We Can All Be Indigenous…


… Just not in the way that Pauline Hanson seems to think. It all depends on the context in which you use that word

When Pauline Hanson did her job of spouting nonsense to outrage and satisfy the media cycle by attempting to climb Uluru, she claimed to be Indigenous, asking children where her land was if not Australia. I chuckled when the young girl answered so quickly with “England”, but as with a lot of things Hanson says, there is a touch of truth surrounded by an insane load of ignorance and daftness.

No one, to my knowledge, has said that Pauline Hanson is not Australian, or that she does not belong here. What people criticise her for is her belief that that makes her “indigenous” to Australia in the same way that the actual Indigenous are. But while people like her and I, who can trace our roots back to Europe, are not native to Australia, there is one way everyone can be indigenous.

By this I mean simply being human, belonging to this Earth. While it is important to recognise the Traditional Owners of the land, we are all inhabitants of the world as a whole. In my view, however, that alone – simply being human – does not make one indigenous to the world. Here I defer to our Indigenous, or the native Americans in the US, or the natives in Brazil fighting for their lives and home.

For decades, for centuries, they have fought against injustice not just against themselves, but against the natural world they hold so dear a connection to – a connection most industrialised civilisations have long since torn themselves away from. That to me is the most striking difference between Western society and native populations around the world. We can carry out as many symbolic gestures as we want, give national apologies, elect a black President in the US…

But until we learn to listen to them on environmental matters, on climate change and living with the land, not at the expense of it, we will never truly reach true justice and reparations. Australia continues to push for poisonous projects like oil drilling in the Bight and coal mining in Queensland. The US (even under Obama) had oil pipelines being built, with native American opposition being faced with private military strength. The Amazon burns at a much higher rate than usual, with many fires being set by farmers and other invaders (yes, that seems the prudent word to use). Native leaders in Colombia have been killed relentlessly, despite a supposed ‘peace’ – a new war may spark over this, with rebel groups voicing their anger.

No, many of us in Australia are not Indigenous to it. Those who hold power here and elsewhere do not have their interests, or the interests of the land, at heart. But we could be indigenous. We can acknowledge the philosophies of silenced peoples. We can make changes in the way we approach climate change and other environmental issues.  We could be indigenous to the world in which we live, a world that we all have a duty to care for.

Sadly, I imagine many of those who support Hanson would not be inclined to take this idea on board, and instead cling to the notion that Australia belongs to them, or that climate change is a myth. If you’re idea of being ‘indigenous’ is asserting nationalist pride while drowning out the voices of the oppressed, then I’m afraid you’ve missed the point. Instead, why not consider yourself a part of a global whole, where ‘indigenous’ means protecting the health of the Earth together? There we may be able to find common ground.


Liked this? Read Climate Justice Is Indigenous Rights

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