Monday, 4 July 2016
NAIDOC and the Australian contradiction; assimilation.
NAIDOC week is something that I have mixed feelings about. When I was growing up, NAIDOC was something very few people had heard of. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Cultures were not celebrated by Australians. Now it seems that every council, school and community group proudly do something for NAIDOC week. During NAIDOC week, I like seeing our flag above councils. It makes me proud to see Elders across the Australia doing Welcome to Country. It is fanatics to see our kids during this week proudly say “I am Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander”. But what about the other 51 weeks of the year?
We have what seems to be a contradiction in Australia. Many Australians like to be proud of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Cultures during NAIDOC week but behave differently the remaining 51 weeks of the year.
All too often during the other rest of the year, I hear about how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Cultures are to blame for our disadvantage. Mainstream media allude to it all the time. Politicians tell our people that our kids must go to school rather than engage in Cultural business. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Cultures are seen as less than that of Australian Culture. What is expected of us is that we will get an education, get a job, pay taxes, own a home, be just like all other Australians and celebrate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Culture during NAIDOC week.
Now here is the contradiction of NAOIDC week and assimilation. What is often said is, if you aren’t engaging in a visible ceremony, are educated, speak English, are in the middle or upper socio-economic brackets and drink lattes than you aren’t “really” Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander. Yes, it is said. I know because I have experienced these types of comments all my life. So once we exercise our rights to all Australian society has to offer, we are no longer consider by many to be Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander. Assimilation by stealth masked by NAOIDC celebrations.
This is because Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Culture by many Australians is consider static. That is that is to say that it is only real Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander Culture if it is exactly the same as it was before invasion. These are the very same people who celebrate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Cultures during NAODIC week but for the rest of the year are pushing for assimilation.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders people would agree with other Australians that we have we fundamental right to education, work and other aspects of Australian society. What we do not agree with is that those rights trump our right to our Culture. That we have to trade one in to receive the other.
To me what this contradiction shows is the lack of understanding of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Cultures and the ability of many of us to walk in two worlds. It also shows a lack of understanding that over time all Cultures evolve. Australian society today is not the same as it was when Australia was just a colony.
How do we as a nation reconcile these conflicting attitudes?
I don’t want to discourage people for engaging in NAIDOC events, I just want people to maintain a respect for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and Cultures all year every year.
I want NAOIDC to be a time where we challenge the notion that we can not be both Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander and enjoy the benefits of Australian society.
We are a collective of living breathing dynamic Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Cultures worthy of respect all year round.