By Janine S White: Culture Editor
That is right, it was not until as recent as 2009 that the Australian Government declared that Indigenous peoples have the same human rights as non-indigenous Australians.
From the European colonisation of Australia in 1788 until today, there have been clashes with the indigenous peoples. In 1915 The Aborigines Protection Amending Act (NSW) allowed the removal of indigenous children from their families. This granted powers to place children in institutions, follow a white man’s culture and forget their own cultural past. Forget the kinship? Forget the belonging? Forget the bonds that kept a group of people thriving from the beginning of civilisation?
In 1969 all the states of Australia had repealed these laws and inquiries were commissioned to understand what had happened and how to reconcile the differences. Following the release of the Bringing Them Home Inquiry 1997, which was a national inquiry into the removal of children from their families, statements were released by political figures to recognise a ‘stolen generation’ and issue an apology.
How could something so extreme take place? Through the interpretation of research. The Australian Government took control of aboriginal children after research was conducted by one anthropologist; Basedow. That is right, not a biologist or a social worker or a medical professional. Not a wide supply of evidence-based research. It was one anthropologists case study, showing that Aboriginal children were not as evolved as Caucasians and could be biologically wiped out within just a few generations, if humans began selective breeding. In this circumstance, a researcher made a theoretical claim which was taken as fact by the public, the authorities and the settlers of Australia.
This is not unusual, any research that is put into the public eye is received by active participants. They read the parts that resonate with them and act according to their understanding. ‘Experts’ are believed to be fully trained and educated in the research that they undertake, to report what is true and write up their findings in the format that they have received their education.
There is no test for whether the author is an expert, yet credibility is given. The public then attempt to analyse this information with metaphorical reasoning. As they do not have the same training and expertise; their own experiences lead their way. In the case of the new setters in Australia, they were met with hostility by the Aboriginals as they took over their land and forced them to a small section of a large continent.
The settlers had never met anyone like the Aboriginal so rumours, beliefs and truths were passed on that the Aboriginals were dangerous, that Australia would never come together as one new nation while the Aboriginals existed. The research, which was emerging, gave an already highly alerted community, the motive to take control of the situation and wipe out their opponents.
The aboriginal tribes were considered as having neglectful social values, no political values and strange cultural values which prevented citizenship, yet they were there first. At the time the research came out and it became possible for power to be taken by non-indigenous peoples, policy implementation that would be for the benefit of the Aboriginal children and speed up evolution was swiftly created. Basedow’s research gave the government the power to initiate a way forward without considering the method, background and analysis. As the government felt powerful enough to never be questioned, no records were kept of the ‘stolen generation’.
Many years and an estimated 100,000 removed children later, the Bringing them home inquiry was commissioned illustrating new stories; aboriginal stories, the other side. The active reception began to embed a new truth; that it was wrong to make aboriginals ward of state just for being different and unknown. After the Bringing Them Home Inquiry, it was recommended that more was done to return the stolen generation to their families, to restore, admire and conserve what was left of the cultures and values. How fickle the world is that it can change its beliefs and actions so easily, not once but twice.
Through collective action the ‘stolen generation’ is gaining power. Being heard and listened to, allowed the public of the whole world to participate, not only in the research that was being carried out, but to build a collective self-realisation and place themselves in a new group called the ‘stolen generation’, building a new social identity. Re-framing who they are from a hostile group of people, to people who have been victimised and deserve justice.
The research that Basedow provided added to the power of the superior non-indigenous government and laws were put into place rapidly to remove Aboriginal children from their families, yet the government have not acted swiftly on recommendations that would provide an equal power relation between indigenous and non-indigenous peoples although the power struggle is not over. It took until 2009 for Australian Aboriginals to be granted Human Rights!