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:
- Why do I need to be welcomed to my own country? I was born here and I am Australian, no more or less than anyone else.
Well, you haven’t even bothered to listen to the words of a welcome to/acknowledgement of country, have you? Doesn’t that make you ashamed of yourself? Hint: not a single one of them says “welcome to Australia” – the welcome to country is localised and specific to the area and the particular indigenous group traditionally associated with the area. Since you appear to not know this very basic thing, ask yourself: what else don’t you know about what these recognition rituals actually say, let alone what they mean?
- We have more people identify as being from China than we have that identify as having Indigenous origins, why don’t we acknowledge the contribution they’ve had to our culture every day (or any of the other nations/races/cultures that form a significant portion of our society?)
Because their ancestors weren’t violently dispossessed of the very land we’re standing on during the acknowledgement/welcome to country? It’s an acknowledgement based on a history of territorial disputes requiring reconciliation, not on cultural contributions. You’re simply being obtuse.
- As far as I can make out, the welcome to country ceremony is a recent development & has no basis in traditional culture.
Nope. The different Aboriginal clans/peoples/tribes have been performing Welcome to “X” Country ceremonies for visiting indigenous people from other localities (“countries”) since long before the settlers came. They only recently started performing this ceremony for whitefellas in their people’s country because until recently whitefellas didn’t want to know. Even if this wasn’t the case, why would it matter unless you want to bar indigenous Australians from creating new and evolving symbolic rituals as our nation works through the process of reconciliation?
- Primarily, because as a non-Indigenous Australian it offends me that non-Indigenous contributions to our country remain unacknowledged in an equivalent manner.
Gee, the fact that the acknowledgement to country is spoken in English isn’t enough cultural acknowledgement for you?
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.