Much had been made this week in Australia about the lavish praise heaped on PM Kevin Rudd by former US President Bill Clinton. I think this is actually a backhanded compliment, and Australians should really look more to the allusion rather than the flattery.
Clinton commented that Australian politicians know a whole lot more about the US and American history than they know about their own country Australia. This is a sad sorry fact and ultimately a tragic indictment of the stance of Australian governments and policy-makers in relation to indigenous affairs. Australian politicians have generally turned a blind eye on Aboriginal issues.
Clinton related how Rudd “proceeded to describe in excruciating detail Washington's strategy to hold New York in the revolutionary war."
If only politicians including Prime Ministers also study, to enough depth and detail, the plight of Aborigines including: from dispossession through to the doctrine of terra nullius, state-sanctioned violence, stolen generations, the ‘freedom rides’ for indigenous rights, the continuing marginalisation discrimination and disadvantage, to the unacceptable life expectancy and lack of respect and dignity accorded to Aborigines, etc; perhaps they would not be too quick to deny the dark stains in the parchment of modern Australian history, like John Howard did in denying the demand for a national apology and the extensive injustices suffered by Aboriginal people, by dismissively calling it the ‘black armband’ view of history.
By the same token American presidents should know that America is founded on, and earlier blazed a similar path as Australia’s: the massacre of millions of indigenous people, dispossession of their lands, and the enslavement of millions of African people to work that land, etc.
On a similar vein, schoolchildren everywhere should be taught more about their history than anyone else’s. This would put a stop to incidents disparaging the minorities.
The unsavoury episodes in the Philippines involving Carlo Romulo and Cindy Pangilinan would not have occurred with appropriate education. I have not opened a Philippine history book in years, and i stand corrected, but i would like to know that there is a chapter or two, devoted to the heroic deeds of indigenous Filipinos in the Cordilleras in resisting the attempts by various colonisers to conquer them. But until our children know more about the proud Igorot peoples than what they hear from the streets, then i’m afraid that insulting remarks against Igorots will once again rear its ugly head in the future, unwittingly or not. I would like to know also that Filipino children learn more about Bonifacio than Washington, or of Carlos Garcia more than Kennedy, and what they stood for.
We should all know that the concept of freedom is not a Western invention, but is rather inherent in human societies and has deep roots within traditional cultures. In 1521 Lapu-Lapu fought the Spaniard colonisers to uphold Filipino freedom well before any of the great revolutions in the West. That same desire to be free has sustained Igorot identity and the fierce pride in being an Igorot.
Prejudice can never be totally eliminated. Even Barack Obama had to remind Americans, though in a light-hearted manner on the Letterman show on TV, that he was black before he became president. But if efforts are not exerted to educate the masses, including schoolchildren and politicians, the more ignorance and bigotry will prevail resulting in undesirable consequences.
In Australia, some progress has been made with Indigenous peoples. With the Formal Apology to the Stolen Generations or “sorry” speech by Rudd last year, and more recently his (Rudd's) Labor Government's decision to reverse the position of the previous Howard administration and sign the UN declaration of indigenous peoples’ rights, things are seemingly on the right track (Australia, along with Canada, New Zealand and the United States, originally voted against the Declaration in September 2007).
There is optimism that the Obama Administration is also considering a change of policy and direction for the US, though this cannot come soon enough.
So good on ya Kev for some positive results so far. Congratulations on getting Australia in the G20, and in actively pursuing a position on climate change preparatory to Copenhagen. Let’s see you do more for the original Australians. If you can put your head down to learn Mandarin and Washington's strategy in the revolutionary war, then you can knuckle down and do something about our Aboriginal brothers and sisters.
Then we can keep cheering: Aussie Aussie Aussie oi oi oi
Or will it be as Marley wailed: woy yoy yoy, woy yoy-yoy yoy...
26 September 2009