Have you heard someone ask, "Why can’t Indigenous people just get over it? After all, it happened ages ago..."
On the surface this might seem like a fair question, prompted by a genuine desire to see all Australians prosper together. The reason why many Indigenous people can’t simply get over the past is because the negative affects of colonisation are still having an impact on Indigenous people every day, often in drastic ways. You don’t have to look far to find evidence of this.
These statistics are a result of the lingering injustices of colonisation - dispossession, displacement, exploitation and violence that started at first contact. This behaviour towards Indigenous people was justified by the British colonial system that didn’t understand, respect or value Indigenous Australians. In the worst cases, people of influence refused to acknowledge Indigenous Australians as human in order to justify extraordinary acts of cruelty towards Aboriginal people. These 18th Century colonial attitudes set in motion events and policies and established systems and institutions that continue to have an impact on Indigenous people today, despite Indigenous people’s determined efforts to resist and overcome this adversity.
The social and economic impact of invasion and control of Indigenous people has accumulated across generations. It was amplified by policies and practices that have systematically disadvantaged Indigenous people (1). In many instances, this has resulted in the transmission of trauma, poverty and other forms of disadvantage from generation to generation. So the disadvantage we see today is often the long term effect of lack of opportunities in previous generations, including poor nutrition and inadequate education and health care.
Indigenous people who haven’t directly experienced the events or policies of our history are often still impacted by the legacy left behind. Trauma caused by colonisation, including violence and loss of culture and land, as well as policies such as the forced removal of children, is often passed from generation to generation in families and communities, with devastating effects. It’s important to view the challenges faced by many Indigenous communities in the context of this history.
Many people may not realise just how recent much of this history is. In fact, there are people alive today who:
When Indigenous people are asked to ‘get over it’ - it’s not just the physical violence of the frontier wars or even the stolen land or children we’re asking people to move on from. It’s the current bias in our society that prevents Indigenous people from achieving the quality of life that would otherwise be possible. It’s evident in the skyrocketing incarceration rates, devastatingly high suicide rates, unacceptable mortality gap and everyday discrimination. We’re still a society where 1 in 5 people openly admit to having racist attitudes towards Indigenous people.
Many of us are aware that this disadvantage and discrimination exists in Australia. But not all of us understand that it’s a direct result of our nation's history of colonisation:
“Dispossession of land, population displacement, prejudice in everyday life and outright discrimination have, over the subsequent generations, resulted in Indigenous Australians being disadvantaged to the extreme and denied the chance to share in the benefits of one of the wealthiest nations in the world.” (18)
If we truly want to move forward together and be part of a better country, it’s essential that we openly acknowledge our history and validate the pain it’s caused. This means recognising that:
This mutual recognition and understanding of our shared history is a foundation from which we can hope to move forward together.
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