GenerationOne CEO Warren Mundine speaks about Aboriginality on International Day of the Worlds Indigenous People
In my lifetime and the lifetime of my children so much has changed for Indigenous people in Australia. In the lifetime of my grandchildren, the direction that we are heading in, I know Australia will continue to see positive change. Having recently become the CEO of the national movement, GenerationOne, I have seen how Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians are uniting to end the disparity.
I can confidently say we are living in a climate of change.
This week’s Insight Program on SBS TV was about Aboriginality and who decides who is Aboriginal.
I went to the filming of the Insight program as a member of the studio audience, ready to discuss how fantastic it was to be able to celebrate our Aboriginality, something not afforded to our grandparents and those before us.
When I was growing up, Aboriginal people were made to feel ashamed of where they were from, of who their parents were, of their language, their dances, their culture. For many it was a separate part of your life that was only talked about behind closed doors with your family.
What I heard and saw on SBS Insight genuinely saddened me.
In the last fifty years there has been a momentous shift in Australia. Australians want to learn about Aboriginal history, people want to take part in our celebrations and want to share in the oldest continuing culture in the world. This is something that all Australians can be proud of and celebrate.
Being Aboriginal is not dictated by the colour of your skin, it is not dictated by your level of education or career and is certainly not decided by your wealth. Being Aboriginal is also not dictated by your lack of education, or lack of wealth.
Historically, proving your Aboriginality is associated with suffering, heartache and trauma. When people are categorised or classified themselves as to “how much Aboriginal they are,” it triggers memories of reading experiences of the Stolen Generations being taken away because according to the government, were “half caste” or “full blood.”
The depressing discussion around skin colour is not going to end the disparity between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.
Only the week before I had been buoyed by a comment from a young Aboriginal woman who said there has never been a better time to be a young Aboriginal person in Australia. The opportunities that are available today for our people are abundant and we need to be encouraging our kids to take these up. This is the attitude that is going to make the difference for the future of Indigenous people. Not getting caught up in vitriolic debate about who is more Aboriginal than who, who is blacker than who and who is whiter than who and who is more disadvantaged and in greater need of government and social assistance.
The experiences of Aboriginal people today are more varied than ever. We have more doctors, lawyers, builders, teachers and nurses than ever before. In the 2011 census over 35% of the Indigenous population are under the age of 15. What sort of role models are we creating for our younger kids?
The Indigenous children who were stolen from their families didn’t choose to give up their culture, it was forced upon them, and sometimes people are clouded by their passion and forget this. The experiences of the Stolen Generations have as much right to be heard and valued just as much as anyone else. When the descendents of the Stolen Generations discover their Aboriginality they are proud of this. It’s the pride of these people that we should be embracing as we support their decision to identify now their genealogy has been revealed. As Aboriginal people, we shouldn’t be chasing them away by questioning and challenging their identity.
Aboriginality should not be a disadvantage. Just because I am Aboriginal does not make me disadvantaged. I am very proud of my Aboriginality. It is not a burden on me, it is not a problem for me. I am proud of it, I love it and this is what we as Aboriginal people need to tell others.
Ending the disparity between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people is a job that requires more than me, more than the GenerationOne team and more than governments. It requires our 250,000 supporters, our 330 employers and every day Australians to keep learning about Indigenous Australia. Together, we must break down stereotypes about what Indigenous people look like, and work to end the disparity in one generation through employment and education. We must by encourage and celebrate excellence, link training to real jobs and be the change we want to see.
There is no simple discussion around Indigenous identity. We sometimes forget the reasons people don’t know they are Indigenous or have been reluctant to or unable to identify, but whatever the reason.
In 2012, Aboriginal identity is still an issue that ignites the passion and fuels a fire in people – lets take that passion and the fires and make a difference. We need to be drawing on the experiences of all Indigenous people and pull together to support each other, encourage each other and make a difference.