What makes an Indigenous woman cry out during her ‘Australia Day’ address to the public, “I was born fighting, I’ve lived my life fighting and I will die fighting!”
If we listen closely, this is the heart of a woman who has experienced years of oppression, alienation, marginalisation and plain indifference from Australians.
I’m sad to say I was one of those contributing to the problem. Not because I had slandered the culture or rights of the Aboriginal people, but simply because I have been too passive. I have Aboriginal friends, I’m aware of the issues, having studied peace and conflict, and yet somehow I have remained too aloof.
I have often heard people suggest that “they [the Aboriginals] just need to forget,” or “it wasn’t us who did this.” These are possibly fair statements, that is, if the violence hadn’t persisted through the decades since colonization.
What do I mean? Well, the violence is that Aboriginals have:
- Shorter life expectancy
Aboriginals are expected to live on average 10 years less than non-Indigenous people. Between the ages of 35 to 44 Aboriginal people are five times more likely to die than non-Aboriginals.
- Poorer health
The major cause of death of Aboriginal people is their higher rates of cardiovascular disease, including heart disease, stroke and heart failure, followed by endocrine, metabolic (diabetes) and nutritional disorders.
- Higher rates of infant mortality
Aboriginal children aged 0-4 are likely to die at more than twice the rate of non-Indigenous children.
- Lower levels of education and employment
The High School completion rate for Aboriginal people has been 59%, compared to 86-88% for non-Indigenous people.
Unemployment has been around 5 times higher for Aboriginal people.
- Higher incarceration rates
Aboriginal people have been imprisoned at a rate 15 times higher than the non-Indigenous population. A huge rate given Aboriginals represent only 3% of the population.
And here’s the thing. These are only symptoms of deeper underlying causes resulting from the early annihilation of people and culture (read genocide), prolonged cultural superiority (read Western hegemony), systematic silencing (read oppression), profiling from some members of police and punitive sentencing from courts (read abuse of power) and marginalisation from society (read structural inequality). Who of us wouldn’t experience the symptoms listed above with these persistent challenges to our existence?
If silence on these systematic and prolonged issues is complicity, than I am complicit. In fact, most of us are.
As Martin Luther King wrote, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” So here’s me not being silent. And I hope that goes with more of the Australian population. Will we “fight” with the women and men who originally inhabited this land to help change their narrative from occupation and oppression to peace with justice, one building block at a time?
We can begin this by acknowledgement. So today, January 26th, I want to acknowledge the Wallumedegal people who are the traditional Custodians of the land in Ryde, where I live. Governor Philip in 1792 named the land here ‘Field of Mars; Mars reflecting the Roman God of war. Why? Because Field of Mars described ‘the military association of the new settlers’ to the area. Surely this was a tacit acknowledgment of the war that raged against the lands original inhabitants.
You see, where Terra Nullius (‘nobody’s land’) rendered British expansion and domination possible, my hope is that the history books and Australian people, will be more inclined to describe the brutal military occupation of another’s land; that of the Aboriginal people.
Second, we do this through imagination. While there is much to celebrate about Australia, we need to draw on our Australian ingenuity to imagine a new way forward that, through practical action and participatory policy developments with Aboriginal Elders, promotes the love, respect, dignity, friendship and admiration of Australia’s Aboriginal peoples who have survived here for over 60,000 years.
It’s time to hope for a new reality for ALL Australians.
Statistics taken from Australian’s Together and the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2012-13).