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?
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?
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?
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.
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.