I fully understand this is going to be a touchy subject. And I welcome any opposing views contrary to the questions and opinions I'm about to raise. I'm a white male in my late 20's and yes I realise this means my views aren't considered to be the most valid when it comes to Indigenous affairs and the wider BLM movement, and rightly so I suppose. But for the sake of context, I was born in the Northern Territory and raised in and around the remote indigenous communities of Northern Australia. I have spent my entire working career in said Indigenous communities and so too has my family and many friends. So I'm hoping a few of you Aussies on this subreddit might appreciate an opinion coming from outside the Sydney/Melbourne urban bubble. I'll do my best to provide source links to any statistics mentioned in this piece.
I suppose I'll start at the source of my gripe. The Black Lives Matter protests in Australia are largely centered around a statistic that claims 432 Indigenous people have died in police custody since 1991; A number which is unfortunately true. While this figure appears shocking on the surface, especially considering Indigenous Australians only make up around 3% of Australia's Population, the statistic fails to specify the cause of those 432 deaths. This misleads the media, protesters and indeed the wider public into believing that police brutality must be the default cause of those custodial fatalities. An in depth look at these deaths reveal this is simply not the case. There have been around 2000 total Australian deaths in custody between 1991-2019. Indigenous people make up 25% of custodial populations (25% of the 2000 deaths would equal 500 indigenous deaths in custody). Of the 432 Aboriginal deaths since 1991, 81% of deaths were due to either suicide, medical conditions mostly related to alcohol abuse, Ischaemic heart disease, Diabetes, chronic lower respiratory disease, or assault by other inmates. These unfortunate outcomes are hardly surprising to anyone who has spent time in remote Indigenous communities. https://aic.gov.au/file/6683/download?token=OsD1BpKh
If you look at the leading causes of death in Aboriginal populations outside of custodial settings, they align with those in custodial settings. In effect, being in prison does not alter cause of death to any large degree, individuals merely die in prison as a result of being there when they die. In fact you could say Indigenous people are safer in custody than in their own communities, especially in the Northern Territory and northern WA. (Again, not particularly surprising to myself and my peers in remote health services) https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/life-expectancy-death/deaths-in-australia/contents/leading-causes-of-death
On a side note, the 35 year average (1981-2016) of Australian Deaths in Custody finds that there were 0.23 fatalities per 100 indigenous people in custody while there were 0.26 fatalities per 100 Non-Indigenous people in custody. Meaning indigenous people are slightly less likely to die in custody than Non-Indigenous Australians. Source: Australian Institute of Criminology (https://aic.gov.au/file/6684/download?token=dgR_6UqQ)
I know many will find offence in sentences such as "it's hardly surprising to anyone who has spent time in remote Indigenous communities", which may appear ignorant on the surface. But please trust me. In places such as Wedeye, Ngukurr, Tennant Creek, Katherine, Roebourne, Fitzroy crossing and many others, the violence, especially against women and the sexual abuse of children is on a scale which is almost too hard to comprehend. Take the small town of Roebourne, WA for example. A town where 90% of primary school aged children have been sexually abused. And consider that's only the reported cases, within a culture ruled by silence and a rigid 'family-first' structure. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/australasia/roebourne-western-australia-paedophile-epidemic-child-sex-abuse-simon-mcgurk-a7951946.html?fbclid=IwAR3lXwZP6ybkZ-SBd_UQ1xtK5Hv9P25NTzKnZWym7iXb7j3_8EWdZdCyCRo
Now that the brunt of the macro statistics are out of the way. I'll try and delve into a more anecdotal area. My own parents currently work in remote education and have done so for many years all over the Northern Territory. Mostly catering to primary school aged Indigenous kids. Right now at the very school one of my parents works at (I cant say where for obvious reasons, but I will say it is located near Darwin), the faculty are reporting at least one case of sexual abuse of a child every single week. Keeping in mind this school only houses no more than 100 students at a time. Most of the time nothing is done about it because the cycle of abusive in this particular community has become almost normalised. My peers and I believe the real reason many of the abuse cases are swept under the rug is because abuse reports typically result in the child being removed from their abusive surroundings (ei. their family) and no upper government department official wants the legacy of a 2nd stolen generation on their resume. Most of the time the child is sent to neighboring community to live with uncle or aunty where the cycle of abuse is almost guaranteed to continue.
There is so much more I feel I need to say on this topic if I had the time. Including the brutal violence against women and children I have witnessed with my own eyes and felt powerless to do anything about. Not counting the countless times my parents and I (and so many other government and contract workers) have been beaten, attacked and downright fearing for our lives despite continuing to dedicate life's work to aiding these places when it feels like there is absolutely no hope for the future. I'm 6'1 and can handle myself alright these days but those places in particular give me the absolute creeps. It has to be seen to be believed.
I know what you're all thinking. The tragic Indigenous disparity is due to past mistreatment by colonial powers. While there's no denying a large part of it is a result of past mistreatment. At some point there has to be a serious, nation-wide conversation about the unhealthy aspects of Aboriginal culture, which I strongly believe plays a significant role in the poor outcomes in some of these places. The highly patriarchal nature, the revenge culture, the elder glorification, the 'payback' rituals and pre-pubescent 'promise wifes' (in which rape is customary law) are objectively damaging aspects of Aboriginal culture, and serve only to keep people with bad intentions and detrimental views in a place of cultural authority. Young Aboriginal men get absolutely no respect, and young Aboriginal women less than none. Their opinions aren't valued at all nor are they allowed to speak their mind, and so these small, isolated communities never culturally evolve, or experience positive cultural dynamism. There are so many incredible traditional customs that should be promoted and integrated into a truly unique Australian culture, with a national identity based around our first peoples but the above parts have to be left by the way-side first. (Of course these aren't the only issues affecting remote communities; self-agency, racism, policy limitations, job opportunities and access to healthcare all play a role in what is a highly complex, national disaster).
As an aside I think there is a problem with the way Aboriginal history and culture is portrayed in our society. A lot of good intentioned urbanites have a view of Aboriginal people sitting around for 50,000+ years singing kumbaya while they gently meander through the undergrowth in some semi-nomadic paradise. This is A doe-eyed view of Aboriginal culture and history, where people think music, poetry, traditional hunting and ritualised sharing was the only thing going on in Australia for millennia upon millennia. In reality Aboriginal people were surely prone to the same grim customs as all people; genocides, wars, slavery, human sacrifice, barbaric punishments, the eradication of species and environmental destruction (Obviously not on the level we've sadly become so accustomed to today). Outside Sub-Saharan Africa, all of us, including indigenous Australians, are an invasive species after all. In Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory, a study of warfare among Aboriginal people in the late-19th century found that over a 20-year period no less than 200 out of 800 men, or 25% of all adult males, had been killed in inter-tribal warfare. A rate which is similar to that of tribal/nomadic peoples all over the world.
Racists love to use the lack of technological advancement in Aboriginal culture as an insult towards Aboriginal people. While on the Flip side, well intentioned non-racists typically attribute the lack of technological advancement as a positive about living in harmony with nature. When in reality, it's simply the geographic lottery which determines all. The Australian continent simply lacks the environmental conditions to allow a large, dense population of non-nomadic people to thrive. Rainfall is too unreliable over too much of the continent, soil fertility is next to nothing (apart from a few small coastal strips along the south east coast), but the biggest factor is the lack of native animals available for domestication. The Dingo was brought over from South East Asia around 4000 years ago, but when there's no farming or agriculture for a domestic dog to work and defend, the dog becomes pretty much useless to humans (other than being a companion), then return to the wild and eventually naturalise to the Australian biota over a few millennia.
It is damaging to modern Aboriginal culture not to seek out and explore these things otherwise we are portraying Aboriginal people as simple, child-like and one dimensional. That a culture would be so dramatically different to every other that has ever existed makes no sense and creates an utterly unrealistic history and denies an entire people access to a dynamic past that's worth exploring in great depth. I think there needs to be a new narrative that focuses on the ancient trials and tribulations of first peoples, their innovations, battles, religions and most importantly their triumphs and their failings. Through that we'll be able to nurture a greater sense of pride and appreciation for Aboriginal culture in all Australians.
I suppose my wider question to this community would be this. What can be done about the wider issues facing indigenous people in remote communities? And what are the BLM protesters thoughts on said issues? Because from where I (and most of my colleagues) sit, it honestly looks as though there is no solution. The future sadly appears very grim despite all the amazing work being done and the billions of federal dollars that are being thrown at it every year.
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