Indigenous concerns: letting go of our 'whiteness'
Can those of us Quakers who are not Aboriginal recognise our 'whiteness' … our white-superiority complex?
It comes out in many ways. We may fail to recognise the Great Theft of this continent, and the fact that our much-vaunted 'standard of living' is at the expense, primarily of the original owners, and, also of others of the less privileged of the world.
We may fail to recognise that Aboriginal people are required to perform in the white world, which is so very different from that of the First Nations, the hunter-gatherer Aboriginal economy. As invaders, we assumed that a 'hunter-gatherer' economy is undeveloped, non-intellectual, 'primitive' and generally inferior to our triumphant, post-enlightenment 'scientific' way. And now we may demand that, walking with one foot in each culture, they lift themselves 'up into this enlightened level of culture'.
We need to re-think our ways, because of the huge environmental crisis which is going to descend upon us affecting the Rivers and water supply generally. This is a result of ever increasing irrigation demands, atmospheric pollution, extravagant 'energy' demands etc, not to mention the disrespectful way we use the More-than-Human 'environment' for entertainment and sporting activities.
Those who are prepared to sit down and think and question are told to 'lighten up', 'relax'. The scientific method and market forces will sort out the mess. Meanwhile, let’s 'enjoy ourselves'. (Is that the same thing as enjoying life?)
There is an alarming similarity between our disrespectful treatment of Country and the way we have treated the First Nations of this Land. We are in denial, refusing to believe that there is a parallel between the Theft of the Continent and the Theft of Aboriginal Life.
We often continue to stereotype Aboriginal Peoples as alcoholics, lazy, stupid, dishonest, violent and unclean, refusing to acknowledge that many of the behaviours of some Aboriginal people (and some non-Aboriginal people as well) are due to severe social dislocation, alienation, and separation from Country, the very foundation of their culture: and our very own as well, if only we’d acknowledge it.
It appears that we don’t have an 'Aboriginal Problem' … we seem to have a 'Whitefella Problem'.
Our answer to all this is to try to 'help the Aborigines'. We are so convinced of our white superiority, that we see this as the appropriate response. And yet the truth is that they may not need help in the way we think they need it. Instead they need the freedom and power in which to get on with their lives.
We think that means they will want 'hand-outs'. Like all of us they need material resources and having had their material resources (namely their Lands) stolen from them, the question of who should bear the cost of supplying their material resources, arises. And, of course, the answer is pretty clear.
There is no good reason why very adequate compensation should not be made to the First Nations, especially by a materialistic culture which is only too anxious to assert the property rights of its non-Aboriginal members. We know what happens if an Aboriginal person pinches a packet of biscuits, or a towel from a whitefella’s clothes line. And we know the consequences of taking away an aboriginal mother’s kid to become a white Mistress’ servant.
So, what to do? We do need to seriously consider these things.
- There is acknowledgement: owning up to the truth.
- There is compensation: paying up to the real owners
- There is permission: making space for self-determination, and allowing the re-establishment of connection to Country. And …
- There is reform: changing the way we whities behave towards the First Nations and the Country. Understanding that this is an Aboriginal Country and that Humanity and the rest of Creation are not juxtaposed, but spiritually at One and intimately related
Do we need to learn Aboriginality?
Susannah Brindle, 'To learn a new song', Backhouse lecture, AYM, 2000.
'Coming right way', Indigenous concerns committee, AYM 2002.
Germaine Greer, 'Whitefella jump up', Quarterly Essay, no 11, September 2003.
Sarah Chandler, 'The never broken treaty', Sunderland P. Gardner lecture, Canadian YM 2001.