Friday, May 19, 2017

The Aborigine Australia

It is conservatively estimated that at least 750,000 Indigenous people lived on the continent when the first fleet arrived from Britain to begin colonisation. After invasion on 26 January 1788, Indigenous people were almost decimated by massacres and widespread poisoning, imprisonment, the forced removal of children and programs of assimilation and racial “dilution”. By federation in 1901, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population had diminished to about 117,000.

Sol Bellear, a former rugby league player for South Sydney Rabbitohs and Aboriginal rights activist, talks about the recent damning interim report by the UN special rapporteur Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, and another by Oxfam, both scathing assessments of – among many other things – rates of Indigenous child removal, incarceration, the lack of government commitment to self-determination, health, education and employment.
All these reports just sit there and gather dust. Now and then, someone will pick one up and say: ‘Maybe we should implement such and such’ – or maybe not, because it’s all too hard,” Bellear says. “It’s partly racism, it’s partly history. To really address what’s wrong today, we need to drill into that colonial history and admit all the terrible things that were done to us.”

By the measure that successive governments have (since 2008) used to determine Indigenous outcomes – the annual Closing the Gap report to the Australian federal parliament – the Commonwealth has dismally failed its First People. It has been long established that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people die earlier than other Australians and have far worse health, educational, economic and employment outcomes. Closing the Gap was formulated to end the disparity, but the last report showed Australia had failed to improve or gone backwards on six of seven critical measures.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders constitute some 3% of the country’s overall population – yet in 1991, they comprised 14% of Australia’s prisoners. A quarter of a century later, that figure was up to 27% – while more than 150 Indigenous people had died in custody in the intervening 25 years. In some parts of Australia, many more young Indigenous men complete prison terms than high school. The Indigenous rate of imprisonment is 15 times the age-standardised non-Indigenous rate. As Thalia Anthony pointed out in her 2015 book Indigenous People, Crime and Punishment, rates of Indigenous incarceration in Australia today match those of black imprisonment in apartheid South Africa.

Historian, Donald Horne  in 1964 wrote a withering critique that cultural assimilation ultimately meant “absorption, and that means extinction ... As a ‘nation’ with its own way of life, and even as a race, the aborigines are still destined to disappear.”

Jon Altman, a Deakin University academic specialising in Indigenous economy says Horne’s view shows “how little the dominant settler colonial way of thinking about the Indigenous economy has changed”, because central policy goals of many governments since have still been “to integrate Indigenous people into the conventional Australian economy and society”.
He says, “The current articulation of this goal is the Closing the Gap policy framework, pursuing targets unilaterally set by the state and measured by official statistics.” According to Altman: “Policy is increasingly influenced by a neoliberal trope emphasising individualism, entrepreneurship, material accumulation and the free market – anathema to many Indigenous people, whose norms and values remain focused on kin, community and country. It sounds little different from the assimilation discourse of the early 1960s.”

 Australia’s governments have consistently demonstrated an inability to make policies that improve Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander lives. Henrietta Fourmile Marrie, a member of the National Museum of Australia’s Indigenous Reference Group, explains, “Our people, like so many people, were removed from their land and taken away from their culture and put on missions and reserves. And then their culture was taken and put in museums all over the world, and reinterpreted, so that we are now told what it means.”

The ’67 referendum gave us the right to be counted on the census, but it didn’t give us anything much else. It was just words on paper that had really no meaning. Everything we got after that, we had to fight hard to get – and nothing has changed.” Marrie says the federal government was empowered to make Indigenous lives better, yet laws – state and federal – continue to oppress them. She cites the 2007 Northern Territory Intervention, during which government troops were sent into communities amid allegations of child abuse. Convictions for child abuse in relevant communities did not increase significantly during the intervention. She also discusses the 2013 Protection of Cultural Objects on Loan Act: a law passed largely at the behest of the British Museum, to provide a legal barrier to claims from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander owners of items on loan to Australia from the museum’s Indigenous collection. She sees this as an act of cultural imperialism and oppression – part of a continuum consistent with the theft of traditional lands, the policy of assimilation with all its malevolence, and the disconnection from her people’s culture.

But we are still not free,” Tarneen Callope insists.“We cannot pretend we belong to a free and democratic nation, and not advocate against the human rights violations directed specifically at Aboriginal people in this country. We have to expose the truth, tell all of our stories and teach our children real Australian history

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