As with most things that attract my attention lately, this is an incredibly deep and complex issue and in the space of this article I can hope only to scratch the surface.
My son has attended both Stop Force Closures rallies in the heart of Melbourne. He reports them to be peaceful events, using disruption as a way to gain people’s attention. Numbers estimate that 10,000 – 15,000 people turned out to the last rally. I haven’t seen many photos but one that sticks in my mind is an aerial photo that shows the intersection of Flinders and Swanston streets completely blocked to traffic with people sitting around a central circle. I can’t help thinking that perhaps if we got together more like this, ie sitting in the round facing each other, prepared to work on positive solutions to the issues we face, we might be in a better place as a society. But I digress.
The core organisers for the Melbourne rally were a group known as Warriors of the Aboriginal Resistance (WAR). On their Facebook page they describe themselves as a collective of young aboriginal people committed to the cause of decolonization and the philosophy of Aboriginal nationalism – resistance and revival. (https://www.facebook.com/WARcollective/timeline)
According to their press release in the lead up to the May 1 rally, WAR sees the closures in WA in clear defiance of the well expressed will of the people. They see these closures as another step towards the genocide of the Aboriginal people. WAR believes it is routine in the Australian colonial state for the government to degrade, discriminate and disrupt aboriginal people.(https://issuu.com/blacknationsrising/docs/warmediarelease1may2015?e=0)
Lets stop for a second, this group of young Aboriginals and I’m sure many others feel that the Australian government that is in place to protect them, include them, defend their human rights, work for their economic prosperity and the equality of their opportunity (as they are meant to work for all Australians) are in fact their enemy. That systematically, perhaps since white settlement the government has in fact worked against the Aboriginal people.
Whether you believe the above is true or not, I find it incredibly sad and disturbing that a group of people, feel this way. In Australia, the lucky country, that many see as so open and friendly, we find such a strong sense of disenfranchisement and from our own indigenous young people. Initially as I was reading some of this material, I’ll admit to feeling a little fearful, not sure where the white fella fits with this agenda and indeed the declaration of Aboriginal Nationality. (http://goo.gl/VNbHtr) However as I let the truth of their feelings sink in a profound sadness overtook my fear.
I contrast their feelings with what I perceive my son and his friends feel, they may be disillusioned with the current government or wish some of the conditions with which they live were different, ie aspects of school / Uni, home-life, social life or their part time job, but ultimately for most, I believe if they take the time to ponder would feel there are many opportunities before them and that in general the government and broader society are there to help them. Now please forgive me I am caricaturing and from years as a youth worker I know the journey for many young people is not simple and disenfranchisement can result. However it seems the disenfranchisement that indigenous young people feel is fuelling a new radicalism, which is spreading around the globe.
According to the Stop Forced Closure of Aboriginal Communities in Australia Facebook page (https://goo.gl/X7u8c6) there were 96 gatherings globally standing together in solidarity with the Western Australian remote communities. They took place in every capital city in Australia, many smaller regions and country towns as well as diverse places like the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic of the Western Sahara, Hong Kong, Canada, the US, Germany and the United Kingdom to name a few.
It seems this may have had a positive effect. With an audience of 12 million worldwide, providing the foundation for a good funding base sustainable solutions to power, water and maintenance are being explored for the remote communities.
Perhaps all this is heading in the right direction. As I became more aware of the forced closures I began to think about approaching the issue from a strength base, one that takes into account a form of research called appreciative inquiry (AI). This form of research starts with the strengths of a community. It asks what do you like about living here? What is working in this community? Where would you like the community to be in 5 years? From this basis an asset or strengths map of the community could be drawn up taking into account the skills of individuals, organisations, institutions as well as the power inherent in the connection with the land, dreaming and tradition. Both methods work together to highlight the aspirations of the community and provides for self-determination towards those aspirations.
I don’t for one moment believe this would solve all the issues or in some way right the wrongs that have been done in the name of the colonial government, that will take humility, reconciliation, forgiveness, restitution, recognition… we still have a long way to go till any of this is achieved.
However one thing that could begin to be reversed almost immediately is the effect of generations of welfare that we have forced on the indigenous people, robbing them of the right to live the way that is congruent with their culture. This welfare whilst seemingly well intentioned led to the stolen generation, sit down money and a plethora of other initiatives that were counter cultural to the Indigenous way of life, including of course the Northern Territory Intervention.
The process to any kind of meaningful restitution such as a treaty that recognises the nationhood of Aboriginal people or a change in the constitution is a long one, however on that necessary journey self-determination may be a conduit rather than an end.