Tag Archives: social justice

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.