Two things have recently come to mind related to Aboriginal and Indigenous people. The first was on social media and the second in The West Australian.
The social media comment came from an Aboriginal friend on Facebook. She is from the Pilbara and while I paraphrase her comment, there was substance in what she wrote. It comes from a person who spent some of her childhood on an Aboriginal reserve in a northern town, living through annual cyclones and appreciating the devastation they caused. Her comment was that while she felt sympathy for all the people of Queensland who faced the cyclone and the floods and devastation that it wrought, she wondered why all media coverage she’d seen showed wrecked yachts and motor launches, ruined double-storey houses and badly damaged four-wheel drives. Why wasn’t there, she wondered, just one still-photo or five seconds of video showing something of the devastation caused in remote Aboriginal communities along the coast and inland? She believed that the media was showing the devastation caused to wealthy non-Aboriginal people and nothing of what would have occurred for Aboriginal people. And that story leads me into the second part of this blog.
While acknowledging the special place of Aboriginal and Indigenous people as First People of this country, I shift from a singular focus on them to people who are not of white, Anglo-Saxon heritage. Why will become clear if you read on.
The focus on The West Australian is to an Andrew Bolt article on p.10 in today’s paper. Bolt’s article is entitled “Divided into a Nation of Tribes.” I enjoy reading Andrew’s articles because they’re challenging. Whatever his political leanings, he makes me think: he refuses to accept that “what is” has to necessarily continue. But this time, what he’s written left me with a sense of something irreconcilable unless I move beyond the view he espouses, with some validity, to a “what if” question.
For me, the main theme of his article is summarized in the following sentence:
“This (an ANU Ethnocultural thrust) is part of a broader push to make Australians identify not with the nation but with their racial, ethnic or religious tribes.”
There is some truth in that sentence. If people are only encouraged to hold or return to their traditional values and beliefs, and not try to “be Australian” and understand what that means, there is a danger that no common idea, goal or purpose exists. By the same token, if we invert that thinking and only focus on what it means to identify as an Australian, what are we asking people to sacrifice in terms of their current identity.
The sense I got from Andrew’s article is that an Australian identity is somehow synonymous with “white, Anglo-Saxon culture”. If that’s the case, review what’s occurred to Aboriginal/Indigenous cultures over 250 years, and ask Aboriginal/Indigenous people how they have felt about that journey.
So there are two question:
- “What is it that people from many different cultural backgrounds are being asked to identify with?” In other words, what identifies us as Australians and what process is to be used among so many different cultures to achieve that?
- What are people from all cultures being asked to sacrifice o develop an Australian identity and be part of living in an Australian culture? In other words, how much can people lose of their traditions and values, before they lose the capacity to be who they are.
Unless we ponder both those questions, there is every chance we will establish a process of assimilation. If that’s what people want, then ignore my two questions. If it’s not what people want, start to think about answers to them.