Australian Aborigines were used as prison guards
"Sorry" was followed by little
Australia Day - Australia's national holiday at the end of January - begins in Sydney every year with an indigenous ceremony. Dozens of Aborigines gather very early in the morning - in brightly colored clothes, their skin painted - and flaunt their culture and soul. There is dancing, Dreamtime stories being shared and protests. Because the Australian holiday is also "Invasion Day" for the Aborigines. On January 26, 1788, the white colonialists invaded their country in order to colonize it afterwards. In doing so, they have permanently changed the lives of the indigenous peoples to this day.
More than 200 years have passed since then, during which the Aborigines have experienced endless suffering. Even today - if you google the word "Aboriginal" - news catches your eye that you would not believe at first glance: mining companies have destroyed indigenous cultural sites in the past few weeks and months alone, and a conservative politician has got excited in dubious comments about the indigenous athlete Cathy Freeman, and the worst of all reports: An 11-year-old Aboriginal girl took her own life after her rapist was released.
Racism debate in Australian
Even if the massacre and enslavement of the Aborigines come to an end, the problems of the indigenous peoples of Australia, who came to the Australian continent over 60,000 years ago, are manifold to this day. "I think it's a lot of pressure to be a young Aboriginal growing up in Australia," said indigenous poet Guyala Buyles, who also works as a model, in a recent interview with indigenous broadcaster NITV. Buyles talked about "the trauma between generations" and the things "our people have oppressed for so long." You grow up with all these problems and think that this is normal.
When the racism debate from the USA spilled over to Australia in June, the Australian National University in Canberra published a study that showed that three out of four Australians have negative views of the Aborigines - a fact that "can ultimately lead to widespread racism", as it was said in the analysis. "The results are shocking, but not surprising," commented the study's author, Siddharth Shirodkar, at the time.
Police violence thematized
Marcia Langton, an indigenous professor at the University of Melbourne, denounced in a speech at the same time how the Australian police dealt with the approximately 800,000 Aborigines who live in Australia. “I would have thought it would be pretty easy. Don't kill Aborigines, ”she said. The words are drastic, but the facts are undeniable. As in the USA, a disproportionately large number of black people have been dying in police custody on the fifth continent for years. An analysis by the Australian edition of the Guardian found that at least 437 Aborigines had died in police custody since 1991 (by June 2020).
The fact that significantly more indigenous people lose their lives in police custody is also related to the fact that a disproportionately large number of prison inmates are Aborigines. In 1991, 14.3 percent of male prisoners in Australia were indigenous, and in March 2020 the figure was 28.6 percent. The first Aboriginal MP in the Australian Parliament, Linda Burney, called for judicial reform in 2017. "This does not refer to serious crimes," emphasized the social democratic politician at the time. "Most Aborigines are imprisoned for traffic offenses because they drove without a license or paid parking tickets." They believe that alternative penalties should be introduced for these offenses.
Pictures like from Abu Ghraib
One of the many dead is Tanya Day. Day gives the often nameless statistics a face. The woman was arrested in 2017 for being drunk. But she eventually died in the cell from lack of medical care when her health suddenly deteriorated. Day is no exception. Another analysis by the Guardian in 2018 found that 34 percent of Aborigines had not received adequate medical care before they died, compared to 25 percent of the non-indigenous population. Indigenous women were hardest hit: 50 percent did not get the help they needed.
Shocking news came to light in 2014 from a juvenile detention center. Images leaked to the media showed a 17-year-old boy with a sack tied over his head and tied around his neck. There was also a strap around his neck that held him to the headrest, while his arms and legs were tied to the chair. Other scenes from the Don Dale Center showed a relatively young boy being violently pulled to the ground and stripped naked by prison guards, tear gas sprayed ten times into a small room and the guards mocking the young Aboriginal inmates. A television presenter compared the scenes at the time with images known from Guantánamo Bay or Abu Ghraib, where US soldiers mistreated their opponents in the "war on terrorism".
Indigenous people in crisis
The Aborigines are also disadvantaged or have worse conditions in a number of other aspects of life: For example, the twelfth »Closing the Gap« report, which was presented in the Australian Parliament in February, showed how big the gap between the indigenous peoples and the rest of the Australian population is is still. Indigenous children lag behind non-indigenous children in literacy, arithmetic and writing, child mortality is significantly higher and Aboriginal people also lag far behind the rest of the country in terms of employment rates.
The suicide of the raped eleven-year-old girl is also not an isolated incident. In 2019, eight indigenous children committed suicide within a few weeks. At that time, even the Australian media, which relatively rarely reported on Aboriginal topics, spoke of a crisis. Although less than five percent of Australian youth are indigenous, they account for a quarter of all minor suicides. In some Australian states it is even more than 60 percent.
Even today, the Aborigines are fighting for official recognition in the country. When Australia got its own constitution in 1900 and thus became independent from the British Kingdom, there was no mention of the Aborigines. There is still no contract between the indigenous population and the immigrant Australians. Another low point was the period from around 1910 to the 1970s, when children were forcibly removed from Aboriginal families and placed in white foster families and children's homes.
Reconciliation process heralded
However, a first rethink has begun. The beginnings of this can be found in the mid-1960s, when Aboriginal people were given the right to vote in individual states and a large majority of Australians voted in a referendum in 1967 to include indigenous people in the country's census. With the so-called Mabo judgment of the Supreme Court of Australia in 1992, the Aborigines received for the first time the officially recognized rights to the land on which they had lived for millennia. The reconciliation process then started in 2008 when then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd apologized on behalf of the Australian government for the horrors of the past.
Since then, there have been bright spots and rare moments that show a more normal way of dealing with and recognizing the indigenous people, their heritage, their culture and their art. The Australian artist Vincent Namatjira was the first indigenous artist to win the renowned Archibald Art Prize at the end of September. An Israeli professor is fighting for indigenous languages at the University of Adelaide and has managed to breathe new life into the already extinct language of Barngarla.
The Garma Festival invites visitors to Arnhem Land in Northern Australia, the last refuge for the Aborigines, where they can still live traditionally and be closely connected to their culture. And the social media project »Yarrie Yarns« celebrates the indigenous people by giving them a voice. Police officer Adam Frew shares the positive stories of elders, indigenous teachers, police officers, musicians, influencers and role models in society. Australia's ex-prime minister Kevin Rudd has set an example with his "Sorry", but in the end it is people like Adam Frew who really shake hands with the Aborigines in reconciliation.
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