“Aboriginal people are no different. To close the gap, to achieve individual and collective goals, they need to believe in their own worth. They need to believe that they can succeed. They need to believe that their hard work will pay off one day. They need to believe that they won’t be ignored.
Adam Goodes has shown us that you can be successful and a proud Indigenous Australia. It is this pride that will be our most powerful tool in closing the gap”
Senator Nova Peris OAM as published in the Guardian
In 2015, Aboriginal Australia has been a hotly debated issue. Constitutional recognition, Adam Goodes, deaths in custody and even Vegemite have all sparked heated conversation in the parliament, the media and among the wider public.
All this has been going on while 150 remote communities in Western Australia face the possibility of closure, thanks to Tony Abbott’s “lifestyle choices” mentality. It’s been a busy year.
So perhaps it’s a good time to have a cold shower, take stock and evaluate where we are, what we’ve achieved and what we aspire to.
It’s important to remember that Aboriginal Australians are out there, living their lives as best they can, while keeping true to themselves and their culture. This can easily be forgotten when we are debating those very lives in the media or parliament.
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Once we’ve reminded ourselves that everyday Aboriginal Australians are affected by what’s said in the public debate, we have a better starting point from which to have these conversations.
The Adam Goodes saga was a watershed moment for me. I’ve seen racism in sport. I’ve lived it, and I’m still living it. But the booing of Adam Goodes showed me just how polarising the issue of race can be. It also showed that race and racism isn’t just about skin colour or stereotypes. It’s also about people’s expectations of race. Everyone expects Adam Goodes to be a great footballer, but not everyone expects him to be a great, proud, outspoken or challenging Aboriginal man.
The overreaction to Adam’s proud warrior cry reminded me that not all Australians are fully educated about our country’s history, nor do they fully understand it. He showed us that an Aboriginal man can think for himself. It’s easy to forget these things. Adam made sure we didn’t.
What Adam did most of all was remind me, and I hope the nation, that Aboriginal people can have the best of both worlds. He can achieve at the highest level of his chosen career, while never losing sight that he is a proud Aboriginal man. He can do both.
He showed the young Aboriginal woman living in Arnhem Land that she can go to university; she can become a doctor or a lawyer. You can achieve these things, and once you’ve achieved them, you can speak up. You don’t have to be compliant. It’s OK to be proud. It’s OK to be outspoken. It’s OK to be Aboriginal.
If you don’t believe this, then it’s because much of this comes back to the issue of racism.
Few struggle with racism more than young Aboriginal people, which is one of the reasons constitutional recognition and reform is so much more than symbolic. It will be a hugely important reform that will remove racist and discriminatory clauses from our founding document, that many Australians won’t believe actually still exist. This is a gap that can be closed with a single election, on a single day.
But I want to tell Aboriginal people, particularly young people, that they have so much to be proud of. They have so much to call their own and have achieved so much for themselves and Australia. They need to view themselves in a positive light, and they have every right to.
Aboriginal culture is the oldest surviving culture in the world. It cannot be understated how amazing that is; that the oldest culture in the world is in our backyard and that Aboriginal people can call it theirs. Nobody can take 40,000 years of history away from you. No matter how hard they try to deny that history.
Aboriginal people established the first trade routes with overseas neighbours, thousands of years before the term “free trade agreement” was ever thought of.
Aboriginal Australians have been constantly resilient. Some of the strongest people this country has produced are Aboriginal people who spoke up for what was right, and won. You can be proud of Vincent Lingiari and his brothers and sisters at Wave Hill, who took on one of the biggest cattle producers in the country and won their land back.
You can be proud of of Eddie Mabo, who took on the establishment to claim land rights for his people and won in the high court.
Charles Perkins achieved what no Aboriginal person had done before: he got a university degree. Now hundreds do so every year.
Polly Farmer showed young Aboriginal men that they can play AFL with the best. Michael Long won a Norm Smith Medal. Gavin Wanganeen won a Brownlow Medal. Today, over 70 Aboriginal men are playing in the AFL, just under 10% of the entire league.
It staggers even me that the first Australian cricket team to ever visit England, was an all Aboriginal side.
I became the first Aboriginal person to win an Olympic gold medal. Cathy Freeman won a gold medal. Yvonne Gooloogong won Wimbledon, showing young Aboriginal women that anything was possible. Forty-three Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have represented Australia at the Olympics. Twelve have won medals.
Patty Mills, the son of an Aboriginal mother and Torres Strait father, became an NBA Champion in 2014.
Jessica Mauboy is expressing her culture around the world, while she shares stages with Beyonce and represents Australia in Eurovision. Dr Yunupingu took the message of Yothu Yindu across the globe.
Australia can be proud of the 1,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who fought in the first world war and the 5,000 that fought in the second world war. They were unable to vote, but eligible to die.
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Gough Whitlam who enacted the racial discrimination act. It was Labor that formally apologised to the stolen generations. That’s why I’m a proud Labor woman.
Despite what you read, watch or see, Aboriginal people have a lot to be proud of. If the reaction to Adam Goodes’s dance has shown us anything, it’s that pride can be scary. Pride can upset people. Proud people don’t put up with injustice. Confident people don’t put up with disadvantage. Educated people don’t put up with ignorance.
Aboriginal people are no different. To close the gap, to achieve individual and collective goals, they need to believe in their own worth. They need to believe that they can succeed. They need to believe that their hard work will pay off one day. They need to believe that they won’t be ignored.
We should be doing everything we can to make this happen. I know I will. We can capitalise on the momentum created by the recognition debate and the discussion on race started by Adam Goodes to make sure Aboriginal voices are heard and to ensure the great traditions and achievements of Aboriginal Australia are shared throughout the land.
I hope 2015 will not be a wasted year. I hope 2015 will prove to be the turning point.