02 July, 2007

The Dawn of Neo-Apartheid

So here is my big post about the current state of the Indigenous peoples of Australia. At face value, the government response to the "Little Children are Sacred" report (link) is racist in a sense, mainly because it discriminates against Aborigines on the basis of race. But this leads into the biggest problem and focus of this post. There is a stark contrast between the perspectives of the Western "rulers" of Australia (we have more socio-economic power than most Indigenous people) and the perspectives of the Indigenous peoples of Australia. I'll elaborate on the differences of perspectives in another post, but for the sake of this post I wish to frame it in the context of current issues.

Before I go on further talking about the current "national emergency", I would like to think that the government tries to eliminate child abuse throughout all of Australia, and doesn't think the the problem is isolated to Indigenous communities. Having said that, current policies seem to have a whiff of racism, in the context of paternalism. Lets take a look at some of the key responses set out by the government for the current "national emergency":
  • "ALCOHOL and pornography will be banned in indigenous communities in the Northern Territory as part of unprecedented federal intervention aimed at stamping out widespread child abuse." News.com.au - 21 June 2007
  • "Mr Brough said the scrapping of the permit system – which restricts non-Aboriginal access to indigenous land – applied to town centres and not homelands or sacred sites, with communities able to apply to the Government for exceptions under special circumstance like funerals." News.com.au - 21 June 2007
First issue: Will banning alcohol and pornography help in these communities? People who have addictions will be able to find these elsewhere. The "Little Children are Sacred" Report suggests that a range of solutions to alcohol as a problem, but doesn't suggest banning it. One of the most important solutions (in my own opinion) is:
"That, in consultation with Aboriginal communities, a significant media campaign for Aboriginal communities be designed to both promote healthy alternatives to drinking alcohol and to convey information about the negative impact of alcohol with an emphasis on the relationship between excessive consumption and the increased incidence of child abuse and other family violence." (Page 29 - emphasis is mine)
Second Issue: This is the most contentious of all the "solutions" put forward. How will reducing land rights and indigenous control of communities reduce child abuse? It is easy to see this as a "land grab" by the federal government. This may not necessarily be true, but reducing Indigenous control over land is incredibly insensitive to Aboriginal cultures.

The country is a hugely important aspect of Aboriginal culture and identity. "Country is a place that gives and receives life. Not just imagined or represented, it is lived in and lived with" (Deborah Bird Rose - Nourishing Terrains - pdf). It is the disconnection from the land, the disconnection from identity that has caused many social problem within Indigenous communities. It may sound quite irrational from a western perspective, however, there is also a demonstrated link between health in Aboriginal communities and "Caring for Country" (Healthy Country: Healthy People - pdf).

I'll finish off with another nice quote from Deborah Bird Rose:

"People talk about country in the same way that they would talk about a person: they speak to country, sing to country, visit country, worry about country, feel sorry for country, and long for country. People say that country knows, hears, smells, takes notice, takes care, is sorry or happy. Country is not a generalised or undifferentiated type of place, such as one might indicate with terms like ‘spending a day in the country’ or ‘going up the country’. Rather, country is a living entity with a yesterday, today and tomorrow, with a consciousness, and a will toward life. Because of this richness, country is home, and peace; nourishment for body, mind, and spirit; heart’s ease." (Deborah Bird Rose - Nourishing Terrains - pdf).

We find it hard to understand this perspective, governments more so, but we must be accommodating to these perspectives, we must be not just tolerant but we should accept the alternative "truth" of the knowledge and culture of Aboriginal people in Australia. That is when we will be treating them as equals.

No comments: