April Newsletter online now!
April 29, 2015
‘Remote Hope’ of hearing the Aboriginal voice as an authority
May 15, 2015

Consult or civilise?

By Pamela Nathan

Re: “Remote Communities offered hope by Barnett’s road map says Pearson” NACCHO Communique, May 9th, 2015; “Call to end protests over WA Aboriginal community closures”, ABC News, May 8th, 2015; ‘Fleeting Governments’ policies have permanent consequences for Aboriginal homelands’, The Age, May 9th 2015; and ‘Remote Hope’, Four Corners, May 11th, 2015.

So the West Australian government has backed away from initial claims about community closures and last Thursday released a new strategy to support viable communities. However they are still planning to shut down ‘unviable’ communities… eventually.

Peter Collier, Western Australia’s Aboriginal Affairs Minister declared that “Aboriginal people would be at the centre of an extensive consultation process”.

If they are still bent on closures, is this consultation? Or is it tokenism? How is safety and well being for children and families defined? And who does the defining? Which roadmap will be used? And what will be the outcome if Aboriginal people disagree and say their communities are viable?

The WA Government claims that communities facing closure are deeply dysfunctional, rife with abuse of self, substance and others. An interesting claim given that dysfunction evidenced by violence, domestic violence, suicide, drugs and booze is more rife in centralised communities or towns, and townships that have been subject to forced relocation, than remote communities where people are sitting down on country – the ABC’s Four Corners feature, ‘Remote Hope’, further highlighted this issue.

Aboriginal people are saying their wellbeing is derived and maintained from being on country and away from centralised hubs which fuel alcohol, drugs, fights and loss of being as they are not on country. Being on country is short for being on homelands, with their living ancestors who are the essence of their spirit and identity. This is what the people are saying. So is ‘consultation’ a whitefellah charade? On one so called ‘unviable’ community, when government officials arrived recently, the Traditional Owners told them to leave their country camp. They do not want to move. They believe their voices will not be heard by government officials who are changing  the gridlines of the road maps.

Susan Chenery’s article in The Age on Saturday, shares Djambawa Marawili’s patient explanation of the importance of homelands, and the fickleness of Government response to homelands: “People who have been there through the centuries, says Marawili, are at the mercy of government people who are “changing day after day, month after month, year after year. For us we don’t change, we do follow what is good and what is right.” (http://www.theage.com.au/national/fleeting-governments-policies-have-permanent-consequences-for-aboriginal-homelands-20150508-ggwb2l.html )

Only a few decades ago, the Pintupi people implored Robert Verbugt, a patrol officer, to be able to return to their lands from forced removal to a settlement. His response: ‘Can’t- the administrators won’t allow it. Now that the abos. are citizens, the policy is to civilise them’.

What does it mean to civilise – broken connections?  As Bobby Randall tells us, Kanyini is the principle of connectedness through caring and responsibility that is the foundation of Aboriginal life. Kanyini is a connectedness to tjukurrpa (knowledge of creation or ‘Dreaming‘, spirituality), ngura (place, land), walytja (kinship) and kurunpa (spirit or soul). Tjukurrpa was broken when Whitefellahs imposed their law, Ngura was broken when Aboriginal people were forced to move away from their homelands, Walytja was broken when the children were removed from their family as part of the stolen generations and Kurunpa was broken when Aboriginal spirituality was replaced with religion and assimilation. Connections are central to emotional well-being and mental health; namely viable communities. Aboriginal people have been repairing broken connections on country in remote places with radical hope, humanity and resilience. It is time for Whitefellahs to walk in their shoes and read their road maps!