Mr John Ford (John.Ford1@JCU.EDU.AU)
Wed, 17 May 1995 19:02:55 +1000
Some of the latest posts concerning the sustainability by 'native'
peoples are somewhat disturbing because of the inherent racist meanings
that lie behind the rationale.
And like the 'few' who identify the sublities and ambiguities with which
racist discourse surrounds itself I too wish to point out some of those
attitudes. I hasten to add that I hold myself no way superior to those
who I criticise - I too have been guilty of like minded thinking.
In one post we are told that native people are being used as 'stewards' to
look after the country because we, westerners, have screwed up the place.
Am I being informed that, yet again, indigenous people are being used as
our (Western) 'cleaners' - that they are being paid to clean up the mess?
Do doubt native people are 'being seen to be useful', but to hoist onto
them the responsibility of the problems we have created is a tad over the
Further, I wonder where native people have got the idea that they lived
in harmony with their environment. Indigenous Australians to whom I talk
also have this idea - 'keeping the country clean'. But I am also informed
that this is a load of nonsense - it is politically motivated to capture
environmentalism. Aborigines burnt the country to make catching food a
whole lot easier - not because the country would look pretty.
There is also a disturbing trend to incorporate, ever so subtlety, new age
thinking - sustainablity is about spiritual awareness. I reminded of
Marlow Morgan's book Mutuant Message Down Under where she is suppose to
have lived with a hitherto 'lost tribe' of Aborigines who taught her so
many secrets which we, in western society, are so bereft.
These beliefs/attitudes exoticise the 'other'. Indigenous people appear more
authentic, more in tune with 'nature' more spiritually aware that 'us'.
It is a short step from there to the underlying perception is that 'they'
are therefore somehwo genitically different to other 'races'.
Then there is the idea that science and technology has created the hell
which indigenous people are apparently to fix up. Science and technology
did not create the mess - people did. Political and ideological decisions
are responsible together with the general apathetic response from the
silent majority who go along with crass consumerism. We choose not to use
science and technology to 'fix' the problem. (Although there are
outbreaks of this happening - and its to be encouraged). Generally, and
political it is expedient, to utilise all those 'others' to fix the problem.
I accept that the posts to which I refer have not set out to be racist.
But contained in the underlying attitudes and ontologies, is a reality
that c onstructs indigenous people as subservient to western society. Just
because indigenous people perform these duties should not be interpreted
as acknowledgment that such policies are acceptable to indigenous
ontology. From what I am told many of them are only too awrae of how they
are being manipulted. Indigenous people need work too, but in accepting
that work should not be construed as a vote of confidence in western
policies or ideologies. To so, is IMO, condescending and paternalistic.