There is plenty of blame to go around!
Australia is a deadly place for First Nations Peoples and there is plenty of blame to go around.
It would be easy then as most do to heap that blame on “Right Wing Nut Jobs” and leave it at that. It is of course true they are often the worst offenders, Howard’s intervention, the largest and most recent example. But the left, the centre and less often explored people of diverse backgrounds have plenty of blame to share and as nobody ever points that finger, I will. But let me quickly focus on why that must be done; if it’s only the Right who treat First Nations Peoples poorly then surely during periods of Left and Centre rule there is progression for the better? Surely in communities that are wealthier, more ethnically diverse or more “tolerant” things are better? No, No, No and No! Since a musket was first fired from one of Captain Cook’s landing craft at the Gweagal people things have not gotten better, the abuse and mistreatment, the genocide if we are to be honest, has continued. What has changed is the way First Nations People die, where once a gun or a musket was the murder weapon, now those deaths occur in prisons, by suicide and by criminal neglect.
The lazy argument made is that Australia is a racist country and this is why it occurs, whether that assertion is accurate or not is really not insightful at all. Australia is xenophobic (Please explain?), it has a long history of being distrusting of new arrivals, of treating them often as criminals simply for who they are (Internment of Japanese & Italians) and of using their presence here for political gain. This has been the plight of the Irish, Catholics in general, the Chinese, the Greeks, Italians, Vietnamese, Lebanese and now squarely aimed at Muslims. But while each of these groups have become so part of the Australian make up that they are part of our political systems, business class and cultural and culinary complexity, First Nations Peoples have always been left last…, deliberately. The Left and sometimes the Right have embraced these new arrivals, admittedly too slowly at times and there are millionaires from all those backgrounds named above, not true for First Nations People unless you can kick a football.
Identity politics has much of the blame to take, as does the Americanisation of the debate about Black Lives in this country and the new emergence of radically “correct” folks and the People of Colour movement. While new arrivals often congregate for good reason in certain suburbs and towns before spreading out over time, First Nations Peoples are forcibly removed from lands that have been their own for thousands of years. The “ascent” into the wider community is not voluntary or through progression but forced, violent and genocidal. The Americanisation has meant that while the names of Rodney King or Trayvon Martin are well known, those First Nations Peoples treated the same here in Australia are largely unknown. Finally the co-opting of Indigenous suffering by People of Colour dilutes to the wider community the suffering and trauma faced by First Nations Peoples and makes equals of those who are not equal.
Elizabeth Cook Lynn, a member of the Crow Creek Sioux tribe writes:
Native populations in America are not “ethnic” populations; they are not “minority” populations, neither immigrant nor tourist, nor “people of color.” They are the indigenous peoples of this continent. They are landlords, with very special political and cultural status in the realm of American identity and citizenship.
Change America to Australia and the same truths apply. It is with First Nations Peoples, the landlords of this country that a treaty must be signed to finally end the conflict, the invasion first started by the firing of Cook’s guns. All wars end in treaties, WWI with the Treaty of Versailles, WWII with the Paris Peace Treaties that ended the war in Europe, but that war still wages here. The benefits of that war continue to flow to the victors, the Non-Indigenous people who are of European decent but who are also of ethnic groups who have come to claim the title People of Colour (A history lesson is needed there but not today). So while Indigenous life expectancy is disgraceful in Australia the life expectancy of all Non-Indigenous people is not and this includes People of Colour. While the incarceration rate of Indigenous men, women and children is horrific for Non-Indigenous people, again including People of Colour it is not.
This is important because while the progression to prosperity of those people is a well-documented example of why Australia is a multicultural success story, the space that is taken and the appropriation of Indigenous suffering continues. Without naming anyone, a number of high profile “People of Colour” have used either their places in the media or their social media to claim that theirs is the most disadvantaged and persecuted community in this land. Based on any measure or metric this is plainly absurd, from the arrival of Cook the most disadvantaged peoples by a very large margin have continued to be, in unbroken fashion, the First Nations Peoples of this land. This resulted in the absurd situation last night on QandA where following Four Corners expose of horrific torture, cruel and unusual punishment committed against First Nations children in the Northern Territory, equal time was then given to whether ALP MP Ed Husic did or didn’t do anything wrong by being sworn in on the Quran.
It really doesn’t matter whether somebody is sworn into the Federal Parliament on the King James Bible or the Rick James Bible, this is the place where laws are made that ruin, destroy and kill dead the lives of First Nations Peoples. That it provoked equal outrage by many on social media and a frenzied Oppression Olympics is nothing short of disgusting. The abuse suffered by children as detailed in Four Corners was described as follows “This is barbarism, this is inhumane, this is child abuse. “Lawyer, “What’s going on with children in detention here is a deliberate, punitive, cruel policy.” Lawyer, “They had absolutely nowhere to run…Those children were afraid for their lives.” Children’s Advocate. What was detailed, what was seen in video was the systematic abuse of children by prison officials. Stripped naked, tear gassed, held in solitary confinement, hooded and restrained like rabies infected dogs while being laughed at by their captors.
Yet not one member of the QandA panel suggested the discussion go from a religious book back to the abuse of children, that it would be a more responsible and timely, dare I say urgent matter to address. This was of course when the Oppression Olympics went into overdrive, where people of all religious backgrounds frenzied at their right to swear on any book they like. And they are right, they can and they should. But having just watched Black children be tortured by the state some went on to claim theirs was the worst of persecutions, forgetting all the while this to be both ridiculous in the face of all evidence and an affront to the Sovereignty of all First Nations Peoples whose sacred land has had built on it the religious institutions whom have never sought the permission of the rightful owners and who have often used these institutions as the bases from which further abuse has been carried out against First Nations Peoples. Forced conversion, theft of land and of children, child abuse and radicalisation is all part of the continuing genocide.
So while some of the children depicted naked on national TV as they are abused remain in custody, while the deaths of Ms Dhu, Mr Ward, Mr Briscoe and hundreds of others go unpunished, while the families of Bowraville continue to fight for justice for three beautiful Black children murdered, while life expectancy, suicide, incarceration, trauma and suffering on both an individual and collective level continue at genocidal levels the space that is needed to give oxygen to these issues is often taken by the very people who claim to care. Worse this suffering is co-opted to further their own arguments that this country treats their ethnic or religious group worse than any other and name drops any example of Indigenous suffering they could Google to help prove their point. While never having lifted a finger to help First Nations People, while never having listened, nor cared, nor cried or taken the time to question their own privilege that frees them of this early death, incarceration and suicide. That pays them and gives them platforms and allows them to climb the ladder while often stepping on Black heads…, the heads of imprisoned children.
No, on that you cannot blame Howard or the Right, they have a lot to answer for but so too do many others who will ride the wave of Indigenous pain to a better life for their future generations, while once again First Nations Peoples are left behind. Waleed Aly has the privilege to sit on The Project panel, earning a pretty sum and tell people to be nice to racists, well tell that to the children of Don Dale Youth Detention Centre or the Families of Bowraville. Times up, your privilege must take a back seat if any dent is to be made into the suffering of all First Nations Peoples of this land you call home.