First Conversation – Reflections

filed under: Decolonisation, White Privilege

There were many powerful outcomes and challenges from the first ‘Many Tribes Many People’ conversation held last Thursday. The most immediate for me was hearing about the endless conversations that Aboriginal people have been invited into since colonisation that have rarely served them. Instead their cultural information and knowledge has been stolen and exploited, or it is to satisfy the curiosity of white people, or information is gathered so that they can be managed by others under the banner of ‘deciding what is best for them’. Rarely has anything eventuated from these conversations for the benefit of Aboriginal people and their culture.

That Aboriginal people have not been listened to and have not benefited from these conversations is evident by the terrible health, social, legal and cultural issues they face. To hear that an Aboriginal nation to the North East of Perth has one remaining Elder who has the original language, and the subsequent loss of cultural knowledge and wisdom, was just one example of many.
This challenges us in developing these conversations. John Mogridge and I have already established some things that we feel are necessary. They include:

  • Not to bring structures into the conversations that have their origins in hierarchal power based systems.
  • Everyone participating is of equal value and worth
  • Everyone has the right to be heard
  • We are all on a healing journey together
  • A belief that we can find a way forward that benefits all involved

The challenge for me personally is coming to terms with being a white person of colonial decent with all of the privilege that offers and understanding ‘how I have been conditioned to think’ is part of the problem. Hearing how Aboriginal people are tired of being invited into conversations that do not serve them is understandable and brought that home for me. On reflection I believe it exists in white colonial culture as well. I am also over conversations that do not serve me but are simply information gathering exercises by others, or held to placate my concerns so that I think something is happening about the issues I have raised. In fact I was over them a very long time ago.

What I am saying is this is an issue for us all and to hear and support Aboriginal people we must address this within the culture we are part of, and how it impacts on us as well. How often have you been invited into conversations such as these, and has the ineffectiveness of them led to feelings of disempowerment and frustration with loss of trust in governance structures as it has for me? I for one see this repeatedly in our politics where we are offered vote buying promises that do not eventuate when elected. Perhaps this is a strategy of the Colonist doctrine that is now manifested in exploitive capitalism, education, health service, aged care, politics and more.

Another feature of the Colonist doctrine is one of adopt their beliefs and practices if you want to enjoy the immense privilege and benefits offered; although you can settle for lesser privilege if you simply comply and do not rock the boat. It is made clear that if you speak out against the destructive and exploitive use of power that drives colonisation in all of its modern day manifestations you will lose your privileges. If you do not cease at that point and comply you will be labelled, marginalised, penalised, medicated, locked up and more. Is it a loss of privilege and the fear of penalty that keeps us quiet and stops us from acting? I think so and there are many examples to remind us of that. Take a look at plight of the Aboriginal people of Australia who have refused or been unable to comply. They have met the full brunt of strategies such as these.

What does this mean for my continued involvement in these conversations? I am not sure about you but for me it includes the following:

  • Understanding that I participate in the system that is creating the problem for Aboriginal people and many others
  • Understanding that I enjoy privilege as a participant in this system
  • Understanding I have inherited a mind heavily conditioned to think in a particular way
  • Understanding that if I am to hear aboriginal people fully I must find my way out of this mind and join them in their world view rather than expecting them to join me in mine.
  • Overcoming my fear of speaking up and taking action, or belief that it is pointless and ineffective. For my Aboriginal friends and all others who have suffered from the doctrine of colonisation including us, our nature family and Mother Earth – I must find an effective way to have a voice and act.

The last point is big for me. What will it mean if I am fully visible in my opposition to the exploitive and destructive use of power for the benefit of the ‘few’ that is dominant in the world today. As I said earlier, there are abundant examples of what happens to people who do this and I am not interested in being a martyr. When we react out of emotions (anger/rage in particular) they know how to deal with that. After all they have had hundreds, if not thousands of years, to work that out. You are discredited or invalidated, and if this does not silence you, then disempowered by marginalisation, labeling, medication, and eventually imprisonment. No wonder our institutions have a highly disproportionate population of aboriginal and other disadvantaged people who have been excluded from privilege.

However there is something I have learnt in my explorations that is very useful for me and provides a way forward. Rather than waiting for our leaders to act to put this right, or trying to convince/force them to act, it is time to join with others and support each other to live the lives we know to be authentic and right. This starts with explorative conversations to untangle the dynamics of colonisation and how it has impacted all of us. Conversations where we meet as equals and share our experience so that we can work it out and support each other in our healing journeys and desire for a better world. A world that becomes visible when we escape the limitations of conditioned ways of thinking and are empowered to act for the betterment of all.

I look forward to the next conversation on June 21st 6pm. Join us if you wish.

These conversations are happening in many forms and if you wish to participate check out the events page on this website. You will find talks, conversations, nature connection events, experiential learning, training and more. All with the common purpose of moving beyond the thinking and dynamics that keep us trapped in conflict and destruction so as to find a better way.