Thursday, May 19, 2011

Why acknowledgment of country is important

In Victoria, the Premier:

has confirmed he will no longer force ministers and public servants to acknowledge traditional Aboriginal land owners at official events.

In a major policy shift that has upset some indigenous leaders, the State Government has dumped a Labor protocol as too politically correct.

You will find the story here, along with a video clip of the Premier's alternative. I think that the Premier is wrong.

Before explaining why, let me outline my previous position in blunt terms. I thought that the acknowledgement was sanctimonious politically correct crap enforced by generally white Australians on a guilt trip. Is that clear enough?

If you look at the comments on the News story, you can see how the commenters are conflicted by the issue.

I no longer hold my original view, although some rote aspects still make me uncomfortable. People are saying it not because they think that it's right, but because it's the thing to do.

  Aboriginal peoples occupied this land for a long term before 1788. The Aboriginal peoples who occupied this land in 1788 did not have the same culture or indeed possibly the same ethnicity as the first small number of human settlers on our land. The world changes. However, they could claim a historical continuity and connection to a very long past.

To my mind, acknowledgement of country is a formal ceremonial affirmation of the connection between modern multicultural Australia and the land's long past. I rarely use the word multicultural, but it is appropriate in this context.

Through the ceremony, Australians who come from many lands recognise, assert if you like, their present connection to Australia's long past. This is our land, and we recognise its history. To Aboriginal Australians of all types, it is an affirmation that modern Australia recognises their past in the long history of human occupation of this continent.     

If we put aside all the overlays that have been attached to the ceremony, I cannot see this as a bad thing.

Australia needs ceremonials. We use them all the time. I think that both acknowledgment and welcome to country are good ones so long as we understand the context and purpose.   


Legal Eagle said...

Agreed Jim. I used to think it was politically correct cant too, and feel angry that there wasn't more concrete recognition of indigenous ownership. But symbols are important.

Anonymous said...

Hi Jim

I had just finished reading this

A brief exerpt:

The other site is the Upper Swan Bridge site where material from the site was carbon dated in 1980 at 38,000 years before present.

So, roughly 200 years after European settlement, we date a bit of evidence of human occupation back 38,000 years.

I reckon ten minutes of time taken to contemplate this occasionally is pretty well spent.


Jim Belshaw said...

KVD, you are right of course, but your comment made me a bit sad. Why sad?

I have known about Wilgie Mia or, for that matter, the Mt william or Moore Creek Axe Factories, the Victorian eel farms or the Brewarrina fish traps for well over 40 years. They were well recorded in the earlier literature.

If you ask the question why Australians today don't know, it's not really linked to the changing study of Australian history, but to the way that Aboriginal studies has been taught.

Most younger Australians have been exposed in schooling to a compulsory slab on the Aborigines to the point they have turned off. The curriculum has left them with some knowledge of black white relations, of injustices down, but with little knowledge of the Aborigines as people or of Aboriginal history. I think that's wrong and, as you know, have been campaigning against it for some time.

Looking at your comment, LE's comment plus some Facebook feedback, if any proposed change to the constitution is to be got through, then the change has to be taken outside current frames and made relevant to current Australians. A guilt trip will fail.