More From Down Under

Traveling in Australia, one can not escape that Country’s struggle to deal with the Aboriginal people and the past conflicts white society has had with the indigenous people. All the lecturers our tour group has met speak of the frustration and to some degree, shame, Australians experience when they reflect upon the past. Hmmm.

Much of Australia’s past (1800s to 1950s) sounds similar to Americas experience with our “first nation” people.  Make promises (treaties), take their land, and then renege on the promises. Indigenous people were told that their ways must give way to the new or face getting wiped out.

Today, aboriginals are the poorest educated, most unemployed, many (but not all) experience drug and alcohol addiction, and too many suffer diseases such as diabetes associated with the white man’s diet. Aboriginals are almost all poor and depend upon government support. The cycle of poverty, despite governments efforts seems well fixed into Aboriginals’ fate.

Aboriginals are jet black in skin color, easy to pick out of any group. Aboriginals, however, who are descendent from mixed race marriages, are less black and future generations will have even less color, making it possible to pass as a white, all other things being equal. Is this important?

Maybe.

The Australian indigenous people are not a monolithic group. Although they are all different from the non-indigenous Australian population, they vary widely amongst themselves and reflect the impact of which parts of Australia they have lived in. For example, in the northeast part of Australia (Queensland), indigenous people have existed with ample food easily available. Consequently, traveling large distances for food or water was less necessary to these Aboriginal tribes.  Where as, in the Northern Australian territory, in the great “bush” with long droughts and little food or water, Aboriginals had to move and move often. In both cases, the indigenous people placed high value on family and cultural customs which bound their families and tribes together. What so wrong with that?

Hmmm.

Australian “Aboriginals” largely remained stone age hunter gatherers even after the arrival of non-indigenous Europeans. While “Aboriginals” are not “stupid” or uneducable, (and make pragmatic decisions around natural cures), indigenous people also make choices which make them less competitive in education or professional pursuits. In today’s society, most indigenous people fall further and further behind in what one would recognize as the modern world. The degree of uncompetitiveness may vary but never the less, too many Northern Territory or Queensland indigenous people fall behind, for example, despite the Government spending large amounts of money to support improvements in Aboriginal life prospects (as judged by non-indigenous Australians).

America has indigenous people too. Is this a comparison Americans should look to?

Hmmm.

The American indigenous person is aka the American Indian. Although different, many American Indians also believe strongly in their heritage and its way of living. And to be sure, these life styles compete poorly with western life styles. Not surprisingly American Indians have important values which could benefit the greater society too. Proper regard for the environment is a good example.

In the US, American Indians, similarly to the Australian Aboriginal have experienced a “lose-lose” experience with white America. Despite much Government spending, American Indians suffer from a cycle of poverty, seemingly unable to break out. The Federal Government spends, the first nation people take, and not much changes.

Hmmm.

Does this cycle remind you of the African American?

African Americans make up disproportionately more people carrying the label “member of the cycle of poverty”. The Federal Government spends money trying to provide the means for African Americans to break into the mainstream, poverty free. Unfortunately, too many find it too difficult to change life styles and while some succeed, too many others fail.

Comparing the Australian aboriginal’s cycle of poverty to the US’ African American community, one finds some African Americans are quite successful by any measure. On the other hand, some African Americans lead both personally and collectively self destructive lives. And most of these sad and destructive life choice decisions were made by the victims themselves. So whose problem is that?

If there is any basis for studying the Australian Aboriginal situation, the message for America might be government policy alone can not break a cycle of poverty, the individual must make the decision to buy in or accept the consequences. For government policy makers, policy cannot be expected to effect social change without those involved as full partners.

Hmmm.

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2 Comments on “More From Down Under”

  1. deb Says:

    Hmmm, indeed. Only last night I was watching a piece about zipcode 32209 in Jacksonville, Florida. It is deemed the most dangerous zipcode in Jacksonville. There are shootings almost daily. The reporter interviewed a 30-something, well-spoken, black pastor who was tired of the violence and called for more employment and more attention to his embattled neighborhood. He said, “We’ve got to get these little things right. We can change our environment, change our education, change our economics and then we change our community.” I thought, yes, those things do need to happen. But, the neighborhood cannot change unless all (or at least all who are growing weary of the violence) work together from within to help their less inclined neighbors to change this culture. The pastor said ” …..If it takes a village to raise a child it’s going to take a community to change this ZIP code.” BTW the pastor is taking steps to improve the area. He hosts job and empowerment fairs. I wish him success. However, as he he said, he can’t do it on his own. It is incumbent on the policy makers to see these concerned individuals’ as full partners, as you suggest, in breaking the cycle and they must in turn see policy makers as full partners as well. No amount of force from the outside will do otherwise, in my humble opinion.

    Thanks for the lesson on Aboriginals. Hope you are enjoying your trip.


    • Deb, I am sure there are no quick fixes for ending “cycles of poverty”. Thinking the issue through is a first step but again not sufficient without the will, desire, and effort of those caught in the poverty cycle. When progressives suggest more money is needed and conservatives say adamantly, “stop funding efforts”, I’m afraid both have it wrong.
      Thanks for the thoughtful comment. (Heading home today)


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