Letters to Eureka Street

Putting people first

Jack Waterford’s article, ‘Tough times ahead’ (Eureka Street, December 2004) does not do justice to the impact of the historical, structural and institutional racism and oppression that Indigenous peoples have had (and continue) to experience in this country. Nor does it do justice to the many success stories in which Indigenous peoples have risen above this oppression, resisting passive welfare. To support the Liberal government’s jump for quick fix solutions appears to once again blame the victim for their circumstances and for their cultural deficiency—a popular stance of all previous governments throughout the 20th century.

Indigenous people and their children will never be free to move forward in this country and fully partake in the education and economy until non-Indigenous politicians and governments of the day take into consideration the legacy and impact of the historical policies that have silenced and oppressed the First Nations Peoples. Politicians need to begin a process of listening to Indigenous voices, stories and experiences, handing over the reins by allowing Indigenous people to be the creators of their own freedom.
Lynn Webber
Hackney, WA

Finding a meeting place

Jack Waterford’s article ‘Tough times ahead’ (Eureka Street, December 2004) acknowledges, to some degree, the government’s paternalistic, coercive and even discriminatory policy on Aboriginal Australians. However, he seems to support this policy for the sake of outcomes, rather than the ‘long haul’ option of empowering Aboriginal people in decision making for themselves. Punitive measures to force Aboriginal people to act on their children’s behalf, in order to obtain welfare, will only further entrench dependency.

Community control is imperative for Aboriginal people in order to develop self-esteem and become more active in their health, educational and social needs. Decentralisation of bureaucracy and a focus on regional leadership would encourage Aboriginal leaders and community elders to negotiate what policies will work for their area or community. ‘One size doesn’t fit all’ for Aboriginal communities. There are many different language groups in the country, each with their own network of relationships—not one single population that needs to be ‘dealt’ with. These relationships are paramount in determining the policies that will work for different communities.

Symbolism, apologies and reconciliation are vital in maintaining the awareness of Aboriginal issues. Michael Long’s recent walk to Canberra to meet with the Prime Minister will be remembered, along with other symbolic displays, such as the march over the Sydney Harbour bridge. If Aboriginal people are to become more active in self-determination, punitive measures will only provide short term answers. The government must be prepared to develop sensitivity to, and relationships with, Aboriginal leaders and truly empower them. Only then will outcomes be altered from the grass roots in a sustained and integrated way.

Anne Dooley
Clifton Hill, Vic





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