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The Use & Abuse Of Power

Date submitted: 8th May 2017

The use and abuse of power in Australia has existed for 250 years too long. This power imbalance has foundation in three ways: through the hearts of every non-Indigenous Australian as exemplified by myself in my own reflections throughout this subject at university; through the views and conclusions of scholars and government departments who overlook the importance of non-quantifiable evidences, and; through the repression of Indigenous voices, which are the catalysts for change, throughout recent Australian history. These three areas are focal points for change in the ever-continuing saga surrounding the non-Indigenous use and abuse of power.

My personal view of the use and abuse of power against all Indigenous peoples has evolved in the past three months. My initial thought and reflection from the first lecture on the subject was wanting to learn what being a part of an Indigenous culture was like. When I started this subject I was focused on what I could get out of it which inferred my desire for knowledge and power over the people who taught this knowledge. This viewpoint has changed insofar as desiring this knowledge for the gain of all Indigenous peoples, communities, and cultures and not for my own gain when I become a primary school teacher. I now know I will never have the gamete of experiences or knowledge suitable for adequately imparting the knowledge of any Indigenous peoples, this role is by far best suited to each member of each Aboriginal community. This line of thought is furthered by my reflection in week two which said the winner's account of any battle is told. The repression of all Indigenous voices over the past 250 years is testament to non-Indigenous abuse of power. However, my listening to my Indigenous lecturer and tutor allows their rightful use of their own power to enlighten me of their cultures and their experiences. In week three my reflection focused on how certain measures to close the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous cultures were tokenistic. Measures such as NAIDOC Week and Indigenous Scholarships still surround non-Indigenous abuse of power through requiring Indigenous peoples to meet non-Indigenous standards. I reflected upon my helplessness: as a non-Indigenous person, I cannot contribute without furthering non-Indigenous abuse of power. In another reflection I consider the Indigenous peoples of the day welcomed the non-Indigenous colonisers to their country as passers through. This lens is how all non-Indigenous people should consider themselves, as guests of the Koori and the Murri, of the Nyoongah and the Yolngu, the Palawa and the Ngarrindjeri, of the peoples from Murray Island, Mer Island, and the Torres Strait. The use and abuse of non-Indigenous power will continue until we humble ourselves as visitors to the lands of the Indigenous peoples.

However, contemporary scholarly sources still rely upon the abuse of non-Indigenous power against all Indigenous peoples. Non-Indigenous wealth is founded in pastoral and farming land which sprawls over many Indigenous lands, communities, and sacred sites7. This goes against the previous sentiment of living as visitors to the Indigenous peoples since any movement by the relevant Aboriginal country needs the support of non-Aboriginal land users which rarely happens. Furthermore, a report released by the NSW Teachers' Federation8, pp.31-32 says to close the gap in Aboriginal children's education, a commitment made and implemented by the Commonwealth must cover the next 25 years so the disparity between Aboriginal children's education and non-Aboriginal children's education would come to parity. This source implies no Indigenous community should have a say in their own education. While reconciliation and understanding of the land's rich history is recommended, the structures of non-Indigenous schooling and government should over-arch. Thus the use and abuse of non-Indigenous power is still interwoven in the mindsets of lawmakers and teachers, who do not view their influence as contradictory to the tokenistic machinations of their commitment. However, in the Northern Territory there has been Indigenous representation in each successive election and governing Assembly since 197412. Although their underepresentation in the Federal Government eschews their effectiveness so their views are diluted by the remainder of non-Indigenous Australia. Tatham's12, p.153 report further shows a trend of increased Indigenous participation, which shows both an Indigenous desire to share their cultures with their guests and for non-Indigenous reception to this concept. Nevertheless, this trend is also a by-product of non-Indigenous use and abuse of power as Indigenous representation in a non-Indigenous government contributes towards non-Indigenous idealisation. Furthermore, Phillips9, p.277 says the conveyance of power and equality usually finds itself on the short road; non-Indigenous people are using shortcuts to supposedly show they are including Indigenous peoples. While Phillips'9 thesis centred around medical treatments, its application can be applied through all facets of relationship and power struggles between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples. The longer road mentioned in the conclusion of his thesis implies making and upholding frameworks and culturally safe environments for Indigenous health practices. This implies the larger concept Indigenous peoples should have control over their own communities and lives. Notwithstanding Phillips'9 conclusion, underlying negativity still resides throughout all facets of Indigenous and non-Indigenous relations today, as illustrated through sexual assault statistics5. McGlade5, p.228 says phrases such as, " 'black guilt' and 'white innocence', 'white authority' and 'Aboriginal disempowerment'," all come from colonial times yet are not eradicated today. This proves non-Indigenous people still use and abuse their power over Indigenous peoples. McGlade5 goes on to to say there should be mechanisms in place for Indigenous women's and children's voices to be heard, which implies there are currently none. The stifling of voices is the exertion and abuse of power from non-Indigenous people. In conclusion, to eradicate this abuse of power, Indigenous voices and precepts must be heard, propagated, and implemented as truth throughout Australia.

Ergo, Indigenous voices and precepts should be the heart of reform. Since their arrival, colonising cultures have sought to destroy Aboriginality through analysis and classification of Indigenous peoples without giving these very people a voice2. Non-Indigenous peoples saw the Indigenous peoples as a problem to be solved, an object which desired labelling, not as a people with a voice. This shortcut was used to avoid submission to the inhabitants of the land and to instead procure power to utilise against them. Through this desire to quantify, governmental measures like Close The Gap show only how Indigenous peoples are closing various health and wellbeing shortfalls in their lifestyle rather than the monitoring of the delivery of power to the same people10. Measures such as Close The Gap claim neutrality, but emphasise information of lesser import. These kinds of governmental analyses are without Indigenous authority. While statistics may suggest a closing gap, the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australia is still as wide as it was throughout recent Australian history. Pholi, et al.10, p.11 suggest an attempt to understand and change this relationship is the way to close the gap. Until such an occurrence, this kind of disempowerment can be seen through continual native title claims of many Indigenous countries around Australia, such as the claim of the Yorta Yorta peoples in 1994 which did not reach resolution until 200211. Ruling oral traditions were insufficient to support native title is impossible to resolve due to non-Indigenous degradation of Indigenous history and land6. Indigenous voices are the strongest and most easily accessible examples for non-Indigenous peoples to learn about Indigenous cultures, so to devalue their worth undermines the process of reconciliation and furthers the ideology of non-Indigenous peoples using and abusing power over Indigenous peoples. It is impossible for any Indigenous person or community to have autonomy while under this continual prejudice. Thus, this autonomy and self-representation needs to come through Indigenous sources. As Anita Heiss3, pp.1-2 says, her story as a Wiradjuri woman is as no white person expects. So non-Indigenous peoples should not determine how Indigenous autonomy is reached. However, non-Indigenous peoples can aid in the furtherance of Indigenous cultures and communities: through right education and goodwill to contribute and aid in Indigenous autonomy1. Non-Indigenous peoples should thus resist the dominant role in Aboriginal history furthermore. Non-Indigenous use and abuse of power through dehumanising Indigenous peoples and cultures must cease. Thus this dominant position in Indigenous history should not be handed over to the idealised or theoretical Indigenous person but given to real people and real communities4. This simple solution will reform Indigenous countries and communities so they are at the heart of their own lives once again.

In conclusion, humility of non-Indigenous Australia will aid in the hearing of Indigenous voices, which in turn allows their ways of life to reform and become pillars in their own communities and countries. To stop the use and abuse of power, non-Indigenous Australia must let each Aboriginal country take measures themselves to alleviate this long-standing suffering. For true reconciliation to occur, non-Indigenous Australia can: neither start nor end the process but aid each Indigenous country in the way each Indigenous country sees fit; avoid contributing non-Indigenous precepts into the process, and; find humility in the handing over of power from their own heads and hearts to the communities which find connection to the land which they inhabited since time immemorial. I have learned ignorance of others' and pride in my own way of life will perpetuate this cycle of power into the future. I have come from a place of ignorantly using power to a place where I start to consider change in Australia. For this I need Indigenous peoples to guide me to show me my own and my peoples' wrongdoings. The use and abuse of power has no place in contemporary Australia.

References List
1. Craven, R., (1999). Teaching Aboriginal studies: a practical resource for primary and secondary teaching. Crows Nest: Allen & Unwin.
2. Dodson, M., (2012). The wentworth lecture, the end in the beginning: re(de)fining Aboriginality. Australian Aboriginal Studies, 1, 2-13.
3. Heiss, A., (2012). Am i black enough for you?. North Sydney: Random House.
4. Johns, G. (2008). The northern territory intervention in aboriginal affairs: wicked problem or wicked policy? Agenda: A Journal of Policy Analysis and Reform, 65-84.
5. McGlade, H., (2012). our greatest challenge: aboriginal children and human rights. Canberra: Aboriginal Studies Press.
6. Members of the Yorta Yorta Aboriginal Community v Victoria - Case Summary (2003). Retrieved from the Australia Indigenous Law Reporter website.
7. Muldoon, P. & Schaap, A., (2012). Aboriginal sovereignty and the politics of reconciliation: the constituent power of the aboriginal embassy in australia. Environment and Planning D: Society And Space, 30(3), 534-550.
8. NSW Teachers' Federation, (2010). Aboriginal education: 25 years approach: the way forward. Retrieved from the New South Wales Teachers' Federation website.
9. Phillips, G.L., (2015). Dancing with power: aboriginal health, cultural safety and medical education. (Doctoral thesis, Monash University) Retrieved from the Monash University website.
10. Pholi, K., Black, D., & Richards, C., (2009). Is 'close the gap' a useful approach to improving the health and wellbeing of indigenous australians?. Australian Review of Public Affairs, 9(2), 1-13.
11. Seidel, P., (2004). Native title; the struggle for justice for the yorta yorta nation. Alternative Law Journal, 29(2), 70-74.
12. Tatham, M., (2015). Participation and power: aboriginal representation and members of the northern territory legislative assembly 1974-2014. Australasian Parliamentary Review, 30(1), 123-153.

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