“So, what DO Indigenous people want?” and “What can I Do?”
These are two questions that non-Aboriginal people commonly ask, and they are not straight-forward to answer. Sometimes I want to start questioning where the questions come from, who is asking them, who is the right person to answer them, what is the nature of the problem, and who’s responsibility is it to address the problem when you really unpack it all.
It is striking how often the first question asked of non-Aboriginal people; and the second question asked of Aboriginal people.
So, here is an outline of an answer the first question. It reflects what Aboriginal people have said over and over again about what needs to happen. (NB: For more information about local struggles please see The Koori History Website which documents Black Power and movements for Land Rights, Self-Determination and Economic Independence in Australia).
What DO Indigenous people want?
Aboriginal people have been on this land for ever, have never surrendered their claims to sovereignty and have never sold their country.
Be Honest about our History:
The truth must be told in regard to the facts of history. That is, that Aboriginal people have suffered greatly, but have endured and survived in spite of the conscientious efforts by the dominant culture, including our attempted genocide: massacres, taking children away, preventing births through sterilization and splitting up of families, forbidding the practice of law and culture and creating fourth world living conditions.
Safeguard Aboriginal Cultural Heritage:
Cultural Heritage can be defined in at least two ways – as physical and as social. Aboriginal people must be given the means and authority to protect these. The dominant culture still seems to be pursuing policies that equate to a sort of relentless ‘genocide by stealth’.
Recognise and Respect Aboriginal Culture:
Aboriginal cultures are the oldest surviving cultures on this planet. It will take years, perhaps even generations, for Aboriginal people to rebuild their society – providing we STOP sabotaging their every effort! Rebuilding will take time, money, mistakes, confusion, conflict, leadership and our support.
Seek Aboriginal Representation in all Areas and at all Levels of Civic Society:
Aboriginal people must be allowed to the time and means of developing and be resourced to operate their own systems of representation by which to interface with the dominant culture. These representative mechanisms could be the foundation of future relationships between the governments and other institutions of the dominant culture and Aboriginal peoples.
The past cannot be forgotten or ever entirely forgiven. What has been taken is nothing less than almost ‘everything’. Money will not compensate for the losses, but it may enable a fresh start – built from a secure economic base. Besides, in the dominant culture, money is the means of compensation and should not be denied to those whose losses, at our hands, are the greatest.
“So, What Can I do?”
If the above is to come alive YOU will need to act. So as a response to the next most frequently asked question – “what can I do about it?” – I propose a matrix of options, from which people can chose the most relevant and/or do-able activity. It looks something like this, but remember there is a lot more that can and should be done. Please make contact if you are having difficulties.
|CATEGORY||ACTIVITY LEVEL 1||ACTIVITY LEVEL 2||ACTIVITY LEVEL 3||ACTIVITY LEVEL 4||ACTIVITY LEVEL 5||ACTIVITY LEVEL 6|
|Wear a tie-pin or lapel badge, use car stickers||Use building plaques||Fly the Flags, verbal acknowledgment at meetings||Amend your organisation’s constitution||Public signage & building names||Use/Change street & other names|
|Whose country are you on?||Where are you from – really?||Educate self and others* re own and societal inherent racism||Build into school curriculum||Build into teacher training courses||Build into citizenship and naturalization ceremonies|
|Participate in a “Learning Circle”||Know and speak of Aboriginal days/events||Learn some local Language||What can you influence/protect||Ensure right of access (eg. hunt & fish)||Include in Park & forest management|
Recognition & Respect
|Build into family, work, faith, friends culture||Get political: inform, educate, agitate & advocate||Mark/celebrate important days/events||Understand cultural obligations (eg. HR policies)||Ask for info & pay for expertise||Land: Pay-the-rent|
|Join a ‘solidarity’ & activist group – to support Aboriginal-led struggles||Change existing org & representational culture to suit Aboriginal people||Seek, pay for and act on advisory input in NGO and faith groups||Create the expectation of self-determination as the norm||Support Aboriginal people to meet with each other and to re-establish polities||Government (all levels); Corporate policy and Educational bodies|
|Make space, provide resources and allow time||Human Remains returned from Oz and OS||Create and honour ILUA’s and other agreements||Establish secure economic opportunities||Commonwealth, State and LGA land returned||Land returned with freehold title|
What do you think of all this? Questions for further discussion
- What are some of the common barriers (mental, material, other…) people might face in being active?
- What are some things non-Indigenous people can do without asking Aboriginal people (if any)?
- What are the things that worked for you in making you interested in and/or committed to ‘doing something’? How can we work to give others experiences like that?
- What are your ‘spheres of influence’ – who are you connected to and how? (eg, family, sport, faith, school/uni, union, …?) Brainstorm or map out on paper. Is there a way of generating conversations and/or working together with people in your network?
This matrix, originally entitled “So, what do Aboriginal people want? And what can I do?” was created by Frank Hytten when he was Coordinator of ANTaR Victoria (2003-2006). I was Community Development worker at ANTaR from 2004-2006 along with artist Megan Evans and office manager Brigid Anderson (now Trennery) and we had a couple of chats with Frank about it. Frank and the current-day ANTaR Committee of Management kindly let me use this material for this website. I have revised and reworked it a bit.
I am adding more practical ideas, and explanations to guide you in more detail. I will add to these explanations bit by bit, so please follow me on tumblr and/or visit this site regularly to see fresh content on the Resources page. Please send me your ideas and feedback, especially if you have any concerns about whether these are constructive ideas. Feel free to contact me if you are having trouble working out how to do them or encounter difficulties.