Across Continents

Ken's Blog

First Nations

September 30th, 2011

I was thirsty. We’d been told Kluane Wilderness Village was closed. Another First Nation venture that had failed. Maybe not their fault. Empty motel units, doors ajar, grass, small shrubs taking root. On the other side of the road a small garage, set back from the highway. Shabby cars and an old tow truck parked askew outside.

Thought I could see a drinks dispenser by the garage. Told Mike I’d like to make a brief stop. We were quickly running out of daylight to find somewhere to camp, but I really needed some fluids. Couldn’t quite make out his reply, but he followed me, albeit reluctantly it seemed.

A couple of old men were tinkering with cars in a poorly lit workshop. At first I was ignored, then one said, quite abruptly, "We’re closed". I asked if there was a shop nearby, already suspecting I knew the answer. "Twenty miles. Burwash Landing" he replied. More neutral tone this time.

As we rode away Mike explained these were probably First Nation people – indigenous Canadians – elaborating a little on their history, their place in society. I was intrigued. Some remarkable similarities – in terms of integration – with indigenous Australians – the Aborigines, the Torres Strait Islanders. Very striking.

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Acceptable Apartheid

May 10th, 2011

"At least we haven’t killed all ours" she quipped. Referring to the indigenous peoples. Bit blunt. But she did have a point. Instead, until not so long ago, imposing restrictions on them. Quite a few. Exclusions that bore an uncanny resemblance to Apartheid. But a more "acceptable" form. Avoiding the wrath of the international community. Condemnation of others.

Curious why Australia ever got away with this sort of behaviour. Perhaps because most early settlers were of English descent. Supposedly bringing with them a sense of fair play. Surely imposing restrictions – controls – because they were necessary? And then there’s numerical superiority. Far more immigrants than indigenous peoples. Much easier to keep Aborigines out of sight. It’s a big country. Which helps.

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Difficult questions

February 10th, 2011

Two things intrigue me about Australia. The continent’s flora and fauna – stinger trees, kangaroos, koalas, crocodiles, possums, brown snakes, deadly spiders, even penguins – a pretty unique ecosystem. And the Aboriginal people. The indigenous race. And it’s understanding the latter, their place in today’s society, that’s proving to be particularly tricky.

Need to get past the digiridoos. The drunks slumped about in the centre of Cairns. The altercations. The alcohol restrictions imposed in the indigenous reservations. Even the telling nature of Aboriginal English. Expressions such as sitting about money to describe State handouts. Objectivity is playing hard to get.

Searching for the positives, allowing me to put together a suitably balanced piece, isn’t, I fear, going to be that easy. But hardly surprising. For, societal structures and cultural heritage aside, technologically the unescapable fact is that, prior to the arrival of the first British settlers, the Aborigines were just shy of the Stone Age. Problems inevitable. Unavoidable. An uncomfortable truth? Or just an unspoken one?

If this seems a little harsh, consider how one generation in the West invariably struggles to come to terms with the technology of the next. Multiply that by a thousand or so and you can perhaps see why difficulties must arise. We shouldn’t be in the least bit surprised. Issues Australia has been wrestling with since the first settlers arrived. Adopting various approaches. Some pretty abhorrent by today’s norms. Much to mull upon.

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