Guess what conflict I am talking about:
Babies roasted in fire.
Women and girls captured, raped and forced into sexual slavery.
Men tortured and thrown into concentration camps.
A systematic effort to destroy a human race.
If you are thinking about recent news headlines you will probably think about ISIS.
If you are thinking modern world history you may think about the Nazis.
But if you are an Indigenous Australian you could be thinking of Australia.
Yesterday, January 26th was Australia Day. It marked the celebration of when the Union Jack was first flown in Australia. Many celebrate by heading to the beach, having a barbeque and celebrating the wonderful nation that is Australia.
But for many it is known as Invasion Day, or Survival Day.
You see, in just like many other examples of genocide, the Europeans did not think Aborigines were people. They were viewed as animals. In fact, that was even the law up until just 50 years ago! As a result roughly 90% of Australia’s indigenous population was systematically wiped out. (In Tasmania that only took 30 years!)
Some are calling for Australia to change dates. Who would want to celebrate the day genocide begun? Could you imagine the Jews celebrating the beginning of the Holocaust?
We cannot write off the fact that Australia is the incredible nation it is today because of the contribution of a wide range of foreigners. Australians have an incredible standard of living. We are among the richest nations on Earth. We have great schools, hospitals and universities. We have ample freedom to do whatever we want. Opportunity abounds! And as a result we have a rich history of creative inventions that have shaped the world we live in.
However, we cannot forget that for the majority of the past 200 odd years the original inhabitants of the land have been discriminated against. The invaders never left. Indigenous Australians continue to reap the consequences of such a horrific past. They have a shorter life expectancy, higher rates of infant mortality, poorer health, lower levels of education and employment, higher rates of suicide, 8 times more likely to be abused than other Australians, and incarceration rates are 24 times higher than non-indigenous. (see more here) I could go on and on.
These statistics reflect people. People whose parents, grandparents and great grandparents were tortured, abused, and raped. Their families were torn apart and not even recognised as human beings. You cannot simply move on from that. It affects generations. And so it takes time.
We must celebrate Australia. Australia deserves to be celebrated. But as we do we must remember our history. Both the good and bad. We must realise that there are those among us who have not been treated as equal human beings. That there are those in our Cities and Towns that continue to feel the aftershocks of a horrific past.
So how do we change the situation? How do we close the gap that our ancestors made?
The day Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said sorry on behalf of the nation was a great step. I believe changing the date of Australia day is a good idea as well.
However, the greatest need I see is that we create a culture where we value the humanity in all humans. To do that it requires all Australians to simply stop and consider how we are connected to one another. We are all humans. We all have worth and deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. Let me finish with a quote from the Australians Together website,
One of the best things you can do is start by understanding that we’re all connected; that Indigenous injustice is an issue for all Australians to overcome; that listening and learning is crucial to moving forward; and that no action or changed attitude is too small or insignificant… It’s about understanding that we’re all connected, acknowledging that we have a shared history and embracing our part in creating a better future. It involves finding ways to value each other and creating space to learn from one another. Recognising that we each have a part to play in this is an important first step.
Want more? Here are some links that may help you get involved in closing the gap: