5 Reasons Why ‘The Apology’ Did Nothing to Close the ‘Gap’ of Disadvantage and 3 Ways We Can Change This.
By Shawn Andrews, CEO of Indigicate.
10 years on and the apology to the stolen generations is a demonstration of one Australia’s best practises of tokenistic box ticking. No doubt, the honourable Prime Minister of the day meant what he said, and I believe that he was desperately trying to start a movement of recognition for the atrocities that have been (and still are being) committed to being against the many unceded sovereign nations of Indigenous Australians. The battle for recognition and understanding still exists today and though we are making progress, one must wonder if we will ever step out of the paternal shadow of government restrictions and onto a path of shared reconciliation. A path that includes treaties and empowers Indigenous self-determination.
This article is a snapshot of my experience as an Aboriginal man who owns an education company. A company that focuses on educating non-Indigenous people about history, connection, sovereignty and wellbeing, all from an Indigenous perspective. In the last two years, we have educated over 35,000 students, 3000 Adults, worked with leading educators around the world and spoken at several conferences about the power and beauty of Indigenous culture.
5 Reasons Why ‘The Apology’ Did Nothing and Why The ‘Gap’ of Disadvantage Isn’t Closing…
- We don’t know why we need to apologise
“I didn’t do it, so why should I apologise?” This is a common statement from within our adult education sessions, as well as from the majority of senior high school students. It is often linked to the comment ‘it happened 200 years ago, get over it’. The problem with these statements (aside from the lack of compassion) is that most people who make these comments are doing so from a place of ignorance, fear or guilt. Please understand that Indigenous Australians don’t want you to come up and apologise that your ancestors benefited from the stolen lands and genocide of Indigenous Australians, we only want you to recognise that it happened, acknowledge that it is the cause of the ‘gap of disadvantage’ and work with us to restore our rights and sovereignty. We want a level playing field!
A non-Indigenous woman at a recent Indigicate leadership session spoke up about recognising the guilt that is associated with accepting that ‘we’ have and still are hurting Indigenous people. She said, “an apology without action and understanding will never address the problems, it won’t address our guilt and shame, and it will not help us obtain true equality”.
If we are going to fix the problems that exist today, we will need to make sure that we understand that there is no room for the attitude of ‘it’s not my problem or my fault’. The first step is understanding privilege, the second step is understanding why we (Australia) need to apologise and why we need to acknowledge that the mistakes of the past are still impacting Indigenous Australians today.
- Indigicate has found that 80% of Australians don’t know about closing the gap of Aboriginal disadvantage
As I mentioned, I am an educator and that I have extensive experience working with young people. Over the last two years Indigicate’s staff have asked young people and adults if they know what ‘close the gap is’? The feedback is almost identical in every one of our trainings. 80% have never heard of it, and out of the remaining 20% we are lucky to find one person who can accurately explain what it is and how it works. Sometimes, even I find it hard to explain what it is. Perhaps because it keeps changing. First it was ‘close the gap’ of Indigenous disadvantage by 2020, then it was ‘close the gap’ and now it is ‘closing the gap’. I think we need to ask why the government keeps adjusting the goal posts and why so many people don’t know what the ‘gap’ is. I think the more people who understand the ‘gap’ the more likely we are to close it.
Further information: Google Human Rights Close the gap reports the 2015 report is here
- Self-determination is stopped by short term vision
Have you heard about the fantastic Indigenous ranger’s programs? It’s an amazing program that creates jobs for Indigenous rangers, jobs on country looking after country. It provides countless benefits for the people involved; they have a sense of purpose, regular income, they are role models and they have improved mental and physical health outcomes associated with earning a regular income. Did I mention that they get to maintain the ecosystems of their country, work close to home and reduce welfare dependence? What about the creation of tourism industries? Did I mention that?
When we allow Indigenous Australians to self-determine, we enable them to live happy, meaningful lives. The problem with self-determination is that it is often controlled by short term focused government departments. Their short-term vision has resulted in programs like the ranger’s programs being shut down or significantly reduced. They see dollars and expenditure in the short-term (years) and don’t look at long term benefits (generations) of self-determined programs. This has been and still is common practise by the government. They talk about enabling us to self-determine, they want us to take control of our own destiny, yet they still walk into our communities thinking they know what’s best for us. This is still a form of colonisation.
If we continue to do this we will never close the gap.
- Norway respects Indigenous culture more than we do
Ok, now don’t be alarmed (BE ALARMED). There are schools in Norway teaching Indigenous Australian culture better than us. I know this because I have visited them. When I visited Norway at the end of 2017 to facilitate a workshop with some of their leading teachers I was amazed at how much knowledge they had about us. I spoke with several school groups and was humbled by their respect and knowledge. They knew about genocides, government policies and wait for it… they know about the ‘Gap’. One student asked me if I thought it was possible to ‘close the gap’ in my lifetime, I answered no, and she agreed as she felt it is impossible to undo in 50 years what has taken 220 plus years to create.
Shouldn’t we be the leaders in educating Indigenous Australian culture and Australian History?
Check out how much information this Norwegian website has.
- Stolen generations are still occurring
Most Australians think that the stolen generations finished a long time ago. The reality is, there is another stolen generation occurring right now and it is disguised as ‘children living in care’. In Victoria more than 20% of children living in care are Indigenous children. This is a huge over representation, especially when we consider that Aboriginal people in Victoria account for approximately 2% of the population. There are many reasons why young people end up in care and this is a wider problem that involves more than young people involved.
We should be mortified that this is occurring in Australia and we should do all we can to fix it. Luckily, leading the charge in addressing this issue are great programs like Taskforce 1000 and Always was Always will be Koori Children. Yet more needs to be done to educate Australians as to why this is occurring.
3 Ways We Can Make a Difference
- We must acknowledge the organisations and business who get it
There are many Indigenous organisations who make significant impacts in the lives of Indigenous Australians. We need to keep working with them and ensure that they are well funded for generations to come. There needs to be a shift from short-term vision towards long-term vision and we need to step back and let Indigenous Australians self-determine. There are many non-Indigenous Australian organisations who work with Indigenous people authentically. We need to make sure that we choose them as our suppliers and business partners. We should make non-Indigenous businesses accountable for their reconciliation action plans and ensure that they truly understand Indigenous Australian culture.
Recently, I was speaking at a conference in Canada and I asked the audience to stand up and answer a series of questions relating to how well external organisations understand their culture. It was a simple test, with the aim to keep standing if your organisation has a reconciliation action plan, works well with community and understands community. The last question I asked was ‘Please sit down if your organisation has ever taken money from an organisation that does not respect or understand your culture’, it was a loaded question and I thought all of the audience would sit down. They all sat down except for one Maori Chief and his wife, they had never accepted money from an organisation that did not understand or respect their culture. It was a moving moment, particularly when the room was 1300 people strong of which 95% were Aboriginal people from around the world. That is the type of organisation we should all strive to be.
Click here for a short outtake from that moment of the conference.
- Truthful conversations are the foundations for a better future
The only way we can reach equality is to listen, learn and act. In my life I have sat on both sides of truthful conversations. I remember the time I realised that I was behaving in a sexist manner. The woman who explained it to me had incredible strength and patience, it was that day that I realised the path to women’s equality is bound to men becoming better men and it was men who must change not women. The hardest part about truthful conversations is that the truth often hurts. We don’t like to hear when have done something wrong or that we are part of a system that awards privilege to far too few. My experience has taught me the value in listening and that I must be comfortable changing, especially when change creates love.
If we are to truly close the gap of Indigenous disadvantage then we must be willing to listen to Indigenous people. It won’t be easy, there is so much pain and so little trust. If we do want to change then the first step starts with listening and when we listen we share the pain and build trust.
- Work with us and walk beside us
This should be an easy one to do, yet, time and time again, government and businesses fail at working beside us. The problem with Indigenous Australians is not Indigenous Australians, we don’t need to change, it is non-Indigenous Australians who need to change, they need to work with us and stop thinking they know what’s best for us. One of the biggest issues is when the government or well-meaning people visit our communities, look around and then decide what the community needs. When external people make decisions for us they take away our ability to make our communities stronger and effectively hold us back. When people visit our communities to ‘help’ us they are more often then not causing a disturbance to the community and interrupting the balance of small communities. Please stop coming into our communities for a few weeks and then leave. All you are doing is making yourself feel better and you are not giving us any long-term benefits.
The best thing that can happen to communities is to allow us to manage ourselves. We know what’s best for our communities and we need to be able to self-determine our outcomes. There are organisations and government departments who are working at this. They are trying to empower our communities and our people. Yet time and time again, I see Indigenous Australians welcomed to the table to discuss improving their communities, only being meet with resistance to fully trust that we know what we are doing. If you bring Indigenous Australians into settings where you want them to consult, please listen to them. We need to stop the system of acknowledging their ideas and saying ‘we know what’s best for you’ so we will decide what do for you.