Uluru in central Australia is one of the sacred sites of the Pitjantjatjara Anangu people. Photo: Jim C
Opinion | World

Kenan Malik: Indigenous peoples face silence and romanticization in Australia

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in Australia are seeking recognition of indigenous rights after issuing the Uluru Statement from the Heart this year. An admitted outsider, author Kenan Malik wonders whether anything will change, arguing that indigenous peoples are typically ignored or romanticized in Australian society:
The demand for recognition and a distinct Indigenous voice emerges, in part, from the historical denial of both. Eighteenth-century British colonizers created the myth of the “terra nullius,” the empty land, to deny the presence of people who had inhabited it for some 65,000 years. When Indigenous groups fought to protect their lands, colonists responded with the utmost savagery. Those who survived the massacres were turned into nonpersons; until 1967, the Constitution barred the counting of “aboriginal natives” for the census, erasing them from the public record.

This history was for a long time suppressed in Australian memory. Not till the 1980s did scholars such as Henry Reynolds and Lyndall Ryan begin to address it. This led to the so-called history wars of the 1990s and 2000s. Conservative historians like Keith Windschuttle dismissed the critical, revisionist accounts of what became known as the “black armband” view of history and attempted to maintain the old story of Australia.

The conservatives largely lost the debate. Today, for instance, every public event, whether an academic conference or a sporting match, is preceded by an acknowledgment of the traditional owners and of the land on which the event is taking place.

Yet for all the acknowledgment of the past, the material disadvantage suffered in the present remains untouched. Life expectancy for Indigenous Australians is 10 years less than for the non-Indigenous population. The unemployment rate is nearly four times higher; the child mortality rate more than twice so. Indigenous Australians are incarcerated at a higher rate than any other group on earth, making up 3 percent of the Australian population but 27 percent of adult prisoners.

Read More on the Story:
Kenan Malik: The New Voice of Indigenous Australia (The New York Times September 11, 2017)

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Peter d'Errico: Asserting sovereignty under the watchful eyes of domination (August 17, 2017)
Steven Newcomb: The Doctrine of Discovery is still alive and kicking (March 20, 2017)