Indigenous Australians: the intricacies of the right to equality

Translated by Natacha Perrin, proofread by Lauren Valentine

Since British colonists’ arrival over two centuries ago, life has been tough for survivors. The Indigenous Australian population has seen its living conditions radically degrading since James Cook’s arrival. The British declared Australia “Terra Nulius”, giving them full power over these defenceless people. It was only in 1967 that the government granted citizenship and equal rights to Indigenous people. Yet, nowadays, inequalities still occur everywhere in Australia.

According to the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey, nowadays only 46% of Indigenous people over 15 years old are in the world of work, among which only 27% full-time. Young Indigenous people therefore struggle to blend into modern society. This might be explained by the “White Australia” policy advocated by the 20th century’s successive governments. The latter have removed their rights and their identity year after year.

Thus, acclimatisation to European lifestyle was not easy for most Indigenous people. Moreover, resentment towards the people who robbed them of their lands does not help. But in 2008 hope was reborn with Kevin Rodd’s apologetic speech “New beginning”. It was aimed at the victims of “Stolen Generations” to ask for their forgiveness from the government and advocated a new era between the Indigenous and the Australian people.

The way these people have been treated since 1788 dug a wider gap between these two worlds. Self-destruction policies were aimed at eradicating Indigenous culture. For example, their sacred lands were stolen, and the mixed-race babies were taken away.

A population at the polar opposite of European culture

Indigenous culture was simple. They were dependent on nature to survive. They were hunter-gatherer people, subsisting thanks to their incommensurable knowledge of the surrounding fauna and flora. But things have really shifted because of a radical ethnocide. Indigenous people now live in cities and the have been affected by a long list of vices since their teenage years: high consumption of illicit substances, low schooling rate, alcohol-related problems, violence, rapes, almost no access to healthcare…

Moreover, due to a shift in their basic alimentation, Indigenous people now suffer a great number of chronic illnesses. They used to eat grilled meat, berries and seafood. But now, they essentially eat junk food. According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, an Indigenous person has an average life expectancy ten years inferior to an ordinary Australian.

Some States, such as Western Australia or the Northern Territory even had to make drastic decisions regarding the law on alcohol sales to Indigenous people. The Northern Territory prohibited alcohol in certain communities. The government refer to them as “restricted areas” and they are now under the guard of a ‘white’ officer. In Western Australia, stores now have to refuse alcohol sales after 5pm to Indigenous people. All these segregationist laws do not help to improve the progression or emancipation of Indigenous people within the social or working environment.

A past difficult to forget

Their history is heavy and the wounds are still open. Some of those wounds are more painful than others. For example, Australia Day, a celebration of the colonists’ arrival, leads to protests every year in major cities. Indigenous people renamed this day “Invasion day”. A public holiday for some, the beginning of the road to hell for others.

This is also the case for the “stolen generations” For about a century, governments extoled a “White Australia”, and took away mixed-race babies. The aim was to educate them the European way. They were placed in religious families so that they could marry a “white” woman. The government planned to eradicate their skin colour from the third generation. The latter, being “nor white nor indigenous”, claim that they struggle to fit in.

To conclude, there is still a long way to go in reaching equality, be it from a cultural or legal point of view. The Indigenous people have been there for over 40,000 years, and just two centuries have been enough to almost destroy them. There have been major advances in terms of the equality of citizens. Let us hope that the government continues in this direction.

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