Monday, May 12, 2014



Q: What are aboriginal people asking us to do? 

Issues are complex: a few ideas we can think about, reduced to some
ridiculously simple questions.

Walter Brueggemann: 'Social justice is all about finding out what belongs to whom and returning it to them.'


Australia is the most multi-cultural country in the world. One in three Australians were born overseas or their parents were born overseas


In my praying-for-the-world this morning I read and meditated on this: 'Pray for the rightful placement of justice for the Mayan peoples [in Guatemala, and presumably elsewhere], on the social agenda, after centuries of dispossession, exploitation and oppression. Both the government and the churches are beginning to address a litany of wrongdoings.'


Sins of the past - recognised, repented of and reparations made. Most notably this includes the terrible mistreatment of the indigenous population and a generation of war with atrocities on both sides. The part played by the USA in arming the oppressors and turning a blind eye to human rights abuses has only been partially acknowledged...

Violence is a present-day plague caused by the upheaval and ruin of the last few decades. Murder is common, and life is cheap. Guatemala has the highest murder rate in all Latin America. The perpetrators: 'maras' (youth gangs), drug traffickers, organised crime and 'social cleansing' - a.k.a. death squads. Government forces can do little to tackle these issues, and private armed guards outnumber police two to one. Pray for... the peace of Christ to prevail.

Jason Mandryk, 'Operation World: the Definitive Prayer Guide to Every Nation', 2010, p. 382


Former (conservative) Australian Prime Minister John Howard used to say: 'I won't apologize because I don't believe in inter-generational guilt. I believe in practical reconciliation: health services, education, housing, nutrition...'

But surely it's not about guilt, but rather regret. And surely practical and symbolic reconciliation are inextricably linked, like two sides of a coin.

And in all of this, how do we avoid a serious 'welfare dependency'?

Later Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's Apology to the Aboriginal Stolen Generations: 'We thought it was right for the country, now we realise it was wrong, and we are sorry for the hurt we caused you, your extended family, and to Aboriginal society (check wording - Google).

Professor Peter Reid, department of History, University of Sydney: 'For the decades of the 1920s and the 1950s especially... I see no reason to reduce my original calculation of about 50,000 Aboriginal children removed in all the states and territories since settlement... The term 'genocide' is too divisive. The children were being deprived of their identity, not their lives. [And] policies were directed at part-Aboriginality... It was almost always the do-called "half-caste" children who were taken. If you want to use a term, try "ethnocide"... There's a terrible threesome - stolen children, frontier killings and land theft - but soon Australia is going to have to confront the fourth, the enormity of the managed reserve system that degraded and abused and humiliated Aboriginal people for 90 years after 1870.' (The Age, 9/2/2008).

AA, RC's experiences: two conferences - right-wing aborig. leader dressed well, fairly right-wing (Cedric Jacobs). Jean Philips - spunk. Afterwards wrote to 46 Christian abor. leaders. What would you like to tell Australian churches? Lots of opinions, bu one thing in all the responses (from about half the 46). CBC:  The Aboriginal: is Black Power the Answer. Mum Shirl and mob from Redfern. Four-letter words. Armidale: early 60s - squatter-area on outskirts of town, and I think no water supply.

Henry Reynolds, 'Forgotten War' settles once and for all the question about Australia and war on its own soil - the war between Aborigines and the settler-Australians. Historians have been reluctant to call this 'war'. Was it simply 'colonization'? Yet, but there was violence. Genocide? Maybe, in certain places. Criminal activity? That tertm assumes that both whites and Aborigines were equally subject to British law - which Aborigines certainly did not consider themselves to be. Reynolds says it was Australia's 'Great War', a 'War at Home', with greater consequences for our national identity than any of the overseas wars we remember on Anzac Day.

Do you know a politician who publicly urges scholars to write only 'positive history' - with the curriculum for school students only emphasising the 'bright spots' in his nation's past? He actually checks history textbooks  to make sure they're OK. His name? Vladimir Putin.


Has your church/denomination done something like this yet?

Apology from members of the Victorian Baptist Churches to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples on 5 December 1997 said, in part:

We confess that we have sinned before God and against you: we have failed to recognise your prior occupation of the land. Without recourse to just and fair negotiation, we claimed as our own land that which was your livelihood and to which you belonged. We have not respected your culture, religious freedom and heritage. In violation of fundamental human rights we have taken so many of your children away from their parents and families.

We confess that our failure to see what we were doing denied our common humanity, degraded us all, and was not Christian.

For all this we are truly sorry and apologise unreservedly.

We ask your forgiveness and commit ourselves to work with you, and all other Australians, for reconciliation.


Justice Marcus Einfeld, speaking about reconciliation: 'If that is a black armband view of history, I willingly wear it in recognition of truth, sorrow and commitment to reconciliation. Rather an armband than a black blindfold to shut out the truth.

Many persecuted minorities are driven by their feelings - justified as they are - of victimization. A Jewish woman said, 'Don't wait for people to love you... Go ahead and make your own opportunities!'

Former High Court judge Sir Ronald Wilson, president of the Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission: 'We cannot really celebrate the triumphs of our history if we're not also prepared to acknowledge the shame of our history...' After personally interviewing many of the 535 people who told their stories to the inquiry, Wilson was profoundly moved: 'This enquiry has changed me as no other inquiry in what is now a 60-year career of public service'. As many as 100,000 children were removed from their families between 1910 and 1970. (Time, 'The Cruelty of Kindness', June 9, 1997, pp. 44-45).

The US government not only apologized but paid $20,000 apiece to Japanese Americans who were sent to concentration camps during World War II. Germany not only apologized to the Jews for the Nazi Holocaust but sent more than $60 billion in restitution.

Alternative to welfare-dependency?

Aboriginal deaths in custody...

In 2004 former PM Malcolm Fraser wrote: 'Indigenous people in Australia die 20 years younger than the non-indigenous, and the gap is widening. In every other comparable country it is narrowing. Forty years ago in NZ, Canada and the US, the gap was about 15 years, while in Australia it was 20 years. Today in NZ it is five years, in Canada it is seven years, and in the US it is 3.5 years. But in Australia the gap is still 20 years. The Age May 28, 2004, p. 13.


A few years ago I spent five days on Flinders Island in the Bass Strait – an island of wild and rugged beauty. (Certainly wild: 65 known shipwrecks lie around these islands)

We were there on a ‘pilgrimage of listening’ – twelve of us – to worship, pray, listen to aboriginal people, think in silence, and to repent…

I shared in some new experiences, like eating muttonbird, seeing the milky way in all its glory, and writing a poem. We concluded, Taize-style, kneeling around a cross formed with candles in the shape of the Southern Cross…

Were you taught Tasmanian aborigines died out with Truganini in 1876?

The Anglican priest appointed by his bishop to minister to aboriginals on Flinders Island told me there are 7000 Tasmanian people who call themselves ‘aboriginal’…

So what happened? 

  • Worldwide colonialism began in the 1500s.
  • Since then the world’s 300 million indigenous and tribal peoples have suffered terribly from European conquest of their ancestral lands, through diseases and alcoholism and particularly through the loss of dignity, identity and self-respect.When the ‘first fleet’ arrived in 1788 there were an estimated 750,000 Aboriginals in Australia (7000 in Tasmania). In 1920 that number had fallen to 60,000. In 1971 Aboriginals were included in the national census for the first time.
  • For our purposes, here’s what you need to know about what happened to the Tasmanian aboriginal people (I’ve culled some of the following from Henry Reynolds’ new book Fate of a Free People: A Radical Re-examination of the Tasmanian Wars Penguin, 1995).
  • British settlement began in Van Dieman’s Land in 1803-4. Massacres began 3 May 1804 at Risdon when the 102 Regiment of the British Army shot dead 50 Oyster Bay people, including women and children. The Tasmanians had approached without spears and with green boughs in their hands, as a sign of peace. The commanding officer said afterwards he didn’t think the Aborigines would be any use to the British. 
  • ‘The Black War’ lasted seven years – 1824 to 1831. Atrocities were committed by both sides, but although black men were castrated and black women raped, there wasn’t any record of rape committed by Aboriginals against any white woman.
  • Governor George Arthur mobilized all available settlers and convicts to form the infamous ‘black line’, with 2200 men moving across the island over a six-week period, to try in a pincer movement to herd the remaining Aboriginals to the south east. They captured an old man and a child.
  • By 1831, 175 Europeans had been killed, 200 wounded, 347 houses plundered or burnt. At least 700 Aboriginals were killed in the war. Meanwhile the European population grew from 5000 in 1820 to 24,000 in 1830.
  • Many (most?) of the Europeans believed Aboriginals were an inferior race; some that they were the missing link between monkeys and humans; some that they were ‘savages’ who ought to be exterminated…
  • In 1830, a builder and Methodist lay preacher, George Augustus Robinson went on a ‘Friendly Mission’ to negotiate a settlement. The Aboriginal remnant agreed to vacate Tasmania, and moved to Flinders Island (1833-1847). There Robinson tried to make the Aboriginals into Black Englishpeople, built East-London type terrace cottages for them, and taught them a catechism (with graphic questions and answers about heaven and hell). Eg. ‘What will God do to the world by and by?’ Burn it. What sort of place is heaven? A fine place. What sort of place is hell? A place of torment. But the exile was a disaster: over 200 Aboriginals died, and the 47 survivors were relocated back to Oyster Cove, on mainland Tasmania. 
  • Reynolds’ book centres around a petition presented to Queen Victoria signed by eight Aboriginal men who described themselves as a ‘free people’ who voluntarily gave up their country to the Governor (and complained that though they’d kept their side of the deal, the whites hadn’t)
  • In 1870 the last full-blood male Aboriginal Tasmanian (William Lane) died; in 1876 Truganini, the last full-blood female died.
  • But nine Aboriginal women had been abducted by sealers, and two married sealers voluntarily, and their descendents form the present Tasmanian Aboriginal population.
  • Flinders Island Hotel had a separate bar for Aboriginals until the 1950s. They told us of a Chocolate Waltz won by group of Aboriginal young people, and the MC had to be forced to give them the prize!
  • At Wybelenna (which means ‘Black Man’s Houses’) a few years ago, some aboriginal people put markers on the aboriginal graves. They lasted two days: someone dug them all up and destroyed them one night, but the white graves were left undisturbed…
  • The UN proclaimed the years 1990 to 2000 as the International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism.
  • There has been remarkable progress since 1945 (then since 1989 in Eastern Europe) It’s one of history’s success stories.
  • In the 1980s over 100 Aboriginal people died in the custody of the Australian police and prison systems. Finally, in 1987 the Australian Government formed a ‘Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody’. Four years and $30 million later it released a damning report. One of our retreatants is a prison chaplain. He said, ‘Aboriginal people need each other. When they are isolated in an institution – any institution – they die…’ 
  • In the Mabo case (1992), the High Court of Australia exploded the myth of ‘terra nullius’ (land belonging to no-one).
  • We have been talking recently about a treaty between white and Aboriginal Australians. Mr Galarrwury Yunupingu from Arnhem Land has said: ‘What we want from a treaty is the creation of a just and mature society which black and white Australians can enjoy together. A treaty which recognizes our rights and our status will provide the basis for building a society in which people live in mutual respect. To those people who say they support the concept of ‘One Australia’ I can only say that I agree. There should be one Australia and we should be part of it. But our part should be on our terms.’  
  • Realize, with Margaret Mead: ‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world, indeed it’s the only thing that ever has’ 
  • And realize, sure, that we can’t turn back the clock. But, whatever our political views (left-wing, right-wing, or wingless) we can agree with Prime Minister Paul Keating when he launched the International Year for the Indigenous 10 December 1992: ‘[We must] recognize that the problem starts with us non-Aboriginal Australians. It begins, I think, with that act of recognition. Recognition that it was we who did the dispossessing. We took the traditional lands and smashed the traditional way of life. We brought the diseases. The alcohol. We committed the murders. We took the children from their mothers. As a nation, we face the challenge of the consequences of dispossession, conquest, brutal treatment and equally inhuman neglect of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people – the first Australians.’
  • Following two invitations in the 1980s to speak to national Aboriginal Christian conferences, I wrote to 40 Aboriginal Christian leaders, asking them this question. Their views on land rights varied across the political spectrum from very radical to quite conservative but they were unanimous about one thing: ‘Please, we would like white Australians to listen to our pain’
  • Then we can agree (and is this too big an ‘ask’?) that aboriginal people ought to be consulted about their present and future. (‘White Australians have done so much to/against/for us but forgot to ask us ‘Is it OK?’) 

Remember visiting one of the Black Africans' 'Homelands'. These people were bussed off their ancestral lands which were fertile, and taken over by white settlers and farmers. In the 'Homelands' we saw women scrabbling in the dirt, trying to grow something. Their men were transported in trucks and buses to work in the mines - in distant places, so that it was difficult-to-impossible for them to travel back to their families in the Homelands. Many of them cohabited with other women in the mining areas.

Their crime? Living on fertile land the white man wanted.


Why, after billions of dollars spent on medical/health programs for Aboriginal and Torres St Islanders since 1973, plus mainstream services such as Medicare and social security benefits - many indicators point towards a decrease in the general health of Australia's indigenous peoples... Statistics: death rate for aboriginal children three times greater than for other Australian children. Infant deaths - four times national average. Death of young Australian men from all causes - ten times greater than for other Australians... (1995). Get latest statistics - death in childbirth - 30 times more common for abor women in the NT than for other Aust. women. Hepatitis B- 10 times more cases per capita than for non-Aborigines. Death from preventable parasitic diseases and diabetes - 13.4 times the national average for Abor women, and 7.3 times for Abor. men. Hospitalization - five times more frequent for Abor children, and 2.3 times more for men and women than for other Australians. Sexual diseases - 10 times higher per capita than for the total Australian population - 25% of abor women of child-bearing age in some areas infertile.


'Singer-songwriter Archie Roach, whose 1990 song 'Took the Children Away' became an anthem of indigenous activism, as well as winning two ARIAs and an international Human Rights Achievement award, says the 2008 apology had a huge impact, both on his own journey towards healing and on the wider community.' 'Notes towards reconciliation, by Kylie Northover, The Saturday Age, Lifestyle p. 17.


FB comment: 
Hands up all those who thought that Aboriginal Australians being nomadic meant they didn't do architecture. Me too.

So reading Paul Memmot's Gunyah, Goondie and Wurley is eye opening. One quote to give you an idea, "Besides shelters, there were other structures, such as hunting hides, rock-wall fisheries, ground ovens, wells, storage platforms and posts, ceremonial stone arrangements and circular mounds, as well as foliage walls, nets, trenches and pitfalls for trapping game." p.16

Complete news to me was the use of stone.


In the US, the United Methodist Church conducted a reconciliation with African Americans to atone for a church split that barred blacks from white Methodist churches and resulted in the formation of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Not quite as dramatic an event as you describe, Rowland, but it invoked the long history of slavery and mistreatment of African Americans in this country.


3.         When she noticed the shame and guilt of postcolonial, postmodern theologians over the harm wrought by colonial and modern ideologies, Mayra Rivera Rivera (Harvard Divinity School) sought words and practices to help these theologians express these feelings.

Rivera finds inspiration in the work of Maurice Merleau-Ponty (1908-1961), a French, Roman Catholic philosopher. As she “thinks with” Merleau-Ponty, she notes that he did not look away from his religious tradition’s complicity in the Holocaust. Instead, he wrestled with the failure of Christians to act until he identified the cause. The Catholic view of God contains an ambiguity—God is both interior and exterior. We assume that by going inward, God is immediately accessible, but by doing so, we turn away from the outer world and are no longer affected by it. When we turn inward, the site of intimacy with God, we turn away from the poor and the stranger.

In God’s incarnation, Merleau-Ponty sees a prescription. By becoming flesh, God consented to become externalized. God became flesh, not in the sense of “body,” but in the sense of the relationship between our bodies and things in the world. God thus privileged the world and calls on Christians to do the same. Following Merleau-Ponty, Rivera concludes that her theologian friends’ shame and guilt are to be expressed through actions in service of this world.

4.         Joshua Daniel (University of Chicago) asks about multiculturalism—are we limited to offering alliances with Others or can we can offer them recognition? To answer these questions, he “thinks with” the American theologian, Jonathan Edward (1708-1858).

In Edwards’ triune theology, the Son of God is God’s idea of Himself. Since God’s ideas must be perfect, the Son is perfect, shining forth God’s glory. In the Son, God the Father sees His face as if He were looking at Himself in a mirror. The Son manifests God’s beauty to the Father. The Son comes to love and delight in the Father just as the Father loves and delights in the Son. With the Holy Spirit, an infinitely sacred energy, the triune God achieves fullness of being and of mutual recognition.

The triune God breathes within Itself and towards us; in this way, we humans participate in the triune fullness and are objects of God’s divine recognition and particular love. God beholds His glory in His creatures.

Based on Edwards’ work, Daniel answers his central question—by participating in the Triune God, we recognize each other as potentially divine regardless of our cultural differences.


Cash for jails: Tony Abbott's budget for Indigenous Australia

With its budget, the Abbott government has made clear what it means by Indigenous 'advancement': fewer services, and more funding for lockups

Friday 16 May 201409.19 EST

The 12 year old Aboriginal boy was small for his age, but appeared even smaller as he sat in handcuffs, shadowed by two burly police officers in the north-western NSW town of Bourke. I was watching as a white magistrate, a fly-in worker who usually lives in the rich suburbs of Sydney, deliberated on whether to send him to detention.

His offense? Police had caught him out on the streets late at night, in breach of his bail conditions, and had thrown him in the watchhouse in the early hours of the morning. The reason he was out on the streets? It was safer than being at home. The magistrate didn’t want to send him back to his family, but with no other option, he was leaning towards placing him on remand as he waited for a court date.

It’s a common situation. About 80% of young people in custody on remand don't go on to receive a custodial sentence within 12 months – meaning a large proportion of Aboriginal youth are locked up simply because there is nowhere else for them to go. Many of them have been taken from their families at rates nowhigher than the days of the Stolen Generations.

The distressing number of Aboriginal children in juvenile detention is a consequence of a complex mix of factors, like poverty, the harsh realities of the NSW bail act and, I would argue, the crippling apathy of state and federal governments.

Sadly, in small towns like Bourke, the streets can be like a prison. Society builds virtual walls around you according to the circumstance of your race and geography. It’s hard to break out of these confines, and it becomes even harder if you come into contact with the justice system at an early age.

Towns with large Aboriginal populations also have a large police presence. They are meant to protect the vulnerable, but over policing only adds to the worrying rates of Indigenous incarceration. How can you achieve equality when you are locking up Aboriginal population at rates that beggar belief? Since the end of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal deaths in custody, Indigenous incarceration rates have jumped in every state and territory: 90% in the NT, 53% in NSW, and 50% in Western Australia.

On Tuesday night, the scared eyes of that small 12 year old boy in Bourke were chief on my mind as I read over the budget papers, wading through doublespeak like “rationalisation”, “savings”, “efficiencies” and the most offensive of them all: “advancement”.

Aboriginal Australia anticipated a tidal wave of cuts, but seeing more than half a billion dollars ripped out from under a people who have been chronically underfunded for decades still sent shockwaves through our communities (although budget analysis shows Labor has historically been the biggest offender in underfunding Indigenous affairs if you look at total Indigenous expenditure as a percentage of total government expenditure).

We already knew the Coalition were cutting $13.4m from Aboriginal legal aid. The cuts will undeniably affect frontline services across the country, where Aboriginal people already have trouble accessing appropriate legal aid. Any hit to already underfunded services drip down to children like that 12 year old boy in Bourke.
I saw nothing addressing these distressing rates in the number tables of the budget. I saw nothing to slow the torrents of Aboriginal hurt across the country. Instead I saw this: more than $54m pumped into boosting police infrastructure in remote communities. No funding re-directed into keeping blackfellas out of gaol, but more for those who will keep locking them up.

Put simply, you don’t make communities safer by locking up their men, in many cases for the “victimless crime” of driving unregistered or unlicensed. You make them safer by investing in adequate health, housing, employment and education opportunities – measures which aren’t explained in these budget papers.

That’s just the beginning. There was no indication in the budget papers of which programs and organisations will have their funding hit by the huge cuts to health. More than $160m will be pulled from Indigenous health funding, which is not surprising, given Abbott’s track record in this area. As health minister in the Howard government, he presided over a $460m Indigenous health shortfall over a time period when Peter Costello boasted of almost $100bn in budget surpluses.
Abbott’s “new engagement” with Aboriginal people is just fluff. It’s paternalism in sheep’s clothing. If you are wondering why Aboriginal people scoff at his claims to become the prime minister for Indigenous affairs, you only have to look to 2006, when he called for a “new paternalism” to put an end to the “rhetoric of self-determination”. That assault against self-determination, against the rights of Aboriginal people to control their own lives and affairs, is in the background of any reading of these budget papers.

In a media release, Scullion talks about the government investing “$4.8bn” to streamline more than 150 individual programmes and services into the so-called Indigenous advancement strategy, “with the sole objective of achieving real results in the government’s priority areas”. That’s just it: the government’s priority areas. Not priority areas determined by Aboriginal people themselves. The Abbott government has made it clear in this budget that it will define what "advancement" means to Aboriginal people.

The decision to de-fund our only national elected Indigenous body – the national congress of Australia’s first people and replace it with the hand-picked Indigenous advisory council only adds to this narrative. The national congress isn’t Atsic, but to pull funding from our only nationally elected representative body is a disgrace.
And if you believe Indigenous advisory council head Warren Mundine has any say over the government’s direction in Indigenous affairs, think again. It’s clear the real power lies with the Indigenous affairs minister Nigel Scullion; Mundine hasalready had to back down from clashes with the minister on issues like the legal aid cuts and his calls for a radical overhaul of the office of registrar of Indigenous corporations. He has also been unable to make a dent in the Coalition’s plan to repeal section 18c of the Racial Discrimination Act.

Mundine remains the Australian newspaper’s chief rent-a-quote, but the wages of the Indigenous advisory council would be the best budget saving the Abbott government could make in Indigenous affairs. Of course, none of this matters to Aboriginal kids like that 12 year old boy from Bourke. Most likely he will not see the “savings” and “efficiencies” boasted by the Abbott government.

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