A COUNTER-MOVEMENT TO RECOGNISING INDIGENOUS SOVEREIGNTY.
The success of a movement to gain some degree of recognition of indigenous sovereignty – and it is very limited success – can be contrasted with the counter-movement which insists that the only future for Australia’s First Peoples lies in them becoming modernised a la the West.
While such a thinking process has long roots Anglo-Australia, I sense that there is a resurgent push coming from those who feel threatened by the prospect of any shift towards a deeper form of bi-culturalism in this country.
Deep bi-culturalism – real recognition of the place of First Peoples and Ways – is a key part restoring full well-being to Australian life. Part and parcel of this is the necessity to reform aspects of Anglo-Australian life. A profound reformation is required – one which will move us into modes of thinking and doing which are very different from those of modern times.
An appreciation of complementary opposition will be such a mode – so that the importance, for example, presently ascribed to The Individual (and all that goes with that illusion) will become unthinkable.
We will need to recover from the excesses of modernity in order to become part of a larger configuration of intelligent life.
“Waking Up To Dreamtime” – SOUND THE ALARM?
Quadrant has felt moved to provide a free online copy of a book which they clearly regard as deserving wider attention.
The collection of articles is:
Waking Up To Dreamtime
First edition published in 2001 by Gary Johns and Media Masters Pty Ltd
Copyright © this 2012 electronic edition held by Quadrant Online and Gary Johns
Original ISBN: 981-04-5150-4
It can be downloaded from http://www.quadrant.org.au/blogs/bennelong-papers/2012/02/waking-up-to-dreamtime-ebook
Don’t be fooled by the title of “Waking Up To Dreamtime” – it is not about realising the importance of Dreaming cosmology in Australian life past, present and future.
The spirit behind this collection is not one which holds promise for a high level cross-cultural dialogue between First Peoples and non-indigenous Australians.
The black and white tone of the publication can be gauged by the Introduction by the book’s editor, Gary Johns.
“For at least the last thirty years, money, programs and white advisers have engulfed Aboriginal people. Some Aborigines have survived the deluge. They have found a place in society that suits them. Some have not survived the deluge. They have been swept away by despair, grog and violence. Some have become leaders, and they have been looking for followers. They are seeking to build a new Aboriginal society, fully 200 years after the modern world came to this continent. They see their future in promoting a separate Aboriginal identity. The trouble is, many of their troops have moved on. They have moved into the Australian society. They regard their identity as a matter for themselves, not something that comes in a government program or in an Aboriginal politician’s speech.
Each generation creates a new policy fashion, and each fashion brings a new problem. The Aboriginal leaders from the 1930s to the 1950s wanted equality, their children won it, and then wanted something else, self-determination. They borrowed the clothes of post-colonial nations and began to parade themselves as leaders of ‘peoples’. The whites went along with some of this, handing responsibility for programs to people whose hands were already full just coming to terms with the modern society and the prejudice that confronted them. Forcing Aborigines to manage government-funded programs was inviting trouble. Management and leadership positions became the prizes. The struggle for identity became the scramble for state sponsorship and for preferment. Those who managed to escape this game were the lucky ones.
The failures of Aboriginal policy have not been for a lack of trying, goodness knows the goodwill of the nation is with Aboriginal people. Unfortunately, those who see it as an opportunity to re-create their dreams of another world have captured the area…”
BLOCKED THINKING – NOT BLACK OR WHITE
I am not saying all the contributors to this collection think like Johns. Each should be read on their own merits.
But “The whites” appear to be the conceptual counterpart of that chilling reference in Queensland history “The Blacks!” – which resulted in extremely inhuman practices towards them carried out in the name of civilised folk of the modern era.
The denial of indigenous agency in this introduction is truly stunning – in “borrowed clothes and parading themselves” indigenous activists are rendered into an updated caricature of Bennelong wearing imperial kit.
Indeed, the people who are part of the denial of this aspect of indigenous activism have expropriated the very name of Bennelong for a collection of works which are hosted by Quadrant. See http://www.quadrant.org.au/blogs/bennelong-papers
It may have been over 200 years since ‘the modern world’ came to this continent, but First Peoples have been excluded from that peculiar version of the ‘modern world’ for the greater part of those two centuries.
Indeed, in 1988 when Anglo-Australia celebrated two centuries of presence in this land, First Peoples had yet to gain recognition of their relations with land they and their ancestors had held for tens of thousands of years.
And steps are now being taken to ensure any prospect of a movement to recognise some degree of surviving indigenous sovereignty are denied any oxygen.
The decision of mainstream political leaders to let Constitutional Recognition of this country’s First Peoples wither on the vine clearly demonstrates the existence of a profound bankruptcy which cuts across party lines.
GLOBAL STRUGGLE UNDERWAY
Basically, i think, there is a denial – by those who are located at the extreme Western end of a conceptual continuum – of the existence of real struggle. A denial of a global struggle in which one part of life seeks to rebalance the excesses resulting from another part of life.
This struggle is possibly one which had its roots in the earliest of times, certainly during the period those who read stones refer to as the Paleolithic. One side gained an ascendancy in this struggle in what we know as the Neolithic transformation.
Much of what we know as ‘history’ is the result of the attempts of those with a temporary advantage to manipulate and dominate the other parts of life to preserve an inherently unstable position.
This long process continues today. If only we forget these other silly ideas and see things their way all will be well in the world, they insist – despite the always accumulating evidence of their inability to properly manage life.
There is no comfort to be had from turning to the elites in waiting who would have us believe that all would be put right if we withdrew support for those presently in power and substituted the reserve elite in their place.
What is required is a transformation of these top-down systems, not a change of leadership ‘at the top’. A re-earthing of unearthed Ways.
In the present case, with those who regard embracing the modern West as providing the only reasonable option of First Peoples, we hear a chorus of voices singing from the same song sheet.
These Westernising voices seek to proclaim the defeat of alternatives and to cement into place privileges which are, in truth, fleeting and impossible to hold onto once life moves on.
There can be no dream, they would have us believe, but the unsustainable and obsolete American Dream.
MAJOR REFORM OF LIFE
Secular Western minds have little place for the appreciation of the importance of life’s higher messages in maintaining well-balanced ecosystems and, within those, well-balanced social systems.
Higher messages are seen as optional ornaments – having no real value for the ‘rational’ interpretation of life.
But the rationality which is invoked by the Age of Reason is a one-sided form which excludes more from understanding than it includes.
Increasing abstraction is all very well, and produces truly amazing miracles, but it is also inherently unstable. That which is excluded by modern reason is not really superfluous – but part of balanced living if stability, in an ongoing and dynamic universe, is to be properly valued.
Instead of hurling from crisis to crisis to crisis a mature form of life re-establishes a high form of balance. Life is essentially a cosmic balancing act, and we are now aware that Western life has that balance wrong.
HARD AND EASY FORMS OF RECOGNITION
I was curious to read the chapter by the late Ken Maddock in “Waking Up to Dreamtime.” I knew Ken quite well, and I wonder what he would have thought about being included in such a collection, but presume he knew this in advance of his untimely death.
Ken’s paper is entitled “Sceptical Thoughts on Customary Law” – and he brings his intellectually fine-tuned forensic skills to the difficult and real life challenges which would result from Anglo-Australian authorities recognising customary law.
Ken had a long involvement in this area, both with indigenous peoples and with academics and members of the legal profession. In short, Ken (always a gentle man) was not in favour of ‘strong’ recognition and opted for a ‘weaker’ form.
With all respect to him i think a better choice of words – those which may better reflect the usage of senior indigenous lawmen – would be to compare a ‘hard’ form of Dreaming law with an ‘easy’ form. “Make ‘em little bit easy for you.” as they would say.
The comparison between two ways of ‘breaking in’ a horse comes to mind – harsh and fast versus gentle and slow.
But while senior lawmen might well understand the need to go easy, some of them at least would also insist that the challenge is for two forms of law to become level.
It is not a matter of equality with others before the introduced form of law, but of deep equality between two systems of law. Two laws, not one.
Of course, this leads us into areas of complexity in terms of social life. Who, where, when what is subject to which law – and much more in terms of positive and negative sanctions. A real headache without doubt.
It is so much easier to declare the whole matter too much trouble and proceed with mono-cultural one-size-fits-all Anglo-Australian business as usual.
But life itself is more complicated than that.
My intuition is that we have to accept the more difficult challenge (learning to form and live with co-existing forms of ‘sovereignty’) not because we want to but because we have to.
The modern Anglo-Australian fantasy structure will become too expensive (financially and psychically) to maintain as it is coming to an end.
We do not have the energy resources to be able to afford to maintain it.
At some point it will become necessary to let go of that fantasy, and move towards a new one.
In order to re-balance the excess of success of modern Ways we will have to develop two-sided forms of representation based on the notion of complementary opposites. That is, in place of self-regulating free-standing forms (individuals, corporations) we will need two inter-related forms whereby each regulates and is regulated by the other.
An image of this is the human brain, and the twin balls of a well-designed governor of the type which was used to regulate certain engines in earlier times. As things go faster, the balls fly out further, raising a control lever which slows the engine down again (is how I imagine this device worked).
LIFE IS ON THE MOVE
Globally, there is a shift underway in which we move from attempts to dominate life and towards learning how to better relate with the rest of life.
Learning to relate will probably replace attempts to dominate – but perhaps not without a struggle. In this struggle the better part of life must be able to fashion better forms of ‘weapons’ than those of the present masters of war.
Changing mindsets is such a weapon. And there is a wealth to learn from the Ways of Australia’s First Peoples.
Looking to learn lessons kept alive over eons by First Peoples – even as they embrace the new opportunities provided to them by the mining companies exploiting their eternal assets – is part of the large game of life as a cosmic balancing act.
We have this right just as much as the mining companies have a ‘right’ to claim life’s endorsement when marginalised First Peoples opt for access to modern miracles in a one sided form of exchange which may offer Westernised futures for their descendants, but at the cost of so much of real value.
The arrival of indigenous voices singing the praises of mining companies needs to be seen in light both of their dire situation in modern Australia and of the strategic decisions and PR budget of the mining corporations, and not as part of acts of genuine cultural partnership. After all, the mining corporation shareholders gain the lion’s share from the expropriation of First Peoples mineral wealth.
STRUGGLE FOR THE COLLECTIVE IMAGINATION
Gary Johns, in talking about the failings of Aboriginal policy, has written “Unfortunately, those who see it as an opportunity to re-create their dreams of another world have captured the area.”
(Waking Up To Dreamtime – p iii).
Well, the John’s view of it is partly true. Some of us are seeking to re-create dreams of another world. This is a valid part of life. It has always been thus.
And there is good reason for this. In part, for some of us, that other world is one which seeks to reform its ways of abusing and mistreating First Peoples – a world which will allow them the conceptual spaces in our lives for them to live according to core cultural values arising from indigenous sources.
But it goes further than that. We are seeking to rebalance a run-away world
What Johns is in error about is his presumption that what is presently on offer from the modern West is inherently superior and the only way forward for life.
The struggle of some of Australia’s First Peoples – as important as it is – is part of a larger global struggle.
To deny the existence of this large global struggle is to factor out of analysis the same level of forces as those which seek to recruit First Peoples – seamlessly – into the side of modern Western forms of living based on particular forms of commercial practice, consumption and consumerism and on a par with a landless working class life.
In my view, this reduces First Peoples level of Being. Those who see becoming modern as some part of a linear progression – as being at the cutting edge of history – are subject to a particular form of illusion – one with deep roots, without doubt, but not one which enjoys any preordained form of privilege.
In this global struggle, the process of liberation is not merely that of seeking to assist First Peoples to liberate themselves from an oppressive regime (as witnessed by the NT Intervention) but for us (all?) to realise ourselves.
Modern Anglo-Australia – a former prison colony – can been viewed as consisting of a vast conceptual prison house. The notion of an Anglo-Australian modern nation state, as presently constituted, is part of an elaborate fantasy structure, which has reached its use-by date.
We should have been changing the Constitution this year to recognise First Peoples. We are not. To my mind, this signals that time is running out to reform modern Anglo-Australian life.
TWO FANTASY STRUCTURES
We are Dreaming forms of life. One dream ends, another begins.
“I’ll let you be in my dream, if I can be in yours” sang Bob Dylan.
The complex formation of Dreaming cosmologies of Australia’s First Peoples also consists of a very highly elaborated fantasy structure.
How else can we accurately characterise this great collective work of art – this treasure house of hard-won human experience?
But both are very different from each other. The original Dreaming cosmology is one which attunes Being with Cosmos. It enables messages to flow from country, through human life and – transformed – back into cosmos.
The modern fantasy of Australia – Australia as the home for an introduced extension of European practices – results in massive ecological disintegration, accelerated ecosystemic change. It is a blocked form of relating.
A few sense they are cut off from their full surroundings – and yearn for an individual mystical connection with what they regard as ‘nature’ as though nature were another ‘thing’, another ‘object’ another ‘fetish’.
Nature is certainly regularly packaged as a commodity by clever operators, both indigenous and non-indigenous. So too is Dreaming.
These processes seek to short-circuit a more difficult learning process – and one which requires a repositioning of Being as much as forms of intellectual exercise.
To contribute to the task of rebalancing life we have to learn to stop thinking in the dominating terms of modern Western European secular narratives – and begin to start using other parts of our mind and Being.
There may be some simple exercises which help.
Such as stopping writing for a while and allowing spaces for other voices. There much more to be said, but for now the main question is:
What do our senior cultural partners in Australian life – traditional lawmen from the Centre – have to say about such matters?