Sir – The Australian recently ran a front page story (24/9/12) regarding government money not hitting the ground in the Aboriginal communities for which it has been generally allocated.
Newly elected NT MLA Bess Price’s call for Traditional Owners to step up to the negotiation table is sound. In my opinion, too much government grant money is dispersed by people who have little idea of the inner workings of Indigenous cultural obligation and as The Australian suggests, much of it builds a consultancy empire interstate.
This is no surprise as it’s been happening for decades and is known, somewhat unfairly at times, as the ‘Aboriginal Industry’, but mostly it is accurate – millions of dollars have been imparted to people whose occupations range from tradies to bureaucrats and through many levels, sometimes well-intentioned but ignorant, other times involved in a shameless rip-off.
Of course, there are also many sincere and competent people working productively, delivering essential services such as policing, power and water, roads, maintenance, education, health and child welfare programs who are in no sense just doing so in order to make money, but history suggests that we are slow to wake-up to the benefits of cross-cultural education between the First Australians, who know this country better than anyone and the dominant cultural cookie-cutter.
To get the Traditional Owners to participate and play a greater part in development seems to be a tough call, given that their close relatives have been massacred, shot at and whipped, while being dispossessed of the ancestral country on which they forged a culture much admired by those with a degree of sensitivity. In more recent times, they’ve been sidelined, ignored, oppressed, stood over, poisoned by alcohol and generally herded into a corner with the fiercest race card imaginable. It might take more than flowers and chocolates to get them to believe that they might be able to take control of their lives again.
It’s said that you don’t miss your water ‘till your well runs dry. Indigenous cultures, so intimately connected to the natural world, will be sadly missed by generations of whitefeller children now studying them in Australian schools, but there is a chance to reverse this process of eliminating Aboriginal society: we could appoint Traditional Owners to positions of power in the government planning process, whereby they influence the purse strings and this may make a real difference. Every other policy string has been played, so why not this one?