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Nurturing the collective spirit

By Tony Andrews

It’s easy for us outside the game to suggest unity and a cohesive direction is needed for Indigenous Australia to achieve true self determination but, just like European nations all have different languages, beliefs and heritage, it’s the same for our First Nations people.

They are not all the same, just like the Germans are not Spanish or the customs and culture of the British is different to that of the French or Hungarians.

This is itself, natural and, like the EU, difficult, but not impossible to initiate change that can benefit all.

Just as the obligation of all union members is to “further the interests of the industry to which they belong,” the majority of First Nations people will, eventually, gain a consensus on direction, and all will have to abide by the course set.

Individuals will always still have power to dissent, but not control without majority approval. This structure is vital to the idea of a collective … If that is the direction Indigenous Australians choose.

From my perspective, as another non-Indigenous Australian sticking his ‘two bobs worth’ in, mining royalties and its allocation to traditional owners (often a group within a group that share the same tribal name, but are actually different clans with only cursory loyalty toward the collective and have no obligation to share ownership of the resource and its money), the funds allocated to land councils (which seem to operate differently and independent of each other) and, I think it’s called, the Aboriginal benefit account, is a model that appears to be unsustainable in the long-term and an easily wasted use of a finite source of wealth.

Given time, if these financial resources were pooled together and invested wisely, with a long-term view, they would build to tremendous levels that would also change the entire debate regarding Indigenous people.

This is where the influence of union members, through their representatives on the boards of super funds, can be instrumental in initiating change that can benefit them, as well as First Nations people, by allowing that pool to grow over time and eventually giving Aboriginal Australia leverage they need to gain true self determination … While also allowing self-sustainable development, and profit for the super funds, in the present.

It’s not only the financial position of Indigenous Australians that needs to be nurtured and grown, it’s the collective spirit and each individual’s sense of pride, as well.

Those not entitled to native title claims, due to being disconnected from their traditional lands, need to be protected every bit as much as those still fortunate enough to live, at least in part, by their traditional ways or that benefit from royalties generated by mining activity on their country.

Traditional ways need to be protected and the song lines preserved, the sharing of traditional knowledge, amongst those disconnected and without the ability to discover who they are or what the story of their people was, is essential, they need the tools to regain some form of personal identity.

This can and should be considered as a ‘marketable’ asset. Those that can afford to pay, should pay traditional owners and those with specific roles in the dreaming of their country, for their knowledge.

Obviously not all knowledge can be shared.

Stories and locations of certain sacred sites, for example … but a general understanding is better than none at all.

An outback university of sorts, with courses developed to enable those that, through no fault of their own, have lost their connection to traditional ways.

An inability to pay should be no barrier though, but those that can, should be responsible for their own education.

I’m not suggesting diplomas or any kind of formal qualification, just the ability for urban and other First Nation people to understand and develop a personal attachment to their culture.

I’m also not suggesting that First Nation culture is generic and one size fits all, or that language and connection to the land and song lines are all the same.

Unfortunately, many of those are gone forever and those that have lost so much deserve a gateway to, at least, have an opportunity to explore themselves by the shared experience of other people’s traditional ways … Without the experience being steered or skewed by white Australia’s mixed views or agendas.

The issues of inter-tribal hostility will need to be dealt with sensibly and sensitively, rivalry and class are real issues in all cultures, it is the same in Australia regarding pan-Aboriginal relationships and the sharing of song lines and the Dreaming.

This is just one issue that may take years for a suitable solution to appear, but if emotion and ownership of knowledge can be tempered with rational, well-researched data that can be shared in a way that allows traditional owners (many speaking only the language of their country) to easily understand and incorporate the change into the trail of their Dreaming, it may happen quicker than that.

Without this and a self-sustaining economic footing, any treaty is useless and can be used, politically, to drive further wedges in a fractured and often disconnected society with its own Australian cultural identity that, although not exactly the same across the country, still shares a common heritage.


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  1. Lorraine Muller

    Did you see how the “Uluru Statement from the Heart” was arrived at?

    Consensus decision making is second nature to Indigenous Australians, not in the smaller interpersonal stuff. Non-Indigenous mainstream Australians kind of like the idea of consensus decision making but don’t do it well if at all, instead opting for a more managerialist or top down decision making.

    If you are interested enough to have a look at my book (Google will help find it), you might see that some of the things you discuss are answered. Identity is a tricky area and other Indigenous academics have done some great work on the issues facing those whose connection to Country has been disrupted.

    Oddly, I had not realised that the issue of identity is one that affects non-Indigenous mainsteam peoples too as my 2nd PhD into mainstream Australian culture identified.

    PS. If you are genuinely interested, there is work to be done, and that also means reading. 🙂

  2. Anthony Andrews

    Thank you Lorraine, I’m very interested in reading your work and I agree, reading is essential. I’ve read a lot over the years and it’s helped me greatly, although it seems at times, that policy is often written by those more concerned with good sound bites, than workable solutions and too many people with their hands on the controls seem to rely on their “gut instinct”, so the reading, at times, feels pointless.

    The process for the “statement from the heart” was inspiring and, to me at least, shows that the things I’m saying do fit with what FN’s people are accomplishing.

    The last article is in two days time, as I’ve said earlier, I assumed a lot of this would’ve been thrown around before and, I’m not suggesting I can solve anything, but I truly believe that collective decision making and pooling resources to create an untouchable source of wealth that can allow real autonomy and control, is important.

    I’m looking forward to reading your studies, thank you.

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