A whole-of-community approach is required for healing the chaos introduced into indigenous life. This has two aspects: an indigenous aspect and a non-indigenous.
The whole-of-community approach for non-indigenous people is to realise and accept that the chaos in the lives of remote indigenous peoples flows from the core of non-indigenous life. Healing the damage done by chaos in indigenous life requires reforming what lies at the heart of non-indigenous life.
Specifically, non-indigenous people will have to put an end to what Isobel Coe has called the ‘psychic war’ against First Peoples. Demonisation of Aboriginal men has been one of the main weapons employed in this two centuries long war. It aims to knock out what lies at the core of indigenous life – to knock out the real core of Australia life so that non-indigenous clones can be inserted in its place.
This ‘meta-cloning’ process is no better represented than the metaphor provided by Australia’s Federal Parliament; State Parliaments and Territory Legislatures. Reform there is required to make good two centuries of exclusion of indigenous voices, values and worldviews and to provide for effective means of indigenous representation.
For most of Australia’s non-indigenous peoples, this reform will require a complete rethink about how they view indigenous Australian life. In particular, they (you?) will need overcome generations of exposure to false stereotypes of ‘Aboriginal people’ and to realise that indigenous people are past masters of ensuring their own well-being.
The Howard-Brough ‘national emergency’ may have an unintended consequence (and a real benefit) by providing a means of wider community debate about these matters.
This debate is crucially important if we are to move away from the mistakes of the past and towards new solutions based on negotiated indigenous-non-indigenous arrangements grounded in respect and a spirit of cultural partnership.
New spirits are needed in Australia’s Parliaments, and these will only come when a large number of non-indigenous peoples are willing those spirits to materialise into the new ways of doing things.
Healing the damage being done to indigenous life can never be achieved by solely relying on behaviour modification experiments (such as negative sanctions in relation to welfare payments), alcohol and drug prohibitions, and increased police presence.
To the extent that indigenous men are involved, what is required is to make indigenous men strong within themselves and on their own terms. Attacking them will not heal them.
The $12 million which the Commonwealth is giving to Queensland (in the name of helping indigenous people in the Northern Territory!) in order to recruit an appearance of acceptance, legitimacy and support for Minister Brough’s military style intervention, should be spent on providing better resources for remote indigenous communities in the Northern Territory. How morally bankrupt is that!
The same applies to Kevin Rudd’s response of promising an extra 500 Federal police if we vote for him.
In particular, a sum of money like the $12 million and the salaries for 500 Federal Police would go some considerable distance in assisting indigenous lawmen in their task of instilling respect for the original law of this country in their own young men, in the first instance, and in the wider community in the second.
INDIGENOUS MENS CENTRES
While it is up to indigenous people to decide funding priorities according to how they see the needs, funding could be targeted to helping fund indigenous men’s centres where:
1. senior men can act as mentors for younger men.
2. younger men can learn a whole range of life skills necessary for meeting the challenges of contemporary living.
There have been several key Northern Territory reports on this matter and yet there has been virtually no effective and sustained action (from non-indigenous power brokers) in terms of implementing the findings of those reports.
See recommendations of the NT Indigenous Male Health Conference in Tennant Creek, NT, August 2000 “ Health is males’ business too” at url http://www.nt.gov.au/health/comm_health/mens_health/pdf/health_is_males_business.pdf
EVERY CHILD CONTAINS A RETURNING ELDER
Generally speaking, the Ways of Australia’s First Peoples are premised on a means of re-fashioning Being (in the shape of new life returning from eternal Dreaming country) into well-formed members of the wider collective group. In this there is a division of labour. There is women’s business and men’s business.
Men’s business is very much based on the ability to take a young male (taught much by the women in his earlier years) and to make him into a man. Without men’s business, and in the absence of something equivalent from the non-indigenous side of life, mal-formed lives may result.
In many parts of Australia, man-making (initiation ceremony) was a most important event in the life of both the individual and the group. Children may well be sacred, but without their experienced mentors to help them return to their proper place, life has to start anew from scratch every time.
Senior law men and women are not only sacred, their well-being and ability to play their part is crucial for all concerned. The well-being of all members of the whole group turns on the success of this process. Well-formed men (as gauged by indigenous law considerations) protect the women and children of their group.
In some places where European colonisation has not wrought its full effects, such as in the Northern Territory, man-making is still an important annual event.
Senior lawmen have been subject to the continual negation of their importance from a wide range of opposing forces. These include frontier cattlemen; pastoralists; police; remote British and Australian Parliaments and politicians; missionaries; modern anthropologists; newspaper and media editors; non-indigenous feminists; indigenous and non-indigenous bureaucrats and suburban dwellers across Australia to name a few.
Collectively, these ‘modernising’ forces are responsible for the introduction of chaos into the lives of First Peoples. They attempted to knock out the core of First Law which lay at the heart of indigenous life. They were all convinced they knew better.
Instead of assisting First Peoples to retain a degree of stability in the face of a shocking and unprecedented encounter which (uninvited) broke over them, increasing chaos has been the result. (See the articles by Pat Andersons, url below, for an intelligent discussion of why indigenous men are being put down in order to accept their subservience to European men and women.)
A concern for the protection of modern privileges results in endless pretences being promoted at the expense of First Peoples’ well-being. This approach may fit well with the suburban world-view and unearthed dreams of life as contained in glossy women’s magazines, but it bares no relationship with life’s realities.
Bringing the thinking of politicians (of all persuasions) in Canberra, Brisbane, Darwin into contact with those realities is a key objective if we are to restore balance and well-being to the lives of Australia’s original peoples.
Learning to understand why modern and secular models of indigenous lawmen is wrong – and damaging to Australian life – is something all those who flock to listen to the Dalai Lama need to turn their full attention to. Until this lesson is learnt, and we come to terms with the original systems of order in this country, we non-indigenous people are exactly the same as the Chinese who occupy Tibet.
For an intelligent consideration of some of these matters from a 2002 World Rural Health conference see:
“Moving On: Thinking about violence on Aboriginal communities.” Pat Anderson, Chairperson, National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation.