It’s been a long while since I felt moved enough to write to a newspaper, but recent themes in the cosmos got me going. This is what I forwarded to several papers. God knows if it will ever get published, but at least I can put it up here and on Facebook.
“Closing the Gap”: Targets, Outcomes and Process? by Dr Dave Goddard
Much has been made recently about “Closing the Gap” and its failure to achieve the targets set to overcome Indigenous disadvantage. Achieving such targets is of national importance and the focus is to be applauded. Andrew Forrest’s review, “Creating Parity”, also has much to commend it.
The problem, however, is that most strategies designed to “close the gap”, and Andrew’s review, fail to uniformly define “parity”. Is it about equality, equity, both or something else?
The current image is that it means Aboriginal people living and being like white Australians. In other words, when parity’s been achieved, Aboriginal people will be assimilated.
That image emerges because the focus of “Closing the Gap” is targets and desired outcomes. Little or no attention is paid in practice to the process of implementing how these outcomes are best undertaken and achieved. Why? Think of it like this.
White Australian culture operates in a transactional mode: we meet, shake hands, do the business, and if that proves fruitful, relationships develop over time. Aboriginal cultures operate in a relational mode: meet, build a relationship, develop trust and then do the business. “Closing the Gap” implementation, centrally driven by government, has limited or no focus on the latter method and does not recognize the diversity of Indigenous cultures in Australia.
For both reasons, many Indigenous people feel they have limited ownership of the strategy and even less responsibility for its success. And that will continue until process happens before outcomes, Indigenous cultural diversity is acknowledged and Indigenous ownership and responsibility are made central to the strategy. If not, Aboriginal cultures will continue to be assimilated, or said another way, continue to wither and die at a cost to Indigenous AND non-Indigenous people.
I repeat: achieving the targets about Indigenous disadvantage in every sphere of life is of paramount importance. But “parity” does not mean making Indigenous people in a whitefella image; by shaping them through our education system, our health system, our employment system and our judicial system. But nor does it mean having two different systems. The clue lies in the thinking of Aboriginal people who say: stop doing things to us and for us, and start doing things with us.
Doing things with means:
- learning how to work in a third world between each Indigenous cultural group and the authority residing in the rest of the Australian culture
- redefining parity to mean something more than “be like whitefellas”
- understanding Aboriginal people many groups with inherent pride in their history and values as independent groups
- opening our minds to new and different ways of thinking about how to do things instead of simply focusing on what we, the rest of Australians, want to see happen for Aboriginal people
But doing it without recognizing, learning from and incorporating the inherent values and ways of knowing and doing of Aboriginal cultural groups will do a disservice to them AND to us.
For more information, go to: http://aussieyarns.com/short-stories-2/see-my-picture/
The link is a story from my website which explains where the idea for this article arose.