“Government Knows Best”
“They have to be protected against themselves whether they like it or not. They cannot remain as they are…” – Western Australia’s Chief Protector of Aboriginals (late 1930s)
For more than two centuries, the colonial government has denied First Nations people in this country the right to self-determination. This has been a common trend when it comes to colonized countries, and it hasn’t exactly ended well for the ‘native’ populations. Examples of this around the world include the annexation of many African nations, the Americas, the pacific and India just to name a few. Australia is no exception.
The stolen generations is one of the main instances in which the dominant society has deemed it necessary to forcibly remove the right to make decisions from First Nations people, leading to the ripping apart of families, destruction of traditional society and mass assimilation. This Australian government policy of ‘protecting the natives’ was undoubtedly a policy of genocide and has been deemed genocide under international law. Since Kevin Rudd’s apology in 2008, the number of First Nations children in QLD state care alone has almost doubled.
Then there was the practice of rounding up Blacks and dumping them in missions and reserves to be ‘civilized’. The missions/reserves were very much like concentration camps, where First Nations people were banned from speaking their own languages, practicing their own laws, traditions and culture – forced to learn the way of the white man’s religion, tongue and social norms. Rolled out in 2007 by John Howard and renewed for another decade by the current Labour government, the Northern Territory intervention served a similar purpose, forcing First Nations people off their homelands into ‘economically viable’ urban hubs. The Nanny State approach of the Intervention is reminiscent of the oppressive Aboriginal ‘Protection’ Acts put in place by the colonies (first appearing in 1869) and upheld by the State governments until the 1980s.
Founder of the First Nations political party Maurie Japarta Ryan (Gurindji) says intervention into Black affairs has long been a destructive and damaging habit of the colonial authorities in Australia.
One of the best illustrations of how the Australian government refuses to recognize the right of First Nations people to have a say over their own affairs is the fact that this country has NEVER had a Black ‘indigenous affairs minister’. Compare this to Aotearoa (New Zealand) where the current Minister of Maori affairs is actually tangata whenua (indigenous) and this has been the trend since 1899.
What’s more, First Nations peoples continue to live as a third-world people in a first world country. In fact, the United Nations 2013 Human Development Index ranked Australia as having the 2nd highest quality of life in the world while First Nations people were ranked at 122nd.
Ngemba man Jack Beetson (Wilcannia Aboriginal Land Council) believes First Nations peoples live in state of fourth-worldness. “Our story doesn’t exist unless an archaeologist or anthropologist, someone who’s come with a western concept of what we’re talking about, verifies what we’re saying is the truth [e.g. Native Title legislation].”
Gamilaraay man Bob Weatherall (Centre for Indigenous Cultural Policy)
“The governments do know best [when it comes to Black affairs]. They know what’s best for them, that’s what they’re looking after and protecting.”
Birrigubba woman Gracelyn Smallwood (academic & advocate for First Nations health and living standards)
“Evidence based research has clearly identified that in the 230 years white folks have been here, not only have they decimated our population but have also caused transgenerational trauma from the genocide that has gone on here.”
Gunnai man Robbie Thorpe (veteran activist & 3CR radio producer)
“Where’s the evidence of this ‘protection’? We were doing quite well before whitefullas turned up and started looking after our business. Now they’re in control of it, look where we are. If every blackfulla dropped dead today, the next day there’d be a million whitefullas out of work. Our affairs are infested by non-Aboriginal people who make a living out of our misery.”
Wiradjuri woman Jenny Munro (veteran activist, poet & Koori radio host)
“Black affairs is a White arena; they still think they’re the experts and the masters. How do they know what’s best for us, when all they’ve been is hell-bent on killing us, and they’re still hell-bent on killing us with their poverty and policies.”
One of the fundamental flaws in a non-First Nations government attempting to make decisions on behalf of First Nations peoples is that the Western interpretation of what is best for Black people is based on Western ideals/values – MONEY, CONFORMITY, HIERARCHY & IMAGE.
Dr Robert Anderson [Nugi clan of Quandamooka nation from Moorgumpin, also known as Moreton Island] – veteran unionist & campaigner for the rights of First Nations peoples
“My mother was born at a fishermen’s camp on Stradbroke Island and grew up with her Aboriginal mother on the Moongalba Aboriginal Mission. I was born in Brisbane, and my mum always said to me ‘be home by dark, always be home by dark’. I didn’t know till years later that the curfew laws existed in Brisbane Central, where Blacks had to be out beyond the boundaries by dark, hence the Boundary Streets in Fortitude Valley, West End and Camp Hill. Blacks were a ‘problem’ for White people, so we had to be outside beyond the boundaries where we wouldn’t ‘bother’ anybody. It may seem unconceivable that those laws existed, but they were realities for Aboriginal people. Combined with the residue of the Aboriginal Protection Act that governed the lives of Aboriginal people in Queensland for a century, these laws set the tone of how we lived and where we lived. They were troublesome and fearful times, when the ‘Protector’ could have you removed to places like Palm Island, Yarrabah – places that were in fact detention areas for Aboriginal people who dared to question the administration.”