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.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Smiling Eagles in Flight :)

Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Next Step Is Ours!... Again!

Aboriginal Australians across the country are being discussed by many non-Aboriginal people in terms of "Mutual Obligation, "Intervention", "Closing The Gap" and so on. Many Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people, in Australia and Internationally, from Elders academics, lawyers to activists and ordinary community members are using terms like "Discrimination", "Victim Blaming" and "Human Rights Violations".

There are countless calls to stop such practices, but there are also many calls from the wider community for Aboriginal people to "take responsibility' and as this year's NAIDOC theme proclaims: The Next Step Is Ours!

Many people will read that slogan as a positive reinforcement for an optimistic future...

For many others it reads as a slap in the face.
There are several reasons why.

Every step that has been taken so far has come through years of hard work, resilience and commitment of Aboriginal people and non-Aboriginal supporters fighting against the Government of the day. This is true of the Mabo Decision; The Wave Hill Walk Off, The 1967 Referendum; The Freedom Rides; The Apology and every other major (and symbolic) achievement for Aboriginal people.

The Government at best only ever takes the third step, after Aboriginal people and the wider Australian community have taken the first two.

 I would like NAIDOCs 2011 theme a lot more more if it was "The Next Step Is Ours!... Again"

This is being seen again right now with the Lake Tyers Blockade. Aboriginal people not 'taking the next step', but instead repeating the immortal chant of the oppressed "We shall not be moved". 

They, along with many other Australians,  are saying "NO MORE! We are tired of not only taking EVERY step but also dragging the Government kicking and screaming along the way".

PM Paul Keating challenged non-Aboriginal Australians to take the First Step in 1992 in his famous 1992 Redfern Address: "However intractable the problems may seem, we cannot resign ourselves to failure... the starting point might be to recognise that the problem starts with us non-Aboriginal Australians.... Imagine if we had suffered the injustice and then were blamed for it. It seems to me that if we can imagine the injustice then we can imagine its opposite. And we can have justice."

This is a recognition that has been undertaken by many Australians and it is becoming less of a national debate and more of a logical reflection of the reality that Aboriginal people in Australia have not, and do not, receive 'A Fair Go'.

Yet, despite the Government's acknowledgement and apology for the past, it is continuing to engage in negligent and oppressive practices which are almost universally acknowledged by academics, Elders, community members and professionals as incapable of doing anything more than extend the existing Gap.

We do not need more governing rules, incentives and punishments. 

We need to ensure that Government fulfil the responsibilities of being in Government. 

We need effective partnerships. 

We need to end the Intervention.

We need say over activities on traditional lands.

We need to eradicate trachoma. 

We need economic opportunity. 

We need to create sustainable jobs, schools, hospitals and housing. 

We need to provide all Australians, Aboriginal or not, with the basic support and opportunity that is guaranteed under Australian laws and expected by 21st Century, 1st World community standards and expectations.

That we have Australian communities with no trash collection, no access to schools, housing, health care, police protection, transport or communication is a national disgrace. 

At the moment Aboriginal life-expectancy is still below the retirement age. Effectively meaning that even those Aboriginal people who are lucky enough to find meaningful long-term employment, are unlikely to be able to enjoy their retirement for very long - if they even get to it.

This is not an issue of funding. We currently spend far more on employing non-Aboriginal people to research Aboriginal communities, manage their affairs and to incarcerate them, than it could ever possibly cost to create suitable infrastructure, service provision and economic opportunities for those same communities. Funding which would quickly see a return on its investment not only through increased independance and quality of life for Aboriginal people and the obvious and inevitable benefits to community life for all but also through less spending on gaols, police, research, unemployment etc. 

Aboriginal activist Lilla Watson is often attributed with saying "If you are help to help me you are wasting your time, but if you are here because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together."

At the moment few believe that the government is even there to help, let alone 'work together' with Aboriginal people.

There can be no reconcilitation without justice.

If the Government continues to ignore Australian demands for equitable treatment then we will continue to see more actions like the Lake Tyre Blockade and continued and increasing support locally, nationally and internationally.

Gandhi once said "First the ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win".

Aboriginal people have long been ignored, laughed at and fought by Australian Governments. It is now finally time for us to win.

I would like to acknowledge all those fighting in Lake Tyre, those fighting to End the NT Intervention and all those fighting for Justice in Australia - and offer my respect, my admiration and my support.

To the Government I would simply like to say: Don't worry about us taking the Next Step! We have been taking the necessary steps to survive for millenia and will continue to do so.

Friday, March 11, 2011

An Open Letter to a Teacher from an Aboriginal Parent 1977.

Dear Sir/Madam

Before you take charge of the classroom that contains my child, please ask yourself why you are going to teach Aboriginal children.

What are your expectations?

What rewards do you anticipate?

What ego needs will our children have to meet?

Write down all the information and opinions you possess about Aborigines.

What are the stereotypes and untested assumptions that you bring into the classroom?

How many negative attitudes towards Aborigines will you put before my child?

What values, class prejudices and normal principles do you take for granted as universal?

Please remember that “different from” is not the same as “worse than” or “better than” and the yardstick you use to measure your own life satisfactorily may not be appropriate for their lives.

The term “culturally deprived” was invented by well-meaning middle-class whites to describe something they could not understand.

Too many teachers, unfortunately seem to see their role as rescuer. My child does not need to be rescued; he does not consider being Aboriginal a misfortune. He has a culture probably older than yours; he has meaningful values and a rich and varied experiential background. However strange or incomprehensive it may seem to you, you have no right to say or do anything that implies to him that he is less than satisfactory.

Our children’s experiences have been different from those of the “typical” white middle-class child for whom most school curricula seem to have been designed. (I suspect that this typical child does not exist except in the mind of curricula writers). Nonetheless, my child’s experiences have been as intense and meaningful to him as any child’s.

Like most Aboriginal children his age, he is competent. He can dress himself, prepare a meal for himself, clean up afterwards, and care for a younger child. He knows his surrounds, all of which is his home, like the back of his hand.

He is not accustomed to having to ask permission to do the ordinary things that are part of normal living. He is seldom forbid to do anything; more usually the consequences of an action are explained to him and he is allowed to decide for himself whether or not to act. His entire existence since he has been old enough to see and hear has been an experiential learning situation arranged to provide him with the opportunity to develop his skills and confidence in his own capacities. Didactic teaching will be an alien experience to him.

He is not self-conscious in the way many white children are. Nobody has ever told him his efforts towards independence are cute. He is a young human being energetically doing his job, which is to get on with the process of learning to function as an adult human being. He will respect you as a person, but he will expect you to do likewise as to him.

He has been taught, by precept, that courtesy is an essential part of human conduct and rudeness is any action that makes another person feel stupid or foolish. Do not mistake his patient courtesy for indifference or passivity.

He doesn’t speak standard English, but he is in no way “linguistically handicapped”. If you will take the time and courtesy to listen and observe carefully, you will see that he and the other Aboriginal children communicate very well, both among themselves and with other Aborigines. They speak “functional” English, very effectively augmented by their fluency in the silent language, the subtle unspoken communication of facial expressions, gestures, body movement and the use of personal space.

You will be well advised to remember that our children are skillful interpreters of the silent language. They will know your feelings and attitudes with unerring precision, no matter how carefully you arrange your smile or modulate your voice.

They will learn in your classroom, because children learn involuntarily. What they learn will depend on you.

Will you teach my child to learn to read, or will you teach him that he has a reading problem?

Will you help him develop problem solving skills, or will you teach that school is where you try to guess what answers the teacher wants?

Will he learn that his sense of his own value and dignity is valid, or will he learn that he must forever be apologetic and “try harder” because he isn’t white?

Can you help him acquire the intellectual skills he needs without at the same time imposing your values on top of those he already has?

Respect my child he has a right to be himself.

Yours very sincerely,


(Adapted from an open letter, from a parent to a teacher published in the Native Perspective July – August 1977)

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Power of Perspective.

In education we often talk about the need for Aboriginal perspectives in pedagogy. This is true.

Unfortunately, many teachers have no idea what this means. In fairness to them, before you read on think to yourself, apart from invasion perspectives during a colonisation unit, can you think of any Aboriginal perspectives in education?

Are you really sure what the phrase 'Aboriginal perspectives' means?

The first step in understanding, respecting and eventually incorporating Aboriginal perspectives is simply by understanding the nature of perspective.

Human beings simply aren't equipt to see reality, merely to create it - and I mean that in the most literal, scientific sense possible.

The following photo is a prime example of this.

as you can read in the top corner (But cannot see in real life) the squares A and B ARE EXACTLY THE SAME SHADE.

The problem is to do with your perspectives.

Your brain is very familiar with the idea of 3D representation on a 2D surface, so much so that most of you probably didn't even think twice about where the light source is coming from in that picture. But of course, there is NO LIGHT SOURCE. It is a created image. Your mind accepts that B is a white square made darker by shade and that A is a black square might lighter by the non-existant light source when in fact they are IDENTICAL.

Cut and paste the image on your computer if you do not believe me. (Waiting music)

And now even that you know the truth, your brain is still incapable of giving up its perspective. Luckily for us, racism is not quite so deeply rooted in the subconscious mind. At times it can seem like it is, but trust me, it is not as fundamental a flaw as you have just experienced with your own perspective.

Cultural perspectives influence our ability to interpret ALL DATA that is presented to us in our lifetimes. It is the cultural blueprint that is stamped on our subconscious. From everything to waving, handshakes, please and thank you, clothes, school, work, freedom, democracy, independence, money... none of these exist in an absolute or universal sense, they are all all cultural creations. Particular adaptions and consequences of choices made eons ago by our respective forebearers.

So, no one culture has the REAL perspective, but each offers a unique take on existence and the role of humans on this planet. From knowing the range of cultural perspectives is how one develops depth.

This too is a very literal concept. It is to do entirely with vision. If you have one eye you can see, but you have no depth. We require two contrasting yet comparable images to enable our brains to apply depth to our vision. Cultural perspectives are no different. Except that instead of just two sources of vision, cultural perspectives offer up a world of opportunities for increased depth to your perspectives :)

A couple more pics with a couple of helpful tips:

Just because it looks possible doesn't mean it is!

Just because it looks impossible doesn't mean it is!

This was influenced by both the Beau Lotto and Wade Davis talks on