Indigenous affairs: Sorry is the easiest word

“Sorry, is all that you can say…”

Those of us who consider Indigenous affairs to be significant have heard of the governmental “Closing the Gap” initiative that focuses on seven aspects affecting Indigenous Australians – Early Childhood; Schooling; Health; Healthy Homes; Economic Partnerships; Safe Communities; Governance and Leadership.

In the Prime Minister’s report in 2013 (who was that again? JG? OneKayRudd? Does it matter?), the focus was on transparency around the “Closing the Gap” statistics and where they comparatively placed our Indigenous brothers and sisters in line with non-Indigenous.

After adjusting for age, Indigenous Australians are still experiencing alarming differences in equitable outcomes.

Could be something to do with all those incarcerations…

The latest “Closing the Gap” report, and Prime Minster Tony Abbott’s recent response to the issue in Parliament, has a real focus on pushing the education agenda. However, there is more to this issue than just ticking some boxes on EATSIPS frameworks and celebrating NAIDOC week.

Various aspects of the education funds have been slashed. Indigenous support workers, liaison officers and education workers are concerned about their jobs and the future of the communities that they have worked tirelessly to support. The education system needs complete reform to make school environments more conducive to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ways of working, learning and being. By reducing the funds that employ Indigenous education workers to support students in schools, the system loses its greatest assets. I can’t help but be suspicious that Abbott’s supposedly well-intentioned speech (which sounded nothing but a meaningless rant to me and others like me who want real action) regarding attendance rates just reinforces archaic policies like the NT intervention, places blame on parents and wonders why kids don’t want to attend environments that place no value on Indigenous knowledge systems.

Amidst this, K.Rudd introduces his “timely initiative“, The National Apology Foundation, labels it bi-partisan, gains media attention and resurrects the only thing he was commended for while he governed. It’s all well and good to talk the talk, but how many of those on both sides of politics are actually walking hand in hand to affect positive change and acknowledge that Australia has a shared history?

You can throw a plate on the ground, smash it and say “Sorry”….but guess what?

The plate still broken.

The 250+ language groups and cultures who make up Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are still feeling the effects of an oppressive system that marginalises and purports dominant white hegemonic ideals.

A colonial hangover.

Let’s look for a comparison.

It took 800 years for the Irish to reintroduce their cultural language systems into schools. Nowadays it is compulsory for most children in Ireland to learn Gaelic, irrespective of their cultural background. A renaissance and appreciation for the culture that was once thought to be lost has been regained and re-embedded into a country from which such was wiped.

Does this imply that in terms of Indigenous affairs in Australia there still remains hope? Will some major revolt be required? Will it take another 600 years? Will there be anything left to regain if it takes that long?

And what exactly is “Closing the Gap” anyway? Homogenising blackfellas into whitefellas?

Consultation with community and equal value placed on Aboriginal and Islander knowledge systems is the only way to reconcile these complex issues. Most current consultation is made with a handpicked bunch of blackfellas who appear just as ignorant of the Indigenous community needs as their white counterparts.

Not good enough, Abbott.

Not good enough, K.Rudd.

To use this extremely sensitive, important matter to further your own media egos in some “White Knight” crusade only angers the grassroots people who have and will continue to fight for real and authentic change in solidarity with our brothers and sisters.

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