Wednesday 12 October 2022

So just who is "aboriginal"?

The question has come up in an article in this morning's paper and with it some concerns. It is a question which interests me.

Apparently there has been a 25% increase in the number of people "identifying as aboriginal" since the last census - five years before this one.  Questions are being raised about those numbers - and rightly so.

There is supposedly a three part indigenous identity test. The test reads this way "An Aboriginal person or a Torres Strait islander is a person of Aboriginal descent or Torres Strait Islander descent who identifies as such and is accepted as such by the community in which he or she lives". 

It is not a test which works very well. There is no "aboriginal genome" so it relies on people "identifying" and others as "accepting". It is possible to have one great-great-grandparent thought to be aboriginal in order to "identify" as such.  It is also possible to be, as a late friend of mine was, initiated into a tribe without any blood connections at all. (He never identified himself as such on any form but his funeral service was begun with words spoken in the tribal language rather than English.) 

My good friend M... whose skin is the colour of dark chocolate never answers the question on forms but he is clearly "indigenous" when you look at him. M.... sees no point in the question. He is not looking for any sort of consideration.  He has made his own way in the world without that - although it has not been easy.

But the article in the paper suggested that there are concerns in indigenous circles that there are people taking advantage of the way in which this is handled. There are people who, seeing an opportunity to get the "benefits", are abusing the ease with which it is possible to identify.  This infuriates me. Any benefits need to go where they are most needed.

If you have one great-great grandparent who was known to be from X... tribe then yes why not be proud of the fact. At the same time though also acknowledge that another was an Afghan camel driver, a third an Irish miner and a fourth an English prostitute. That is actually a much more likely mix. 

The question of just who is aboriginal is going to need to be addressed. It will be vital to face it fully before the proposed "Voice" referendum is put to people. That won't be easy.

The presence or absence of some sort of benefit should not be what defines a person as one thing or the other.   


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