The news of the week in #Indigenous Affairs is the annual report card on Closing the Gap. Julia Gillard states that she is disappointed with the progress is addressing #indigenous disadvantage; I’m certain that anyone who shares their life with an #indigenous person or organization will disagree with those sentiments. But who is to the blame for this lack of progress? Successive governments have failed to place positive actions in place that address the most fundamental issues required to close the gap, issues such as the ridiculously high incarceration rates, questionable behaviour of large corporations that allow them to thumb their noses at the processes that are meant to protect #indigenous heritage, and ongoing marginalization by law enforcers. The Yindjibarndi will attest to the manipulation of supposedly independent advisors; Blak and Black and no doubt many other groups will attest to the marginalization of those who identify as #indigenous.
In all the discussions that have been held over the past several years, the thing that strikes me most is how #indigenous people do not wish to be dictated to, and I can’t say I blame them. They look to the non-indigenous population and wonder why they are singled out for income management under the Northern Territory Intervention, when other unemployed residents on welfare are not treated similarly. The rate of incarceration has doubled in the past twenty years despite any efforts that may have come out of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. Look at the recent discourse about problems in Bourke, a political ping-pong that will no doubt be pushed out come August as an example of the “Aboriginal problem”.
Most notably in the Prime Minister’s Closing the Gap report this week, was her “real fear” about the so-called “rivers of grog” that she believes will threaten #indigenous communities in the Northern Territory and Queensland. On this issue, I must agree with Premier Newman – alcohol consumption is a big problem everywhere, not just in #indigenous communities.
Spend a little time in your local emergency department, any town you like, on a Friday or Saturday night. From about 11 o’clock, the piss-heads start dribbling through the doors. The worst cases will be those victims, not all of them inebriated, who have been king-hit, their heads slamming into the pavement or a wall, often with immediately horrific effects, sometimes dying, often causing long term damage. Then there’s the glassings, the punch ups, the women who are abused. Those who are so inebriated as to not feel pain will turn up the next day when their hangovers kick in and the blood alcohol level drops far enough for them to realize that their ankle / wrist / shoulder hurts and maybe they should see a doctor.
I can’t tell you how many PFOs (pissed and fell over) or victims of alcohol fueled injuries I have tended to over how many years. I can’t tell you how many have died, how many have suffered permanent damage. I can tell you that, anecdotally, the rate of alcohol induced injuries and violence has increased and #indigenous Australians by no means hold the copyright on such a problem.
The #indigenous communities in the north of the country, where led by responsible leaders who know their people and culture, should be allowed the right to care for their own people. Heaven knows non-indigenous Australia has made a meal of the task so far. There must be acceptance that self-determination includes each person’s right to choose how to live each day. If the twenty-year old university student, a child of European parents, who drinks himself blotto and passes out in the gutter is seen as just being a bit of a lad, then the same must apply to his black brother. Ah, but no, contemporary Australia sees the drunk black man as pitiful, someone to be saved, and if not saved, then quarantined from the rest of society in case he harms someone else.
This country as a whole has a problem with alcohol. Our youth binge drink, the police in each state are grappling with the consequential violence and the harm to individuals is increasing. I don’t want to see violence in #indigenous communities increase, but I also don’t want mainstream Australia to continue to treat our countrymen with such paternalism. #Indigenous leaders know each of their communities; they should be allowed to discuss and implement the decisions, then monitor and help their own communities grow. This after all, is what self-determination is about. It is also what #idlenomore is about, #indigenous men and women taking control of their own futures, their own people, their own land. Non-indigenous Australians can and should support their friends, but they should never try to tell them how to live their lives. I don’t like it, Julia Gillard would not like it, you would not like it. And if in us each making our own decisions we choose poorly, then we live with the consequences, make efforts to resolve the issues and move forward in a new direction once again. That is the essence of self-determination and growth. Anything else is paternalism.