Tag Archives: indigenous

Towards Reconciliation: Is Forgiveness the Next Step?

As National Reconciliation Week begins and we celebrate twenty years since the Bringing Them Home report was tabled in Federal Parliament, and over ten years since former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd made The Apology to Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, my thoughts turn to a question which has been burning within me since The Apology was made: why haven’t we achieved Reconciliation?

It’s a question to which there are as many answers as there are those willing to answer it. Fingers can be pointed in all directions: Government, institutions, mainstream society, even back at Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. Ironically, the majority of all these groups seem to want Reconciliation. So what’s the hold-up?

In his Apology to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd stated:

“The time has now come for the nation to turn a new page in Australia’s history by righting the wrongs of the past and so moving forward with confidence to the future.”

One of the main criticisms of the Australian Government it that it has not done enough to improve – or facilitate the improvement of – the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. The updated Bringing Them Home 20 Years On report provides a classic example: twenty years after the original report and we see little progress, yet the same rhetoric, the same arguments, and the same recommendations. Stop and think about that for a moment. Twenty years, and we’re still talking about the same things! Forget “moving forward with confidence to the future” – we’re stuck in neutral. Or maybe even up on blocks!

On that premise it could be argued that Reconciliation cannot proceed until the Government makes substantial reparations to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. While I believe that many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples would agree with that, I also believe that there is (or should be) enough evidence to suggest that unless there is a major shift in the Government’s priorities, that degree of change is unlikely to happen.

Does that mean we should give up on Reconciliation? Not at all. However, it does mean that we may need to alter our approach to Reconciliation, and consider the sequence of events that need to occur in order for us to start moving forward.

Former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said:

“We the Parliament of Australia respectfully request that this apology be received in the spirit in which it is offered as part of the healing of the nation.”

At the time it seemed that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples – in general – had received the Government’s apology, in that it was both welcomed and valued, and seen as a huge step to improving race relations in Australia. However, I think what may have been lost over time is that Mr Rudd was not just asking for the apology to be received or accepted: he was asking for forgiveness. Maybe that’s what’s been missing from the Reconciliation process to date?

When two people have an argument, once it’s determined who is in the wrong there is usually an apology, a promise to make amends, and then forgiveness. Forgiving conveys an understanding that the apology and proposed correction have been accepted, and that things can move forward. It is not ‘forgive and forget’, and does not imply that the receiving party must ‘get over it’. If anything, it is important to recognise and recall past faults in order to facilitate current and future correction.

While I believe Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples welcomed the Apology, I’m not convinced that, as a majority, we have expressed forgiveness. Further, I believe this is recognised, perhaps on a subconscious or unexpressed level, by broader Australian society, and inhibits the Reconciliation process. Not because non-Indigenous Australia doesn’t want Reconciliation, but because it’s waiting for us to say, “it’s okay, we forgive you, let’s work out how we move forward from here.”

The idea of forgiveness without prior reparations might be inconceivable to some Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. For many – arguably all – the sins of the past still affect present-day lives. Many wounds are still open, and being stuck in the status quo does little to help them heal. We’re now fifty years on from the Referendum, twenty years on from Bringing Them Home, and almost ten years from The Apology: there is nothing to suggest those wounds will heal unless we do something different to what we’ve done in the past.

I’m not going to tell anyone that we ‘have to’ forgive broader Australia for the past – that’s not my place to say. What I will do is encourage all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to consider whether forgiveness is the next step towards Reconciliation. We need to have this discussion in our families, our communities, and our organisations. We need to ask ourselves, can we forgive? Are we ready to forgive? Is forgiveness what we need to do in order to strengthen the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australia, and in doing so, make Reconciliation – and all the factors that are included in achieving Reconciliation – a national priority for all Australians.

How else can we move forward?

Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Indigenous Issues: Are We Targeting the Right People?

interracial_hands1Most of us have heard that wonderful saying about stepping back and taking a look a the big picture, however when we’re so deeply involved in something, we often don’t get the insight, much less the opportunity to do so. Since moving abroad I haven’t been as actively involved in Indigenous issues as I have been in the past. While not my ideal situation, it has given me the opportunity to be more of an ‘observer’ and examine not just what other people are doing, but also reflect on what I have done, from a more objective perspective. When I look at the efforts I and so many others have put into pursuing issues relevant to their peoples, I see the same issues, the same arguments, the same discussions happening over and over again.

Why? Why is it that we keep saying the same things, but little to nothing changes?

Lately, I’ve been thinking: maybe it’s because we’re taking our message to the wrong people.

In my experience, when it comes to advocating for Indigenous issues there are three main groups we take our message to: Indigenous peoples, the Government, and representative bodies (which includes professional associations, educational institutions, and other, usually not-for-profit organisations, that are themselves representative of, or advocates for, subsets of broader society). The rationale for this is simple. We talk to our own people to identify issues, educate on what we’re planning to do about them, and seek support for our cause. We talk to Government because they are the law- and policy makers of the land, and have the ability to affect change. We talk to other representative bodies because they too have the ability to facilitate change, both directly (through their policies and programs) and indirectly (through their advocacy efforts).

It seems that we have the key players identified and have been working with them for far greater than the twenty years I’ve been involved. It would seem reasonable to expect that the situation for Indigenous peoples should be far better than what it is, right?

Here’s the problem.

Talking with Indigenous peoples about Indigenous issues is a classic case of, “preaching to the converted”. Indigenous peoples know what the issues are, they know what needs to be done to change the situation, and in many cases they’ve been consulted about it to the point where they are tired of repeating themselves. We must keep Indigenous peoples the main part of the conversation, however we need to change the topic of conversation from, “what is the problem?” to “what are we doing to make things better?”

Talking to Government is always going to be crucial because they are the ones who can make laws, and develop policies and programs, that have the ability to create real change. The issue with Government is that it tends to support the views of those that keep them in power. There are two basic groups that Government draws it support from: its constituents, or those who vote for them, and its endorsers, or those who provide the most tangible (mostly financial) support to them. Indigenous peoples are often a severely under-represented segment of both of these groups, and so have a relatively low-level of influence. This could be indicative of why many Governments outwardly appear to support the cause of Indigenous peoples, and yet only actively engage at a minimal level to affect change.

It’s a similar situation when talking with other groups and organisations who have the ability to affect change for Indigenous peoples, however are not solely dedicated to Indigenous issues. The people who direct and manage these organisations are usually serving two masters. On one side, the Government, who provides the underlying laws and, in many cases, funding, on which these organisations are based. On the other are their own constituents: their members and/or the population they either represent or provide services too. Again, Indigenous peoples, through sheer lack of numbers, or often under-represented in these groups, and so their voice is relatively small. Ironically, many of these organisations are very ‘pro-Indigenous’, and could be doing a lot to help Indigenous peoples change their situation. Many boards and managers even “want to do more” to help Indigenous peoples, but claim their hands are tied because their views are not supported by their members, their constituents, and/or the Government of the day.

Obviously we don’t want to exclude any of these groups from dealing with Indigenous issues because they all have critical roles to play. yet we cannot go on rehashing the same rhetoric with the same people only to get the same results. We need to start engaging people who have the power to influence Governments and organisations who can affect change.

We need to start targeting the non-Indigenous population in order to address Indigenous issues.

In most countries where there is inequity between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples, non-Indigenous peoples represent the overwhelming majority of the population. While we like to think that the basis of our societies are morals, ethics, and social justice, the fact is that our lives are directed by one simple, time-tested rule: majority rules. It is also a fact that Indigenous peoples are unlikely to ever regain majority status in countries where the population is made up of Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples. If we’re going to see change, real change, we need to be the majority, and our only hope of achieving that is if we have non-Indigenous peoples on our side.

This is not just a matter of bringing Indigenous issues to the attention of non-Indigenous peoples. In fact, in the age of digital and social media, we could argue that today’s society is the most informed of any previous. Many non-Indigenous people are supportive of Indigenous peoples and addressing Indigenous issues, but this support is passive. If we’re going to garner support of non-Indigenous people to address Indigenous issues, we have to make those issues important to them. It has to become not just something they feel, but something they believe. Something they want. When it becomes important to them, it will become important to those that represent them, namely Governments and other key stakeholders. Remember: the majority have to ability to keep those people in power. Or take that power away.

Changing the lives of Indigenous peoples is not just a numbers game; there are many things that need to change in order for us to see real equity between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples. Many Indigenous – and to be fair many non-Indigenous – peoples have been trying to create change for many years. However, they still represent only a minority of society, and society favours the majority. If we’re going to see real change, we need non-Indigenous peoples to want to improve the lives of Indigenous peoples. As we move into 2017, maybe those of us involved in advocating for Indigenous issues need to rethink our target audience?

Indigenous Issues: When Will We See REAL Change?

I love NAIDOC week. Not only is it a great time to celebrate my Aboriginality, it’s great to see other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples being recognised for their achievements. It makes me very proud, and makes me think that in many ways Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are advancing our status in the modern world.

Yet having been out of the country – and by consequence, out of direct involvement in Indigenous issues – for almost 2 years now, I’ve had the opportunity to be more of an observer than a direct participant, and I’ve got big concerns over what I’m seeing.

The Indigenous community is full of success stories across all fields: health, education, social justice, business, politics, sports, the arts, advocacy, and almost any other field you would care to mention. Yet when you step back and look at the big, big picture, little, if anything, has changed. The statistics are much the same, the reports are much the same, the discussions are much the same – even when I look back at my own contributions over the last 20 or so years, the things I’ve been saying are essentially the same.

So if we’re doing more, and things are getting better, and we’re achieving our goals, and raising ourselves up from the depths of our past, where is the change that we’ve been looking for? Why are we having the same conversations that we’ve been having for years and years and years? Why are we not seeing more tangible results for our efforts?

This is not to discount the amazing things that people are doing in their respective fields, and we should continue to nurture and support all those who are devoting themselves to the betterment of all our peoples. However, maybe we need to step back for a moment and take in the bigger picture again. Maybe instead of focussing our little piece of the puzzle, we need to start thinking about how we make all the pieces fit together so that we get to the big picture. Maybe we need to be a little more self-critical of ourselves – to step back and look at what we’re doing and ask, “what difference are we really making?”

Because after 20 some years of addressing Indigenous issues, I don’t want to be having the same conversations, reading the same reports and social commentary, nor be part of the same statistics for the next 20. I want results. And I would hope that anyone reading this would want that too.

“Be the change you wish to see in the world.” – Mahatma Ghandi

What do you think needs to happen for us to see REAL change in Indigenous issues? Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.

Reconciling Australia: We Need Acknowledgement More Than Apology

984a1b0af5d47f5f81d26ace274913bdIt’s National Reconciliation Week in Australia, a time intended to build relationships between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians. The last time I spoke about Reconciliation I called for reconciliation between Aboriginal peoples. Yet as I skim through the posts, tweets, memes, and videos posted in commemoration of this week, a sad irony presents itself: there is still so much bitterness, so much anger, so much hurt, and so much division between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians. Reconciliation in Australia seems less likely than ever.

National Reconciliation Week arrives just after National Sorry Day, a day commonly misunderstood to be recognition of the Apology to Australia’s Indigenous Peoples by former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. While the two are inextricably linked, National Sorry Day commemorates the tabling of the Bringing them Home report on Australia’s Stolen Generation, and is held to both recognise the injustices of the past, and hold the Australian Government accountable for repairing the damage caused by those injustices. It is a day of mourning and remembrance, in much the same way that ANZAC Day is a day of mourning and remembrance.

However, it’s the ‘sorry’ part that seems to be the sticking point. Many Aboriginal peoples feel that ‘sorry’ isn’t enough; that without reparations ‘sorry’ is just a word non-Indigenous people use to absolve themselves of guilt. On the other hand, many non-Aboriginal Australians do not see the point of continuously saying ‘sorry’; at best they feel their remorse is not being accepted as genuine, and at worst, that an apology isn’t necessary for something they personally have not done – that “the past is in the past”. Could it be that the demand for ‘sorry’ is actually driving a wedge between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples, rather than bringing us together?

Perhaps the way towards achieving Reconciliation involves acknowledgement more so than apology. Acknowledgement on both sides of the cultural divide.

The first thing to acknowledge is that Aboriginal peoples are still suffering, in every sense of the word, from the injustices of the past. This does not mean that Aboriginal peoples are “still living in the past”; rather it means that the effects of those injustices are still very much the present, and the immediate foreseeable future, for Aboriginal peoples. It is not the past because Aboriginal peoples are still living it. Non-Aboriginal people don’t need to understand that – in fact it is arguable that anyone not living through that could not truly understand it anyway – but they do need to acknowledge that the suffering experienced by Aboriginal peoples is real, and part of the reason things are the way they are.

By the same token, Aboriginal peoples also need to acknowledge that we are still suffering as well, and this suffering can skew our perceptions of the attitudes of non-Aboriginal peoples towards us. I have seen and heard too many Aboriginal peoples use their suffering as justification for their mistrust of non-Aboriginal people. Sadly, there are still enough non-Aboriginal people whose intolerance and racist attitudes fuel this mistrust, but it is not representative of all – or in my personal belief, even the majority – of non-Aboriginal Australians. Many non-Aboriginal support, or at least want to support, the betterment and empowerment of Aboriginal peoples. We need to acknowledge that, and in doing so let them support us.

There also needs to be acknowledgement on both sides that the disparity between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples in relation to health, education, social justice, and a whole host of other issues, from a moral and ethical viewpoint, is wrong. Everyone knows about these disparities, however what is becoming increasingly obvious is that many have come to believe that these disparities are unavoidable, even normal or expected. It is in no way normal, and should not be expected, much less accepted. Acknowledging the wrongness of this attitude is not just a task for non-Aboriginal peoples: Aboriginal peoples also need to acknowledge that living with these disparities is not part of Aboriginal identity (read my previous article for more discussion on this topic). Betterment is not about assimilation. It’s about levelling the playing field. No one would expect that non-Aboriginal people should lower their standards of health, education, and so on to the level of Aboriginal peoples. Why should there be any resistance on either side to raising those same standards for Aboriginal peoples to those of the greater Australian society?

We don’t need more apologies to achieve true Reconciliation between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians, we need more acknowledgement.  We need to acknowledge the need for remorse, and the need for forgiveness. We need to acknowledge the problems, and the need to find solutions. We need to acknowledge that our differences can be used to unify rather than divide. And we need to acknowledge that we – all of us – are the only ones who can make Reconciliation happen.

Do you believe in Reconciliation? What do you think we need to make Reconciliation happen? More acknowledgement? More apologies? Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.

Should Non-Indigenous Australians Be Proud of Indigenous Culture?

984a1b0af5d47f5f81d26ace274913bdAll this month, I’ve had the pleasure of both contributing to, and reading, some of the great blogs that have made up the Deadly Bloggers Blogging Carnival as part of Australia’s Blak History Month. While the blog articles themselves have been diverse and interesting, what struck me was the interaction and involvement through the various social media platforms. Particularly during NAIDOC week, I noticed a tremendous support from Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander, and non-Indigenous peoples, liking, favouriting, and sharing my articles and articles both other Deadly Bloggers.

What I found especially exciting was the amount of involvement from non-Indigenous people, who were obviously reading, sharing, and enjoying post from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander bloggers. More than that, people wanted to spread these messages, to share Australia’s Indigenous identity, if you will, to the point where – for me at least – there seemed to be definite evidence of pride in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and culture. It got me thinking: why not? Why shouldn’t non-Indigenous Australians be proud of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and culture? Surely, that can only be a positive thing, right?

So I decided to see what the people thought by creating a simple survey titled, “Should non-Indigenous Australians be proud of Indigenous culture?”, and sent it out amongst the digital masses. The response was very interesting.

Over about three weeks I managed to get 83 respondents, of which 76 completed all the questions. The majority of respondents were non-Indigenous (64.5%), female (62%), and aged between 40 and 60 years of age (60.5%).

The first section attempted to determine the current perception of non-Indigenous Australian’s opinions towards Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures. Specifically, whether non-Indigenous Australians know about and are proud of Indigenous Australian cultures, and whether they consider this an important part of Australia’s identity. It should be noted that these questions were about the respondents perceptions of the greater Australian community, not their own personal perception.

From the responses obtained, it seems that in general people believe that non-Indigenous Australians neither know about (64% No vs. 19% Yes), nor are proud of (59% No vs. 19% Yes) Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures. Further, the respondents’ perception was that non-Indigenous Australians generally do not consider Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures an important part of Australia’s identity (51% No vs. 34% Yes). While this may not surprise many given Australia’s sociopolitical history and track record in Indigenous affairs, it becomes very interesting when considered in the context of the next question.

The second section consisted of one simple question, and the opportunity for respondents to explain their answer. The question: in your opinion, should non-Indigenous Australians be proud of Indigenous Australian culture?

An overwhelming 95% of respondents answered, ‘Yes’, while the remaining 5% answered ‘Don’t Know’.

This is a remarkable contrast. It seems people are saying that non-Indigenous Australians should be proud of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures, even though they might not currently be, or perhaps know enough to be, and that it is important for Australia’s identity. This is further supported in many of the additional comments respondents made in answering this question.

In explaining why they thought non-Indigenous Australian’s should be proud of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures, several common themes emerged from the ideas put forward. These included:

  • the richness, diversity, and spirituality of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures;
  • the long history of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the original inhabitants of this land Australia;
  • the connection and relationship Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have to the land, including understanding of land management; and
  • the social values inherent in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures, and how these could enhance the broader Australian society.

This is reflected in statements such as:

“Because Indigenous Australian’s are the traditional owners of the land and bring with them a unique culture. We could learn more as non Indigenous people especially with regard to kinship values, the importance of the land and spirituality”

“Yes – it is what is unique to Australia, something that differentiates us from the rest of the world; we have one of the longest living cultures in the world and we should be proud of it and cherish it whether we are Indigenous or not.”

“Indigenous culture is a valuable resource for all Australians. It is rich and diverse, it is enduring and adaptable. It speaks with the voice of our ancient past. Indigenous culture advises us on how to care for the natural world and for each other. The language, art, music, learning,rituals, rules and ways of living cans inform all our ways of living.”

Some supported the idea in principle, however argued that ‘pride’ may not be as appropriate a term as ‘respect’ is. For example:

“I have difficulty with the word “proud”. … I think non-Indigenous Australians should be RESPECTFUL of the Indigenous culture. I feel we have a responsibility to help Indigenous people to feel proud of who they are. We have a responsibility to raise awareness of injustice that exists in our country against Indigenous people. We have a responsibility to recognize the past wrongs and rectify the situation (such as closing the gap in health and education). I feel honoured to know so many inspiring and wonderful indigenous people but I don’t feel that I have a right to say I am proud of a culture that isn’t mine. I haven’t earned the right to feel proud. What I wish I could say is that I am proud to live in a country that values and recognises its Indigenous population. …” (emphasis is respondent’s own)

While I can neither claim my little survey to be the model of empirical research, nor the responses received to be representative of the entire Australian population, I do feel a clear message comes through from this exercise: Non-Indigenous Australians should be proud – or at the very least, respectful – of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures. More than that, non-Indigenous Australians want to be proud of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures.

The next question must be: what’s stopping them? What are the obstacles and barriers to non-Indigenous pride in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures? Is it that Australians are victims of history – that the historical beliefs and attitudes towards Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples still persists, perhaps subconsciously, in the Australian psyche? Is it that we have inadequate leadership guiding us towards a society that values Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures? Could it even be that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples ourselves have become so used to protecting and defending our cultural rights, responsibilities, and beliefs, that we are unable or unwilling to allow non-Indigenous Australians to be proud of us?

Perhaps when we can examine and address these questions, we will find ourselves moving towards a truly Reconciled Australia that not only recognises, but takes pride, in its Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

I would like to thank all those who participated in the survey for your responses. Anyone interested in viewing the raw data from the survey can find it here.

Do you think non-Indigenous Australians should be proud of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures? What do you think needs to change in order for this to happen? Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below.

This post appears as part of the Deadly Bloggers Inaugural Blogging Carnival, held during Australia’s Blak History Month. To read other posts from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Bloggers, visit the Deadly Bloggers website.

Reconciling Australia: It Starts With Our First Nations

Partnerships-Full-Image

“Partnerships”

In the mid-90’s I had the privilege of attending an advanced cultural awareness workshop for staff of the (then) Department of Human Services and Health in Canberra, at which Aboriginal Elder Aunty Mary Graham was one of the main facilitators. Aunty Mary shared many gems of information over those days, however one of the main statements she made that has always stuck in my mind was this:

“Aboriginal people will never have their Martin Luther King [Jr.]”

It was a statement made as part of a discussion on the diversity of Aboriginal peoples aimed at broadening the participants’ understanding of Aboriginal Australia as a ‘nation of nations’ – a land where each Clan/Language group was as separate and distinct from each other as other countries of the world are. The overarching message was that the Government must recognise that attempts to engage in consultation or partnerships with Aboriginal peoples needed to be done at local (community) levels; that there was not – and never will be – ‘one person’ who could speak for or claim to represent all Aboriginal peoples.

In that sense, Aunty Mary’s statement is very true, and I appreciate and agree with it from that perspective. However, to my way of thinking, it’s also a sad statement, because in a broader context, it also suggests that Aboriginal peoples will never achieve unity amongst ourselves. When you consider the achievements of Dr Martin Luther King Jr., one of the main things he did was unify people. In leading the American Civil Rights Movement, Dr King not only provided a voice for African-Americans, he gave them a common cause to rally to, and in doing so, brought African-Americans (and in a broader sense, all Americans who believed in racial equality) together in the spirit of unity. As a result, Dr King is credited with achieving, “more genuine progress toward racial equality in America than the previous 350 years …” (The King Center).

Australia’s Aboriginal peoples may never have our Dr King, however, we do need to create that unity amongst our First Nations. There have been attempts, the latest of which has been the formation of the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples (Congress). Congress was established under the premise of being a representative body for all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples that could act as our national voice, particularly when dealing with Government. Congress states that as of January 2014 it has over 7,500 individual members from all over Australia – a considerable figure given it was only formally established in 2010. However, whether this can be considered sufficiently ‘representative’ (about 1%) of the almost 670,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples living in Australia is subject to debate, as is Congress’ continued existence, given the Australian Government’s recent decision to discontinue its funding.

What isn’t debatable is the need for a unified voice that led to the formation of Congress in the first place. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples still only make up approximately 3% of the total Australian population, giving us a relatively small voice in Australian affairs. Divide that by the number of First Nations (estimated at about 600 prior to European settlement), and the voices of individual Nations becomes even smaller. This would not necessarily be a problem if Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples enjoyed an equitable status in areas such as health, education, employment, and social justice, with non-Indigenous Australians. The fact that we don’t, and that the scales are tipped so far away from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, should be reason enough for us to unify and seek solutions to common problems.

Ironically, in my observation at least, it is these very inequities that steer us away from unity. There is conflict between and within nations, communities, and sometimes even families, over what needs to be done and who has the ‘right’ to make those decisions. We fight over who should or shouldn’t have access to services, who should or shouldn’t be able to speak for our peoples, even who should or shouldn’t be identified as Aboriginal. This is not to say that there aren’t real issues within nations and communities that require resolution, however, when you consider that many of these issues only exist because of the effects of both historical and current policies and practices that have been imposed upon us, you have to question whether much of our internal conflict stems from a continued – perhaps now self-imposed – ‘divide-and-conquer’ strategy. As an Aboriginal person, I find this highly distressing, divisive, and confusing. I can only imagine how it must appear to non-Indigenous peoples. How can we possibly expect to achieve Reconciliation within Australia, when we’re unable to achieve it amongst ourselves?

It is crucial that all First Nations be able to retain their individuality in their identity, their Law, their cultural practices and beliefs, and their ability to determine their own futures. However, if we are going to make changes and improvements for the betterment of our peoples, we need to unify to address common issues. We need to reconcile both within and between communities and nations, and present a united front – a united voice – to combat the injustices we face. We need to adopt the old adage of “strength in numbers”, because as a minority within our own land, we need all the numbers we can get!

And if we can reconcile amongst ourselves, we give ourselves a greater chance of achieving Reconciliation amongst all of Australia. We can achieve a lot with 670,000. Imagine what we could achieve with 22 million.


I would like to acknowledge and thank the Making Two Worlds Work project for permission to use the image, Partnerships, in this article.


This post appear[ed] as part of the Deadly Bloggers Inaugural Blogging Carnival, held during Australian Blak History Month. To read other posts from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Bloggers, visit the Deadly Bloggers website.

Why Identify?

20140126_142430-1Happy NAIDOC week to all of you who celebrate it! NAIDOC week is a great week of celebration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, our culture, and our achievements. For me, it’s always a time to not only celebrate my Aboriginality, but to reflect on what it means to me, what I’ve done to celebrate it within myself, and what I want to do to recognise and celebrate it as my life moves forward. This year, inspired by NAIDOC and the Deadly Bloggers Inaugural Blogging Carnival, as well as some personal experiences I’ve had over the last couple of years, I’ve decided to share with you my thoughts on two questions that I have been asked on numerous occasions, and often together: “Why do you identify as Aboriginal?” and “What do you get out of it?”

The second question is particularly interesting, as it suggests that there is still a perception within certain parts of the Australian community that the only reason anyone would identify as Aboriginal is to gain some sort of tangible benefit from it. This disappoints me for two main reasons: first, because while I mostly get asked this by non-Aboriginal people, it’s not uncommon for some Aboriginal people to challenge me with it as well; and second, because it indicates to me that when it comes to Aboriginal identity, there is still confusion and concern over the difference between Aboriginal ‘identity’ and Aboriginal ‘identification’.

It seems that some people still harbor a fear or resentment that calling yourself ‘Aboriginal’ will grant you some form of entitlement that their own biases don’t believe you should have. While there is no doubt there will always be those who will look for ways to abuse any system for their own benefit, to my way of thinking, questioning whether someone who identifies as Aboriginal does so only for personal gain is equivalent of questioning whether someone with a serious physical or mental disability only identifies as such to gain disability benefits. Yes, there may be abusers, but to question the motivations of everyone who identifies with any group is quite ludicrous. As another Aboriginal man said to me years ago, “why would anyone who wants some sort of advantage over others choose to identify with the group that has the poorest health, the poorest education, the poorest employment, and the worst racism? If I wanted an advantage, I’d choose to be white!”

However, the truth is I do gain from identifying as Aboriginal. What I gain from it is a greater sense of self. I do not identify as Aboriginal, so much as my Aboriginality gives me my identity. It tells me who and where I came from, and who and where I’m connected to. It helps to form my world view, and my place within that world. It influences the person I want to be, through my morals, my ethics, and my approach to life. That is not to say that it is separate from the other things that make up me – it is one of many pieces of my personal puzzle, which together provide the full picture that is me. It is as important in defining who I am as is being a man, or a father, or a healthcare professional, or any one of a number of the hats I wear. It gives me ME, and I would be incomplete without it. I would not know myself, and that is a terrible way to live one’s life.

So, why do I identify as Aboriginal?

Simple. That’s who I am.

And if you know who you are, and what gives you that sense of self, I have no doubt you will understand exactly what I mean.

What more reason could anyone need?