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Adelaide Festival of Ideas 2007: Indigenous futures « Previous | |Next »
July 3, 2007

afilogo.jpg The 2007 Adelaide Festival of Ideas is dedicated to Elliot Johnson QC. He is known for his commitment to justice for all under the law, and achieving equality for all before the law coupled to his commitment to improving the treatment of Australia's indigenous people, as exemplified in particular by his work as Royal Commissioner into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.

This provides an excellent backdrop to the Indigenous Futures session on Saturday morning.

A Dyson

If you recall the Aboriginal Deaths in Custody report highlighted the disproportionate rate at which Aboriginal people are arrested and imprisoned in Australia as the principal and immediate explanation for the deaths in custody. It addressed the alcohol issue without mentioning the need for protection for those women and children being battered and neglected on a daily basis.

What way forward? The Festival's program notes are written by Robert Phiddian of the Adelaide Festival of Ideas Committee. The notes for the Indigenous Futures session state ask a number of questions about the future of indigenous communities in a global world:

Indigenous peoples have suffered a lot during the imperial spread of European cultures in recent centuries, but they have defied the doom-sayers and are still here. Sure there are problems, but in many ways indigenous people are flourishing despite the discrimination. What is the shape of that flourishing likely to be in the coming decades? And what do you think the (presently) dominant global culture has to learn from the most ancient living cultures? .... Indigenous policy in Australia ... is a sorry history of the dominant culture projecting inappropriate solutions onto indigenous people. We don’t know better than the people actually involved, so we should take the opportunity just to listen.

This is not happening with the Howard Government's law and order intervention in the Northern Territory to stopping the flow of grog, jailing the sexual abusers and getting rid of pornography. It is a solution imposed from above rather than consultations with and ownership by the communities of those solutions.

It appears that this suggestion from the Little Children are Sacred report is dismissed as a delay tactic. Is it? It is the case that Canberra has better ideas for indigenous people than they do themselves? Some queries:

*what happens when a sexual offender returns to the community after doing time for sexual abuse? Pick up their old ways of alcohol and sexual abuse?

* the army/police/medical intervention assumes that indigenous people have no resources to deal with their social dysfunction caused by colonialism. It appears that their shaming courts are effective in the rehabilitation of offenders and indigenous concepts of mediation and restorative justice;

*the police, army and doctors are seagulls who blow in when what is also needed is building up trust with members of the community to help them revitalize a whole community themselves

*the social dysfunction in indigenous communities is related to community development and the lack of housing, inadequate provision of education and lack of employment in a hybrid economy.

You can see indigenous people as as victims or as survivors. The latter is the perspective of the communal ownership/ self-help approach to economic renewal and community development, or the need for indigenous communities to end their dependence on commonwealth support. It is different to the conservative approach described at that drives to assimilate indigenous people into the mainstream culture in which wealth determines the value of a human being, and there is a great deal of emphasis on physical appearance.

It is the communal self-help approach that is favoured by Wilma Mankiller, who is to give a talk on 'What does it mean to be an indigenous person in the 21st century' on Sunday afternoon. Mankiller taught her Cherokee people to believe in themselves again, trust their own thinking, and take charge of their lives. She emphasizes the strong sense of interdependence---people helping one another and feeling a responsibility for one another.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 8:37 AM | | Comments (5)


It was the report by Boni Robertson, a Queensland Aboriginal academic, in 1999 that directly addressed the abuse suffered by women and children in a culture ruled by alcohol and violence.

The TaskForce Report can be found here. The Queensland Beattie Government was slow to respond, and its response was piecemeal. Aboriginal leaders, especially Aboriginal man were reluctant to take the issue on despite the vopices of those who worked in the communities, especially indigenous workers such as police, nurses health officials, doctors and teachers.

Thanks for that. This paragraph in the Executive Summary of the Report stands out:

"While the violence being regularly committed in Indigenous Communities has become front-page news, it is not new. It has been acknowledged by Indigenous and non-Indigenous forums for many years. The people who could have made a difference have failed to intervene to stop innocent women and children from being bashed, raped, mutilated and murdered and exposed to forms of violence that have been allowed to escalate to a level that is now a national disgrace. Indigenous women’s groups, concerned about their disintegrating world, have been calling for assistance for more than a decade. While their circumstances may have been recognised, their pleas have not always been met and in some cases, deliberately ignored."

And this:

"At times, Government representatives appeared to regard violence as a normal aspect of Indigenous life, like the high rate of alcohol consumption. Interventions were dismissed as politically and culturally intrusive in the newly acquired autonomy of Indigenous Communities. Moreover, the ‘Aboriginal cause’ attracted little interest or sympathy in the broader Australian community, which seemed oblivious to the mayhem that was happening, even though the plight of Indigenous people had been described in numerous reports. The violence being witnessed can only be described as immeasurable and Communities, pushed to the limit, are imploding under the strain."

I've been googling Thelma Mankiller, one of the speakers at the Indigenous Futures session. An interesting woman.

A profile on in 2001. She recently edited Every Day is a Good Day: Reflections by Contemporary Indigenous Women, which is about about key American-Indian women who made a difference in their communities. She argues that many of her solutions to maintaining culture and presenting positive images of American Indians dealt with educating young people about issues. She offer storytelling as an important solution, as well as being an active community member.

I guess now that Australia has a larger face in the world
it does make judgements on other countries human rights issues. So it must be seen to be doing something about its own countries indigenous populations human rights.

There is no question there is a need for decisive action in the current crisis.All the services going into Territory aboriginal communites under the Howard plan are certainly needed.

The idea that this “crisis” within aboriginal communities is new is not tenable. ludicrous. People who have worked in aboriginal affairs as far back as the sixties, have known about these problems, as have all state and territory governments.

So the question to be asked is why have the services provided by Howard and Brough not been provided before this. Why is Howard acting at this time?

Well one answer is there is an election looming.