Some years back, an Aboriginal leader I know took a group of university students through a powerful exercise. In front of the group, he asked a few students to draw pictures of the people and things they loved in their home. He asked sensitive questions to better understand the pictures. He had the students sharing deeply and profoundly of what they valued. Then once we all understood what was precious in each picture … he tore the pictures up and threw the pieces to the ground. It was wrenching. A horrible thing to do. And a terrible insight into what Australia is doing to our Aboriginal people: taking what is precious and vital to who they are as people and tearing it up.
The best way I can begin to capture this is to contrast how we buy, sell and own land with how Aboriginal people believe they are owned by their land. Listen to an Aboriginal person describe who they are – they will talk of the land they are from. How wrenching and horrible to reduce this identification to a “lifestyle choice”.
Today, there was a march in town to stand with indigenous people against the closure of remote Aboriginal communities. Governments are looking to remove essential services from a number of remote communities – effectively forcing their closure. In WA the plan is to close 150 communities, in SA up to 60 communities could be at risk. The crowd chant captured the sentiment, “Always was, always will be, Aboriginal land”. If there is any frustration or anger amongst Indigenous people, it is understandable. As an APY land elder declared, with people leaving their land Government will again steal aboriginal spirit, story and culture. This is profoundly deeper than simply a lifestyle choice.
Government drivers are clearly economic, not ethical. No doubt the economic challenges are real, but the ethics are what must shape our response to the people our nation constantly dispossesses of land, rights, dignity, a future. If we started with ethics, our government simply wouldn’t be behaving as it is right now. Frankly, I expect better behaviour from them and from us. Don’t you?