Indigenous Australians have inhabited Australia for over 40,000 years. They are the oldest living race of people in the world today and therefore deserve a special kind of respect and understanding as having very different beliefs about our world and their place in it. According to the Australian Federal Government, an aboriginal person is of aboriginal descent who identifies as indigenous and is accepted as such by the community in which he/she lives in.
In the past I have held the mistaken beliefs that indigenous Australians were dangerous, lazy, not very intelligent, alcoholic and aggressive human beings. This view was shaped by conversations with people in my community and a misunderstanding of indigenous culture. I recall watching an argument between two indigenous men which turned into a physical fight. I also remember witnessing some other racial tension between indigenous Australians and Pacific Islanders in my local area of Logan that sparked the headlines in the media. These incidents confirmed my mistaken beliefs and it was not until high school that my beliefs altered. After learning about their history at school, I became aware that my views were prejudiced.
Some of the things I leant about indigenous people that I was unaware of includes the stolen generation and land rights. I am now aware that indigenous Australians have experienced a very sad, traumatic history since the invasion and settlement of the British in 1788 which has impacted negatively on their development. In particular this includes the Stolen Generation, which was the forcible removal of indigenous and Torres Strait Islander children from their families usually with the intention of integrating them into Anglo culture. This was viewed as being best for their welfare but we now understand the severity of the grief it brought to both parents and children. I am now aware of the psychological trauma this has had on indigenous people, and the impact it continues to have on them.
It is also clear that cultural misunderstandings about land and how it should be used were another deprivation suffered by indigenous people. Their deeply held beliefs about their land were very different from the British. Indigenous Australians have a spiritual connection with the land which was not understood or appreciated by the new settlers to Australia, keen to graze and farm the land.
This spirituality is still a mystery to many of us, although we now recognise this difference in the Welcome to Country, a brief ceremony which is usually the opening ritual on important public occasions in which all Australians, both indigenous and non-indigenous, recognise the fact that this land still belongs in some way to its original inhabitants although now used in a culturally different way. Therefore, I believe that welcome to country ceremony is a nice way of respecting and welcoming people.
The British viewed the land of their new colony as terra nullus, i.e. non-occupied and therefore not belonging to anyone, and the indigenous people as part of the natural fauna. So aboriginal Australians were forced to leave their traditional land, often at gunpoint, and so experienced dislocation, not just in a physical sense but also spiritually. Based on my understanding, Indigenous people believed that they were the custodians of the land which it was their duty to respect and protect, including important sacred sites. I am now aware that indigenous people have strong connections to their land, and this continues to have a negative impact on them spiritually.
In the battle between the indigenous and non-indigenous for land, the settlers usually won due to their superior weaponry, guns. Historians acknowledge that this resulted in attempted genocide, defined as a deliberate killing of one group of people, especially those of a particular ethnic group (UN Convention). This has been a bitter legacy for many generations of indigenous Australian.
The decline of the indigenous population was also due to diseases which the colonisers brought with them. As well they brought alcoholic drinks which were not part of the indigenous way of life but which have had such a devastating impact on their welfare. Personally, it is very saddening to see some of indigenous people suffer from drug and alcohol addiction in order to deal with pains of the past. It is also evident to me that these historical events has a very crucial impact on the issues affecting indigenous communities today.
From my experience as a refugee, I feel that it is up to the indigenous people to decide what suits them best, rather than what society or government thinks is best for them. I feel that they should be self-determining and responsible for the choices they make. Personally, I agree with Noel Pearson, a respected Queensland Aboriginal Lawyer and academic who believes that indigenous people should be encouraged to be independent. He disagrees with some government policies as being too paternalistic, i.e. too many government handouts and not enough consultation of aboriginal people themselves. These policies have not changed their living standards; instead they have encouraged dependency.
Although it is true that their past has had a devastating effect on their economic and social circumstances, I think that they should not use their past as an excuse. There are many good role models now in Australian to inspire disadvantaged aboriginal Australians to strive to succeed. These can be found in all aspects of Australian endeavour including politics, sports and entertainment. Adam Goodes, the famous AFL footballer who walked off the field in protest over racist slurs during a football match, was awarded the prestigious honour of Australian of the Year in 2014. Many famous Australian singers, actors, artists and writers are indigenous and speak out for their people. Having learnt about their past, I now have a clear understanding of why some of indigenous people act and behave the way they do.
The perspectives that have influenced my beliefs are based on historical facts and watching videos about indigenous role models. However I would like to gain more knowledge about their culture and their history, and to understand the very real differences between their traditional groups and why it is so difficult for some of them to move forward from their past.
Given their history, working with this group would require me to be more aware of their special circumstances and to be patient with their problems, while remembering to respect their difference and that self-determination is the key to a worthwhile and healthy life.
In conclusion, this essay has reflected on my beliefs and values of Indigenous Australians.