Archive for the ‘aboriginal australia’ Category


likes to drink (2011) by Daniel King, an Aboriginal Australian artist.

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Kelly Briggs of @TheKooriWoman is spot on in this article of hers in The Guardian. This piece is about her experiences negotiating poverty as an Aboriginal single mother, while also managing the fear that her children might be forcibly removed from her by the state. Briggs is not worrying about whether she cares for her kids enough, she knows she does, she is worrying about what happens if she is perceived to have failed to care for them. In light of a history of racist government policies in welfare and child protection, Briggs knows her routine parenting experiences will be viewed through a very different lens to that applied to a single mother like me. (I’m white, middle-class and employed full-time in a profession). And when shit happens as it inevitably does from time to time, she knows she has much less slack to play with.

I see the advantage I hold in this area all the time. For instance, to borrow from Briggs’ example, my children get to school late quite frequently and they had a number of unexplained absences from school last year, too. Did I fret about what might happen to us because of those oversights? Nope. As part of state government policy the school requires all parents to eventually account for unexplained absences; was I treated with anything but dignity and courtesy in that process, was I treated with suspicion? Nope.

Here is Briggs in her article:

What happens if the small amount of work I have gained dries up and I am back in the position of money being so incredibly tight that the lack of it is suffocating? What if money again becomes so tight that shoes, uniforms, excursions, lunches or transport – issues that I don’t have to worry about when I’m working – become issues that keep my kids from turning up at school on occasion? What exactly is the scope of these truancy officers? Do they give my kids lunch? Buy them uniforms? Will my name be added to some department of community services list somewhere? Will there be a mark upon my name that gives rise to visits from people who can remove my children from my care?

I spoke honestly and frankly with my mother about my worries. She was amazed that this is still happening, after all the trials Aboriginal women have been put through for generations. We spoke of her own mother’s obsession with cleanliness, which sprang from her fear of the dreaded “welfare man”, a government employee who could come to your house and demand to be let inside to ensure your house was clean, that there was adequate food available, that the children were going to school.

She then went on to tell me about her own fears when she was raising me and my siblings: the absolute terror she felt when she had to collect food vouchers of some nameless person swooping in to take us kids off her because she was facing hardship after my father passed away. The tremble in her voice as she recounted this broke my heart.

Aboriginal women have been told for the better part of two centuries that they are neglectful and not fit to raise children. Policy after policy, we have borne the brunt of racist and cruel initiatives enacted purely out of ignorance and the unwillingness of decision makers to listen to what Aboriginal women think is best for their very own children.

For more of Kelly Briggs’ writing you can read her blog.

UPDATE: Just came across this on the same topic.

A decade ago, I sat talking to a young mother on welfare about her experiences with technology. When our conversation turned to Electronic Benefit Transfer cards (EBT), Dorothy* said, “They’re great. Except [Social Services] uses them as a tracking device.” I must have looked shocked, because she explained that her caseworker routinely looked at her EBT purchase records. Poor women are the test subjects for surveillance technology, Dorothy told me ruefully, and you should pay attention to what happens to us. You’re next.

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Keep your eye out for this film by John Pilger.. despite being critically acclaimed I believe it is struggling to get cinema release in Australia.

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You can learn a lot from watching philosophical debates. There’s been a lot of criticism of the Australian Left recently and here’s another aspect to consider, this time it is around Aboriginal politics and institutional racism.

Here’s this from Rantings of an Aboriginal Feminist:

Speaking of culture, as stated, I identify as a critical thinker rather than a “cultural relativist”. This very fact has made for some rather “interesting” conversations over the years. To give a small example, I have had arguments with people when I have felt those people have idealised gender roles in traditional society. I don’t necessarily believe that gender equivalence equals gender equality and whilst indeed we are a culture that celebrates strong women who have authority, there are enough well-known cultural markers (for example, marriage rites) to indicate that “equality” may not be a completely accurate description in most tribal circumstances. Hell, we are the most studied people in the world, or close to, and even those with little knowledge are able to crack open a book and read passages that have been written, including ones from Marcia Langton, detailing patriarchal practices within desert cultures. Also, having set roles in a society based on gender has rarely been consistent with “equality” anywhere in the world. This is one of the many reasons of why I am so for the concept of “self-determination”; we must have the ability to critically examine ALL culture and assert our identity, both as Aboriginal people and as women, in order to move society forward as a strong and healthy unit. I argue that through having to continually defend ourselves in the face of colonisation and gender inequality, individually and structurally, we are currently denied that right of self-determination and can are therefore diminished in our ability to re-imagine society, social structures, legal systems etc in ways that are inclusive and owned by us. Long story short: I question and will always do so. I don’t believe everything I was told and I certainly will not forgive what are transgressions of basic human rights when arguments of cultural practice are used. It is completely possible to practice culture and respect culture whilst questioning elements of it and pushing for change, in my opinion.

In reply to this from Bess Price:

Some people call this integration, others call it [assimilation] because they want us to continue to live in poverty, violence and ignorance so we can play out their fantasies on what the word ‘culture’ means. I call it problem solving and saving lives. The left has its own agenda and liberating our people from violence is not part of that agenda.

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Photo credit: Aboriginal performers on Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu’s Facebook website.


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I’ve always been ambivalent about having children, and whilst I have been told by far too many people that I have a natural nurturing side, I haven’t necessarily felt a need to channel that nurturing in to children of my own. Yet at this point in time I am feeling an extraordinary amount of pressure to become less ambivalent about child-bearing, whether it’s from society wondering what the hell a 35 year old woman is doing showing no signs of settling down, or family who have taken it upon themselves to make comments on my childlessness.

Honestly, as part of an Indigenous Australian family I thought I may be buffered from this a bit due to the fact that culturally I’m already a mother, and a grandmother, but apparently I am missing out on something huge, or so I’ve been told, and I won’t be complete if I don’t have children. Yep, even with kinship at play, it still seems to be rather unthinkable that an Aboriginal woman hasn’t given having her own children much thought.

From Celeste Liddle’s guest post, “Turning 35 and the quandaries of “reproductive choice”” at Crikey. I really like the perspective she provides in this excerpt on ‘mothering’ in Aboriginal culture. We’re very individualistic in Anglo Saxon culture so ‘mothering’ is defined in a restrictive way reflecting those cultural values. If maternal feminism only gets written about by white feminists then you can see how our insights will be limited.

More of Liddle’s writing can be found at the fantastic Rantings of an Aboriginal Feminist. Looooove.

(Thanks so much to Claire B. for the link).

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It’s not just the private sector that’s preying on the poor. Local governments are discovering that they can partially make up for declining tax revenues through fines, fees, and other costs imposed on indigent defendants, often for crimes no more dastardly than driving with a suspended license. And if that seems like an inefficient way to make money, given the high cost of locking people up, a growing number of jurisdictions have taken to charging defendants for their court costs and even the price of occupying a jail cell.

The poster case for government persecution of the down-and-out would have to be Edwina Nowlin, a homeless Michigan woman who was jailed in 2009 for failing to pay $104 a month to cover the room-and-board charges for her 16-year-old son’s incarceration. When she received a back paycheck, she thought it would allow her to pay for her son’s jail stay. Instead, it was confiscated and applied to the cost of her own incarceration…

.. I could propose all kinds of policies to curb the ongoing predation on the poor. Limits on usury should be reinstated. Theft should be taken seriously even when it’s committed by millionaire employers. No one should be incarcerated for debt or squeezed for money they have no chance of getting their hands on. These are no-brainers, and should take precedence over any long term talk about generating jobs or strengthening the safety net.

Before we can “do something” for the poor, there are some things we need to stop doing to them.

From Barbara Ehrenreich with “How the poor are made to pay for their poverty” in The Guardian. Essential reading for policy makers. The slippery slope where extra government fines, fees and policing ensnare the poor and if they can’t pay these charges they begin to land in jail is one of the key factors behind the over-representation of Aboriginal Australians in prison. Traffic violations as a conveyor belt to incarceration.

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You can’t just fake community, you have to build it with actual trust and connections. This is something I think about a lot because my kid goes to a very diverse school. It’s a relatively poor public school that one day, not so long ago, opened up a Montessori stream within the school to run in parallel with its regular classrooms. So, between its mainstream school families and its Montessori school families it now has this super diverse school population – there are hippies, army families, surgeons, homeless parents, grandparents with custody, teenage parents, drug dealers, a quite famous street artist, Christians and Muslims (and atheists), Aboriginal families and recent immigrant families, and lots of overlap between groups.. and all these different cultural backgrounds just bobbing about in the population there. It is fascinating, and it mostly works very well as a school community, although it must have been a hell of a transition for the old school community when it first started taking in Montessori families.

There’s still some caution between various groups of parents but overall it’s very cohesive. I think the secret to its cohesion is not so much its warm school spirit, though there is some of that, but more that everyone is forced to tolerate one another because no one particular group of parents is big enough to dominate the school culture. Long may that balance be held. (And it may be difficult to do that, because the Montessori stream has been very successful in attracting students). But we’re also all sharing space and having repeat interactions with one another, so we have to get on with tolerating one another, too. And we’re all doing something annoying to someone in that school population.

The moment that stuck out for me was the time I saw one of the mothers standing and breastfeeding her three year old in the middle of the school grounds in front of everyone. No big deal for me, at the time I was still secretly breastfeeding my own three year old at home, but this school isn’t a particularly ‘crunchy’ school, believe me, you’re just as likely to see a parent feeding a can of Coke to their kids. Everyone has to try and tolerate one another so no-one bothered scowling at the breastfeeding, they got on with their day instead. Maybe parents have had enough to do with this mother before that they also saw her as an ordinary person in their school rather than an Extreme! Breastfeeder!

I don’t know for certain.

Anyway, having my kid at this school has made me realise how much I am otherwise absent from my local community – I work and socialise mostly in the inner-city, for instance. Now suddenly, I have got to know and care about families in the local community whom I otherwise would never have met. And suddenly, I am aware of prejudices and stereotypes in myself that I didn’t admit I still carried. Classism, it runs deep.

This interesting article in The New York Times about people trying to help one another in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy talks about some of these issues. Basically, you can really fuck this ‘community’ thing up easily and hurt people with your big opinions if you’re not really part of a community.

As volunteers with the makeshift relief efforts have applied their own rules on how to dole out relief — telling people where to wait and enforcing limits on how many blankets or food items storm victims receive — some have entered the more fraught area of applying their own values to those they are helping.

As she gave out diapers and cases of infant formula to storm victims, Bethany Yarrow, 41, a folk singer from Williamsburg who has been volunteering with other parents from the private school her children attend, said she was shocked by the many poor mothers in the Arverne section of the Rockaways who did not breast feed. The group, she said, was working on bringing in a lactation consultant.

“So that it’s not just ‘Here are some diapers and then go back to your misery,’ ” she said.

That sort of response has rankled Nicole Rivera, 47, who lives in a project in Arverne, where the ocean sand still swirls up the street with every passing vehicle. “It’s sad, sometimes it’s a little degrading,” she said as she stood in line in a parking lot waiting for free toiletries.

Ms. Rivera said that she was thankful for the help, but that its face — mostly white, middle- and upper-class people — made her bitter.

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Aboriginal boxer, Damien Hooper wears a t-shirt with the Aboriginal flag on it before his fight in the Olympics and gets reprimanded for it and forced to apologise. The Aboriginal flag is considered a political statement so wearing the shirt is offensive at the Olympics. The fact that he represents Australia and our flag acknowledges British ancestry but not his own Indigenous ancestry? Yeah, that’s totally not offensive.

Here’s Hooper on the matter:

I’m Aboriginal, I’m representing my culture not only my country, but all my people as well. I’m very proud and that’s what I wanted to do. I’m happy I did it. I wasn’t really thinking about that. I was just thinking about family and all that. That’s what really matters to me. Look what it just did, it just made my whole performance a lot better with that whole support behind me.

I would love to see the whole country embrace the flag more. It’s not just something for Indigenous athletes and Indigenous people to embrace. All Australians can embrace it. We’re not there yet, but we’re on the way. And I reckon we’re on the way to our sporting teams saying ‘You know what? We’re proud of it’.

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Happy NAIDOC week Australians. More of these gorgeous photos in celebration of the week here.


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