Noel Pearson v. Abbott: welcomes to country and acknowledgment of traditional owners

It’s uplifting to stand on ceremony :today’s Weekend Australian has published a response from Noel Pearson to Abbott’s dogwhistling about “the Rudd Government’s obsession with acknowledging traditional Aboriginal land owners at functions”. It’s a stinging rebuke, and I’m very glad he’s made it: there’s a whole raft of problems with Abbott’s criticism but it needs an indigenous leader who’s been praised by Abbott et al in the past to make the racist assumptions underlying the remarks crystal clear. He also addresses Abbott’s “tokenism” charge (ably rebutted elsewhere this week as “of course it’s tokenistic – all gestures of respect are – so Abbott’s point is?”). Here’s some of it:

My view is that such a reconciliation is not only possible but necessary. Settlement of recognition will include many things: land issues and connection to land, solutions to economic and social issues, language rights and many other things.

There will be symbolism as well.

In each of these spheres, there is going to be compromise. The things Aboriginal Australians have won, the acknowledgments they have received, the concessions they have extracted from the all-powerful colonisers are few and fragile.

What we have managed to win back are remnants, and this will remain the case when the process of settlement is completed.

It is for this reason that I react instinctively against a debate about welcomes to country and acknowledgment of traditional owners.

Some acknowledgments may have been incorrect or tedious or silly or tokenistic.

But all that is unimportant. There is no problem with acknowledging traditional owners that is so big that anybody needs to make it a big issue, let alone be miserable about it.

We all see and hear things that make us cringe sometimes. The sensible thing is to be gracious and let other people do what they think is proper. You don’t have to do it yourself if you don’t agree.

It is not a bad development in Australian culture that traditional owners are acknowledged and that there is a welcome to country.

If you can’t sit through those few minutes or few seconds it is unlikely that you are only annoyed with the occasional political correctness or silliness of it.

It is legitimate to criticise specific instances of Aboriginal policies or Aboriginal behaviour, but it is highly problematic to make sweeping criticisms of the extent of Aboriginal Australians’ wins in any broad area, even a seemingly peripheral one such as symbolic recognition. If you do that you cross a line.

Acknowledgment of Australia’s indigenous people is only a fraction of what it should be.

It is wrong to start a debate in any indigenous policy area about whether Australia should move from a low level to an even lower level. Doing so contributes only to the perception that the low level is an excessive level and we need to cut down on these excesses because the pendulum has swung too far.

There is no area of reconciliation where the pendulum has ever swung too far; not in land rights, not in symbolism, not in official use of languages, not in government provisioning of opportunity.

There’s been a long thread at Larvatus Prodeo about Abbott’s slam against the acknowledgement of traditional owners which I’ve only just caught up with (so haven’t responded to these comments in thread). The three points came right up front from the usual suspects culture warriors that just made me go “huh” are these:

The pseudonymous cows say moo summed it up best at LP, I think:

The formal recognition of country implies that aboriginal people have rights in that country, to speak for that country and carry out activities that are recognised by others in that country. Accordingly they have existing (and surviving) Aboriginal identity and culture. It is this that achingly grinds some of the libs so. These blackfellas should just go and get a job and forget all that stuff and all will be sorted. Australia is pretty much thirty years behind other nations in acknowledging first nation people.

Categories: culture wars, ethics & philosophy, indigenous, language

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2 replies

  1. That piece of Pearson’s is exceptionally good, Tigtog; he really teases out all the issues. The line that ‘Aborigines have too much of X’ — when X is an empty set to be filled with whatever the accuser happens to have in mind — is particularly telling.
    .-= skepticlawyer´s last blog ..You gotta laugh at yourself, sometimes =-.

    • Agreed – that’s the standout line for me too. It especially seems to be the one that nails Desipis over at LP right on his pointy head. Mind you, obtuse intransigence about how recognition of special disadvantage is somehow special rights and oughta be stopped has been that commentors stock-in-trade since he first appeared.

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