Monday, 4 November 2013

Why we should acknowledge elders and traditional owners



Dr Aaron Hollins (@WePublicHealth)
Earlier I asked this re acknowledging elders and traditional owners pic.twitter.com/KUb7tJW7GD

Classified as: reflective journal - advocacy

This tweet today from Aaron Hollins as @WePublicHealth inspired this post.

It's a relevant question for organisations and individuals. Some make an acknowledgement before formal events, some don't. I like to make an acknowledgement, and as a non-Indigenous person I've consulted with Indigenous colleagues on this. They seem to suggest it is good to do this if you genuinely want to do it (otherwise I guess it can become tokenism).

My belief is that non-Indigenous people in this country owe everything we have to Indigenous people and we should be glad to acknowledge it. This is illustrated most starkly by the fact that in the nineteenth century, the Indigenous population died at pretty much the same rate as the white population increased, as shown in the graph below.



The Indigenous population didn't start to grow again until the early twentieth century and even then they faced (and still face) the consequences of dispossession and institutionalised racism. The people's health has still not recovered fully, though hopefully it will continue to do so.

The Aboriginal people were the guardians of this land for thousands of years. Historical and archeological records tell us that they managed it in a sustainable way: they cared for the land and they shared what it gave them. William Thomas, the original so-called "Protector of Aborigines" (who could not and did not protect them, even though he came to partially understand and respect their way of life) wrote that amongst the Bunurong people, in contrast to Europeans:

" ... none lacketh while others have it, nor is the gift considered as a favour, but a right brought to the needy ..."

Non-Indigenous people owe all our prosperity to these custodians of the land, and our prosperity came at great cost to them. Potentially it will also be at great cost to the land and all of us, if we don't start to live more sustainability.

I think we non-Indigenous people can learn a huge amount from Indigenous people, and we should proud to acknowledge what we owe them and what we can learn from them, whenever we have the opportunity to do so.


Sources

The graph was drawn by me, using data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics
Main historical references are:
Papers of William Thomas in the La Trobe Library Collection
Gammadge, Bill The Biggest Estate on Earth: How Aborigines Made Australia 2011


Historical – Bunurong and Waworong people

They hold that the bush and all it contains are man’s general property, that private property is only what utensils are carried in the bag, and this general claim to nature’s bounty extends even to the success of the day; hence at the close, those who have been successful divide with those who have not been so. There is no ‘complaining in the streets’ of a native encampment, none lacketh while others have it, nor is the gift considered as a favour, but a right brought to the needy, and thrown down at his feet.

(William Thomas, Protector of Aborigines, Victoria, 1854)


See also ‘The Biggest Estate on Earth’ (Gammadge)

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0

What happened to this way of life?
This story underlies

The health gap

But also

Wealth for invaders


(Australian Bureau of Statistics data)  

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Historical – Bunurong and Waworong people

They hold that the bush and all it contains are man’s general property, that private property is only what utensils are carried in the bag, and this general claim to nature’s bounty extends even to the success of the day; hence at the close, those who have been successful divide with those who have not been so. There is no ‘complaining in the streets’ of a native encampment, none lacketh while others have it, nor is the gift considered as a favour, but a right brought to the needy, and thrown down at his feet.

(William Thomas, Protector of Aborigines, Victoria, 1854)


See also ‘The Biggest Estate on Earth’ (Gammadge)

*


What happened to this way of life?
This story underlies

The health gap

But also

Wealth for invaders


(Australian Bureau of Statistics data)  

*


*

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Nice post, Val.

Modern Australian society comes in for a lot of criticism but one of the great things about it is the present custom of beginning an event by acknowledging the traditional custodians of the land on which we stand.

Firstly: it is the right thing to do.

Secondly: it does nobody any harm; it does not threaten anyone; it reminds us all of our Aborigines and that cannot be a bad thing. If anybody objects without compelling, rational reasons for doing so then bad luck, they are the ones missing out, not the rest of us.

Thirdly: There is nothing wrong with having some rituals in our lives - and this one is brief, clear in its purpose and comes at the start of an event so it reminds us without annoying us. It is certainly more relevant to us nowadays than was playing "God Save The King/Queen" before movie screenings years ago.

Fourthly: It confirms for young Australians of Aboriginal descent their pride in who they are without it demeaning others. It gives long-overdue respect to good people who deserve the respect of everyone.

Good one. :-)

Graham Bell



Valerie Kay said...

Hi Graham thanks for your comment, yes I think it is a great ritual and much preferable to the 'God save the queen' we had to stand for (literally) as children.

I am concerned about a couple of expressions you used though- I'm not of Aboriginal descent and can't speak for people who are but I think saying "our Aborigines" (in "reminds us all of our Aborigines") could well be seen as patronising or offensive. Also when you say it's not irritating because it's short I know what you are getting at (any ceremony that goes on too long can be annoying), but it sends a mixed message.

I could ask one of my Indigenous colleagues or friends for their opinion on this ( if they have time) maybe. Anyway, I don't know if you have been to cultural awareness training presented by Indigenous organisations but I have found it very good.

Valerie Kay said...

Also I forgot to mention - the Vic LNP government stopped having acknowledgements at formal ceremonies - how petty minded is that?

Anonymous said...

Good morning, Val.

If the Victorian government is actually going to drop the Acknowledgement it would be not only petty-minded but downright unAustralian!

The Acknowledgement has become part of the way we Australians do things - and like the backyard barbeque, it is well on the way to becoming an Australian tradition.

What's next? Banning backyard cricket? Introducing flower garden licence fees? Forbidding Boxing Day get-togethers?

Our Aborigines: No, this is definitely NOT the possessive "our", Aborigines have had enough of being "possessed" by every mongrel and his dog whoever felt like it. This "our' is the INCLUSIVE one. By way of analogy, Indonesian has two third-person plural pronouns: "Kita" - including the person with whom you are speaking - and "Kami" which excludes them. Modern English, so expressive in many ways, is quite limited by its paucity of pronouns. There has been far too much exclusion of Aborigines for far too long; that neglect and exclusion must be rectified in every possible way, no matter how big or small.

Regards,

Graham Bell

Valerie Kay said...

Well Graham I'm afraid that the Victorian LNP government did drop the acknowledgement - see here http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/aboriginal-anger-at-baillieu-change-20110519-1euz8.html

As well as not using terms like "our Aborigines" please also don't talk about what Aboriginal people think unless you are of Aboriginal descent, have asked Aboriginal people or are referring to statements by Aboriginal people. It's paternalistic. If you think that Aboriginal people would have "had enough" of something, you can say that - eg I think Aboriginsl people would have had enough - but don't try to speak for them.

In running a blog, I guess it's the responsibility of the blog owner to address some of these issues, but it's time consuming. I assume you don't intend to be offensive so please try to think more carefully before posting opinions about what other people think or feel. Maybe try asking them, or reading what they have said.