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Being Positive

Mick Gooda, when discussing Aboriginal affairs has stated that “While it’s easy to litanise the disadvantages, the injustices, the denial of rights and the oppressions, we must not forget the progress.” Further, Tom Calma has stated that “I’m a glass half full person.” I think people like Mick and Tom are in the majority when it comes to Aboriginal affairs. There has been much progress and we should acknowledge it and build on it. While reporting the negative stories, the injustices, etc. (which need to be reported on), let’s not forget to publish and promote the positive stories. When we recognise success, we are then able to replicate it and instil hope in those who are lacking in it. There are many outstanding success stories (too many to list in any one forum) where Aboriginal people have demonstrated that they are the best of the best.

The current state of affairs for Aboriginal people is best summed up by Australia’s first published Aboriginal historian, James Wilson-Miller, who is recorded as saying “Australia is far better than it once was for Aboriginal people but not as good as it might become.” Therefore, our progress can be better.

There are a few barriers slowing progress, but I will focus on only one here. By focusing on one, I am not suggesting that it is necessarily the most important barrier, but it is one that is often overlooked.

Martin Luther King noted, “In every movement toward freedom, some of oppressed prefer to remain oppressed.” Certainly times have changed since King made his fabulous speeches, but I think what he said back then still applies to a degree today. There are parts in Australia where it would be difficult (though not impossible) to not feel oppressed. I am talking about locations, often in remote parts of Australia, where there is high unemployment, alcohol abuse, and other dysfunction. In these locations, there is the need for significant and radical change.

But there are Aboriginal people in other parts of the country where there are many opportunities, yet they continue to feel oppressed. Who is oppressing them? I said earlier, that I believe that the people who hold a positive view like Mick and Tom are in the majority, so why are there still many people who feel oppressed? Perhaps one reason why people may choose to remain oppressed is because the people have been brainwashed with the notion that anyone identifying as Aboriginal is the target of racist government policies, or at the very least, incompetent ‘culturally insensitive’ programs/policies. At the end of the day, it can be very easy to blame a faceless impersonal government for just about anything. It is easy to play the blame game when you don’t have to be held accountable. But the blame game is not helpful. It may be human nature, but the blame game will not solve the problems facing Aboriginal Australians today – rather it tends to perpetuate them and prevents the necessary internal changes that will enable them to focus on the areas where real gain can be achieved, such as jobs, education, and health.

There are some publications and blog writers who seem to delight in publishing only stories that paint a picture of Aboriginal people being totally helpless and at the total control and mercy of the government or victims of colonisation and racism. When Aboriginal people are constantly subjected to doom and gloom stories, will they feel empowered or disempowered? Do such stories help raise hope or destroy it? I cannot help but think that an Aboriginal person living in poverty or feels hopeless, will, after reading those stories and think “I am doomed, nobody cares, and life is not worth living.” Could the constant bombardment of such negative stories contribute to the high rates of suicide amongst Aboriginal people?

There is a definite role for an Indigenous focussed media, and it has been great. But any responsible agency should report the good, the bad, and the ugly in Indigenous affairs, and do so objectively, and not to promote a conspiracy theory.

I would like to end this article on a positive note, with that hope that by doing so, we will be motivated to be our best, and perhaps more importantly, help our fellow citizens, neighbours, friends, and family members, be the best they can. The following was written by two of my colleagues, who each have a long history in helping Aboriginal people reach their full potential:

“Even more salient, there are now many Aboriginal Australians, … who despite adversity have triumphed, competed, and succeeded in diverse mainstream settings – they have seen and lived the way to success and have flourished as a result thereof. As a nation we have much to learn and gain from empirically synthesising and analysing what these successful Aboriginal Australians, and other Indigenous people, identify as drivers of their success”. (Craven & Parbury, 2013)

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