Indigenous update

21 Sep

Courtesy of Journeyman Pictures, a wonderful source of documentaries — “London’s leading independent distributor of topical news features, documentaries and footage” — I preface this with David Bradbury’s Jabiluka: The Aboriginal Swindle (1997). You must visit the video here, as embedding is disallowed.

The lure of Uranium has proved irresistible to successive Australian governments and Australia’s Environment Minister has dismissed the Mirrar people’s objections to the Jabiluka mine. This lucrative project could sever the Mirrar people’s spiritual links with the earth and the sights of sacred significance throughout the valley. “I was born in the bush” Yvonne Margarula tells us, “sleeping on the ground with the fire”. Twice Academy Award nominated director, David Bradbury, explores the effects of this cultural devastation on the lives of a people and a land inextricably joined.

Rare archive footage shows how Yvonne’s father and his people were bullied into giving their legal consent to a lease over Jabiluka. The traditional landowners were encouraged to consider not just their own wishes but that of Australian progress as a whole. But they thought they were negotiating for a land claim, not another uranium mine. Yvonne’s father Toby was weakened by stress and spent most of the fateful meeting lying down. His sigh “I’m tired now, I can’t fight any more” was taken as all the consent needed for the mine to go ahead. He received a silver plated pen for his trouble…

Ten years on we have had the Howard government’s intervention, which I have treated with a degree of caution and doubt: Some thoughts on the events of June 2007, and recent posts tagged Indigenous Australians here.

In August, for example, I posted Some good things on the Australian government and Indigenous Australians which said in part:

* Later

Hmmm. When someone as eminent as former Australian of the Year Galarrwuy Yunupingu AM smells a rat in the Australian government’s new Aboriginal policy then I tend to think there is a rat — and it’s probably called mining companies, Uranium, and US bases. See Leaders slam ‘sickening’ plan.

The federal government’s intervention in the Northern Territory is sickening, rotten and worrying, says one of the most powerful Aboriginal leaders in the territory.

Speaking at the 2007 Garma Festival, deep in the heart of a stringybark forest in north-east Arnhem Land, former Northern Land Council president, Galarrwuy Yunupingu, called on people to fight the Howard Government’s takeover of Northern Territory Aboriginal communities.

“I have got a political agenda to run,” he said. “This government is a worrying government, not worried about us but worried about himself (Prime Minister John Howard) and worried about his few rich people and business people that support the coalition that puts them back into government to run amok in the nation.”…

Monday: The Sydney Morning Herald reports the rather devastating news (I would have thought) that the authors of the report which triggered the government intervention feel utterly betrayed by what the government has done.

In today’s Australian there is an interesting development: Galarrwuy Yunupingu: The challenge begins which is so important I reproduce it in full:

ONLY when we are empowered to take full responsibility at a local level will change occur.

IN August, I called Aboriginal leaders together at the Garma Festival in Arnhem Land to talk about the federal Government’s intervention in the Northern Territory. I sat for three days with many clansmen and leaders including Pat Dodson, who has been my friend for many years. Everyone expressed their concern about the intervention, which had been announced with great haste a few weeks earlier. With my daughter I carved message sticks that were sent to Canberra seeking a halt to proceedings so we could obtain input into the debate, which affects every aspect of our lives.

I was surprised, and pleased, when in response federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Mal Brough made the decision to visit me at my homeland at Dhanaya on Port Bradshaw. He came and told me that he wanted to protect children and improve lives. I told him that my life had been spent working on such tasks and if this was genuinely what he sought to do then he had my full support. Not only that, but I would join him, as I would join any minister with the same good intentions, and put my shoulder to the wheel.

Brough was confused about why I had criticised the Government when I had addressed thousands of people attending the Garma Festival.

The answer is simple. I told him I was a landowner and leader and he had not spoken to me. He had acquired my land and sought control of my life without talking to me, let alone seeking my consent. Nor had he spoken to the hundreds of people like me throughout the NT who spent their lives coping with Third World conditions, a lack of services and the abject failures of governments. That simple failure to consult, I told him, would eventually undermine his good intentions. The conditions that hurt children and that he was pledging to fix would remain while he sought to impose a solution.

It really is that simple. He could not work for us unless he worked with us.

Today, I have signed a memorandum of understanding that satisfies my concerns about the land-leasing issues and will ensure that the changes to the permit system will be workable and not undermine land rights. I believe this new model will empower traditional owners to control the development of towns and living areas, and to participate fully in all aspects of economic development on their land.

I have also sought and received the minister’s agreement to the establishment of the Mala Elders group.

These elders are those who hold the highest authority in Aboriginal law. The Mala Elders group will take responsibility for the future of our children.

I will ask the Northern Land Council to work with me in the formation of the Mala Elders group. We will not be a construct of government but self-forming and self-funded. The concept, I hope, will translate throughout the NT. I think this is the opening we need to create a new era of empowerment for Aboriginal people.

Governments must stop babysitting us because we are not children. But if treated like children, people will behave like children. It is time for us to be given responsibility in the right way. And let me be clear, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission was not the right way.

The Mala Elders group will remind governments that they are not to control our lives but to empower our people. We will remind all politicians with great seriousness that the land is our backbone and that for Aboriginal children land remains central to their identity. This is something that must never be forgotten. Land ownership is the past, the present and the future for each child in Arnhem Land. Without their land they will not be people. That is why I said at the Garma Festival recently that I was worried sick. And I was, worried sick by the prospect of a land grab.

I am not worried at all by the other aspects of the Government’s plan. In fact I welcome them. I welcome the tight controls being placed on alcohol. I ask the Government to go further and shut the two takeaway outlets in Nhulunbuy, the Walkabout and the Woolworths. And I welcome the abolition of kava. What a ridiculous argument to make that kava is good because it stupefies people. And I urge zero tolerance for other drugs.

We must have real jobs, which community development employment projects have not delivered. Nearly all the real jobs in our communities are taken by non-Aborigines, which is an unacceptable situation. And we must have real schools and we must have real training. On these matters — low levels of education, training and employment, and the crippling of our people by alcohol and drugs — I am in agreement with Noel Pearson of Cape York. He came to meet me and we discussed these matters.

I have seen many challenges in my life. This is the greatest challenge. We must take advantage of the efforts of governments to ensure that benefits flow and that change is lasting. But we must take responsibility for our future. Only when we are empowered to take full responsibility at a local level will change occur. The Government cannot do it for us but it can clear the path, which has never been done before. And this can be done with respect for land, law and culture.

From there on it is up to us.

I think we must take that on board. This is far from endorsing all that the Howard TEAM has done and not done in eleven years in the area of Indigenous Australians. I stand by what I posted in June, and remain cynical about aspects of what has happened. On the other hand, the careful (and, to some, pusillanimous) response of the Labor opposition may have been wise. I do not believe yesterday’s advice by former Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) deputy chairman Ray Robinson is wise.

Former Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) deputy chairman Ray Robinson says the major political parties in Australia do not deserve a single vote from Aboriginal people.

Mr Robinson says with a federal election looming, Indigenous people must now consider who to vote for.

He says the Federal Government scrapped ATSIC – the peak body representing Indigenous people – while the Labor Party stood by and let it happen.

Mr Robinson says the major political parties have committed so many violations against Aboriginal people that they do not deserve any support.

“There is no comfort from the Rudd Opposition of what the Federal Government is doing to Aboriginal people, so why vote for them when their policies are exactly the same as the present Government?” he said.

Mr Robinson says Aboriginal people around the country must put aside their differences and unite against the major political parties in the coming election.

Only if you really want to help the Howard government get back, Ray…

Go to National Indigenous Times for further, and perhaps variant, discussion.

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Posted by on September 21, 2007 in Aussie interest, Current affairs, Films, DVDs, TV, Indigenous Australians, News and Current Affairs, Politics


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