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Cole Baxter is a Noongar man, born and raised on Whadjuk country, with connections to Wilmen and Goreng Country.
What’s the significance of reconciliation week?
A really crucial part of it is highlighting and acknowledging the past and those events in the past that have created tremendously different trajectories for white and Indigenous Australians. A lot of people will be quick to say ‘that’s all in the past, get over it’. The reality is that if you don’t acknowledge the past and see the enormous effect those events had in laying the foundations of systems of oppression, and that those foundations were rooted in white supremacist ideologies, then we’re not going to get to that place of reconciliation where Indigenous people have a fair chance. That’s the most important thing.
If you are a non-Aboriginal person, that’s not to say you haven’t had hardships in your life, but when you are an Aboriginal person, the structures of life have deliberately been set up to disadvantage you and advantage another group of people.
For example, even today, there are Aboriginal becoming the first generation in their family to graduate high school and commence a university degree. When that kind of issue is the status quo for an entire group of people, it sets up a lot of precedents that disadvantage those people and they start out at a lower rung.
Acknowledging events from the past that range from just ‘pitfalls’ to absolute atrocities and how those atrocities were deliberately designed to create oppressive systems, and how many of those still exist today, is key.
What are some of the biggest issues First Nations people face today?
The stolen generation and the forced removal of Aboriginal children has caused so many issues we see today. The 1905 Act and the policies that came from it were created so that colonisers had permission to steal children in order to dismantle culture and break down Aboriginality and Aboriginal growth, and spread white ideologies. Traces of this still exist today. The CPFS (Child Protection and Family Support) is essentially the remnants of what the 1905 Act was, but now it’s just fragmented into a different body with a different name.*
If you don't tear down that structure to create a new one, and just allow those old institutions to devolve into that we have now, you’re serving the same initial idea. People talk about the ‘Stolen Generation’ and how it was such a bad thing, without realising that forced removal is still happening more than ever.
Another big thing is that these institutions still use ideas from white colonial society as benchmarks for what a family unit should be. For example, a big justification for child removal in a lot of cases is the notion of ‘overcrowding’ in a house, because ‘everyone has their own room’ is the standard for white families. But if you consider that many Aboriginal families have been forcibly dismantled, and many still don’t know where their connections are, then sticking together and having lots of people in the house is a strength and source of connection. That’s just one example of perpetuating systemic racism.
Many past policies created to dismantle Aboriginal family and cultural connections were told to be for Aboriginal people’s own good and to this day have ongoing effects. That has manifested in such vast distrust of the government that it’s no wonder that so many people now still don’t trust it. It's a survival tactic. If the government or individuals want people to ‘get over it’, then truth telling and acknowledging the past and the intrinsic role it’s played in creating the present is so important.
How can someone be a good ally to First Nations people?
A key thing is that you don’t want to speak up for anyone else, but rather stand up next to them and let their voice be heard. However, sometimes there’s an absence of that voice in the room, because there’s only 3% of Australia that’s Aboriginal. Because there is such a big dialogue amongst non-Aboriginal people that is just false and horrible, sometimes you need to be the voice that disagrees. That kind of thing goes a long way.
If that voice is missing, share a voice and an opinion that belongs to an Aboriginal person. Echoing it can be a valuable way to show support.
More practical things you can do include:
· Go to rallies to do with social/civil rights issues.
· Let someone know when they’re saying something racist.
· Support blak businesses.
· Have conversations with people who have different opinions to you.
· Talk to elders, listen to older Aboriginal people for knowledge and guidance.
· Assess your life’s actions and make sure your views and goals for your future and the future you’d like to live in align with said actions.
· If you’re angry about issues that affect Aboriginal people, be angry. But realise that it is a privilege for non-Aboriginal Australians to be angry. When Aboriginal people express appropriately felt anger it is often seen by mainstream Australia as playing out a negative stereotype.