wages earned but not paid, from the 'Stolen Wages' campaign to the ongoing stolen wages of CDEP participants. 

‘Compulsorily acquiring’ land on behalf of Private Commercial Enterprises, such as mining, housing developments, farms etc.

Funding paid to organisations to provide adequate service provision for Indigenous communities that are still not available to the same standards as are enjoyed by most non-Indigenous Australians. To schools, universities, TAFEs, and Adult Education providers to provide culturally appropriate and meaningful education to Indigenous students and communities, which still does not exist. To Government agencies and Government funded bodies to achieve improved outcomes in health, education, employment, which again, does not exist. And of course, not to forget the monies allocated to build houses which continue to not yet exist, despite supposedly being a 'top priotity' for several years now.

Australia has been witness to a 52% increase in Indigenous imprisonment rates across Australia in the first ten years of this 'new millennium'. This is a prime example of how money that could have spent achieving both definitions of 'reconcilation' is actually spent by Government.  

Everything from the lack of outcomes to the increased imprisonment rates has been paid for by the Australian tax-payer.

The profits of this have been enjoyed to some extent by the majority of Australians in the form of the varying quality of, and access to products and services that support basic needs and rights such as education,  etc. All opportunity that has ever been provided to any Australian has come at the expense of opportunities for Indigenous Australians as a collective group within Australia. There is is no avoiding that reality about our past and present, but there is a lot of ways that we can work towards that being the reality for our future.

When it comes to the first above listed definition of Reconciliation, the ending of conflict or renewing of a friendly relationship between disputing people or groups. It will be a long and exciting path that Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians must walk together. It is one that will increase true respect for each other in greater numbers and to deeper levels than have ever been achieved by Australia before in its history. At this stage though, it is very easy to claim progress, but very hard to achieve in realuty eg even if we only saw our incarceration rates go up by 30% in the next ten years the Government could claim that they were doing better than ever...

However, fully expect that we will have to drag the Government and media along behind of us most of the time. 

If our journey were to be likened to journey undertaken in the Lord of the Rings, our Government would be playing the role of the 'Gollum', staring at their 'Precious'... cheap labour, free land and natural resources, and doing everything it can to ensure it is not destroyed. 

The positive personal relationships that do exist today have not been achieved through Government and certainly not through accurate portrayals in mainstream media. They have more commonly been achieved in spite of Government, and in spite of media. 
It is the Government and Corporate Australia who must reconcile the accounts, but they will only ever do it if enough Australians demand it. 

The other factor we like to forget in our little corner of the World is, well, the rest of the World.
Paul Keating said in Redfern in 1992. "We simply cannot sweep injustice aside. Even if our own conscience allowed us to, I am sure that in due course, the world and the people of our region would not. There should be no mistake about this - our success in resolving these issues will have a significant bearing on our standing in the world."

Reconciliation is really about Australia building a stronger, healthier nation. To achieve this, we must take stock of our past and out present, and consider our path for the future. 

Only when this is achieved can Australia take its place on the Global stage as a responsible Leader in innovation, civilisation, human rights, freedom and justice.

There can be no Reconciliation without Justice.

Reconciliation is Justice.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

A New Standard in Indigenous Affairs

When you consider Indigenous Australians are barely represented at all as employees and contract providers within 'Indigenous Affairs', you have to ask the question: How did ‘who is Aboriginal?’ become an issue?

Non-Aboriginal people are the overwhelming majority of employees in Indigenous Affairs and many of these people do not have the essential skills, experience, networks or understanding that is required to occupy such positions. For any person to be effective working in Indigenous programs, they need to have a firm understanding of Indigenous perspectives, community protocols and have appropriate levels of training and experience for the responsibilities of their position. They need to understand and be able to identify the difference and importance of programs WITH Indigenous people rather than the programs AIMED AT Indigenous people.

Many of these senior non-Indigenous Public Servants, often self-proclaimed ‘Indigenous experts’, are effectively acting as the Gatekeepers to Indigenous employment. Most of these ‘experts’ could count every Indigenous person they know on one hand and more often than not, they do not have the support of the few Indigenous people who work, several levels below them, in their Departments. For many of these key decision makers, a small stint in Indigenous affairs is essential for their career progression. The only outcome they are interested in is having this accolade on their resume so they can go for the jobs they actually want.

Government funds Indigenous programs, claiming that the intended outcome is to ‘Close the Gap’. Any informed observer can plainly see that this is not the case. Indigenous initiatives are not funded with this goal in mind. The key identifiable outcome from this strategy is career progression opportunities for non-Indigenous employees within the Public Service and Government funded positions in the Private Sector.

To add insult to injury, these strategies are presented as socially responsible initiatives to address an issue of great importance to many Australians.

The government creates programs that give taxpayers money to Australia’s biggest companies and consultancy firms to ‘explore’ and ‘research’ Indigenous employment opportunities which they then use to create Social Capital as Responsible Australian Entities.

Ever increasing numbers of Australians have serious concerns over Government’s lack of outcomes for Indigenous Australians and many of them have begun asking awkward questions. Questions like “How many houses does 300 Million dollars build?”

We need to hear more qualified and relevant Indigenous voices on Indigenous issues. In Government, as in media, it is more common than not to see only a minor contribution from Indigenous people on Indigenous issues, and just as (if not more) often than not in both Government and media, that input is either misrepresented or ignored completely.

It is unacceptable that Government says one thing to Indigenous Australia, another thing to non-Indigenous Australia and then goes and does something completely different anyway.

It is unacceptable that Indigenous Australians continue to cop a majority share of blame for the mismanagement of funding and programs that most Indigenous people have little to no influence over. It is an atrocity that the people in Government are the sole reason Indigenous people are not adequately represented in Indigenous Affairs, and are also one of the worst perpetrators of engaging in victim-blaming.

It is unacceptable that the Government have waited as long as they have to act, and it is unacceptable how they are acting.

We cannot change what they have already done, but we must change what they are currently doing. 

Australia needs to demand new standards in Indigenous Affairs:



Sean Pearson - @AbvantageOz
Luke Pearson - @AboriginalOz

Saturday, May 7, 2011

"They all look alike to me..."

We have all heard the phrase "They all look alike" when talking about other races, some people actually mean that for the most part, they have great difficulties telling people from the same backgrounds (different to themselves) apart from each other.

I was watching a clip recently that explained this phenomena... except they were talking about crows, not people.

It turns out that crows can recognise not just other crows by sight, but humans as well. While most people cannot tell crows apart at all. The reason for this, it is suggested, is that crows over their long standing history with humans have found reasons to tell humans apart and to know them by their faces. This is because one human may try to harm you, and another you might be able to approach. As such, it is important that crows can tell these people apart. Whereas for the majority of humans, crows are just crows. Even if you actually really like crows, if you don't know several individual crows you may have some difficulty telling them apart from each other. This is because like or dislike what you know about them, it has not been relevant to differentiate between them, for many people crows are only really considered collectively, if they see one crow do something, 'that is what crows do'.

When you hear a person say about another group of people 'they all look alike', It is saying a lot more about the speaker than it does about the people being spoken about. They may claim to 'like or dislike them', but it has clearly not been relevant to differentiate between them, or they would be able to. The speaker is telling you, "I have never found a reason to respect or identify that group as individuals, I consider them collectively. When I see one person do something, that is what I believe they all do".

If you know a pair of 'identical twins', at first they may seem identical, but as you get to them they become quite easily distinguished. Even though most people of the same race are not even close to identical to begin with, apparently to some people they are... just like crows are to most humans.

If they ever to get to know a few individuals, this seemingly strange racial 'sameness' will usually disappear.

Crow Paradox:

Friday, March 25, 2011

Why do we constantly change terminologies for Aboriginal issues in Academia?

Within society and, in particular, academia there is a constant need to undergo terminology shifts, or to use a popular education term - we constantly change a lot of our language, and particularly our metalanguage.

In terms of what has happened to the Traditional Custodians of this land, we have undergone some remarkably distinct terminology shifts in regards to what has happened in our history and WHO it has happened to, and what the terminologies reflects in terms of the attitudes of the authors and their intended audiences.

The Claiming/Settling/Colonisation/Protection/Assimilation/Invasion/Oppression/Dispossession/Regulation and Control/Genocide/Attempted genocide/Intervention/Land Rights/Self Determination/Mutual Obligation/Sovereignty OF natives/aborigines/savages/primitives/aboriginals/Aborigines/Aboriginals/Aboriginal people/Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander people/Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander peoples/ATSI people/indigenous people/Indigenous people/Koori/Murri/Gamilaroi etc...

There are many obvious & subtle reasons for these changes and many of these changes reflect significantly distinct attitudes, perspectives and purposes. But more commonly today within academia we are shifting from 'focus' to 'foci' or introducing new phrasing for emphasised, updated and occassionally improved versions of old ideas - Indigenisation of the Curriculum, Indigenists...Quality Teaching, Cultural Competency (rather than Awareness) which usually also fall under common sense, decency, wisdom....
This to many sounds unnecessary and pompous, but it actually reflects a very real and dangerous reality that lies that at the heart of modern academia:

Any terms or phrases, regardless of their true semantics or intentions, quickly grow to reflect the sentiments of the people who use them. The reason 'Abo' is unacceptable while 'Aussie' is fine is to do with how they are used, not that they are abbreviations or slang. As I have said in a previous blog - if people had originally used 'Abo' in the context of "I hope my daughter settles down with a nice Abo" rather than "We Hate Abos", I doubt it would today be considered a derogatory term.

So in academia when a term becomes tainted by the reality that many people still hold negative views towards Aboriginal people (or whatever the particular issue in quesion may be) we search to find a new terminology that is fresh and untainted rather than change the fact that racism is rife within academia.

A rose by any other name... it works exactly the same for racist shit! It is still shit no matter what we call it! Land Rights are awesome words, and we have Lands Rights Acts in OZ - but Aboriginal people do not have Land Rights... A contract is only good as the intentions to keep it. If we were serious about Aboriginal Rights, the phrasing wouldn't matter - we would use common sense and wisdom to resolve any problems with the semantics - we would just do it, because it is the right thing to do. Until that is our attitude, expect to see endless debates about terminology and semantics; and expect to find that new terminologies do not bring with them attitudinal changes if the changes are introduced from the top down rather than beginning from the bottom-up.