Reconciliation Week logically throws up the question of ways forward for Indigenous Australians to address disadvantage and the attendant problems of under-education and under-employment.
Responses to this have been increasingly split into two sides — one that essentially calls for Indigenous separatism, and the other looking for paths into a shared future with the rest of Australia.
For example, Pat Dodson’s 2013 speech, The Road to Reconciliation, argued that to achieve reconciliation, Aboriginal disadvantage must be addressed. I agree.
However, Dodson claims that what he calls ‘assimilation’ hinders progress toward alleviating disadvantage. I disagree.
For activists, assimilation has become a pejorative term meaning ‘to become like white people’ and its use further fuels division rather than promoting reconciliation.
However, a more true definition of assimilation is: ‘the process of taking in and fully understanding information or ideas’ — and this process is crucial to addressing disadvantage.
Assimilation includes gaining an education that leads to employment and pathways out of poverty. Galarrwuy Yunupingu, along with Chris Sara, June Oscar, Warren Mundine and many others suggest this is critical for Aboriginal Australians to close the gap.
Many Indigenous Australians have achieved success. But as Anthony Dillon points out, it has been mostly been achieved by following the same path as successful non-Indigenous Australians: do not isolate yourself from society; offer others respect and treat them as equals; engage in learning (whether it be formal or informal); make valuable contributions to the community in which you live; aspire to be a role model for others, and adhere to a personal moral code.
Successful Aboriginal Australians have taken these steps — which some would regard as ‘assimilationist’ — to overcome adversity.
For Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians alike, Reconciliation means the sharing and acceptance of successful ways forward.
Jacinta Nampijinpa Price is the director of the Indigenous Project at the Centre for Independent Studies.
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