A man died in a cell on Palm Island. On Friday November 26, a vigilante mob incited by rhetoric acted as judge and jury and committed acts of arson, vandalism and looting.
A boy died impaled on a fence in Redfern. On Sunday evening, February 15, another vigilante mob acted similarly. Vilifying leaflets, posted throughout the area had incited hatred for the police and demands for retribution for the boy’s death.
In both instances the action was pre-meditated; in both instances police and western culture the target. Some Aborigines, declaring themselves to be the leaders, insisted the mob was not to blame, for the blame lay elsewhere. They warned Redfern was just the beginning. On Palm Island this message was repeated. So if this is a beginning, where will it lead?
One thing is certain. It is not the beginning of reconciliation, because reconciliation means to end conflict or renew friendly relations between disputing parties and requires a resolution based on an attitudinal change. Nowhere is the meaning of reconciliation better illustrated than in its most famous context, the Bible, where mankind and God are reconciled. The errant party admits to doing wrong by having failed God’s Ten Commandment test and asks forgiveness. A debt is due, but the wrongdoer appreciates there is no penalty to pay because it has been paid for them by Jesus. All past, present and future debt is forgiven. So the key to ongoing reconciliation between warring parties is demonstrated clearly: That key is forgiveness.
So how does this relate to calls for reconciliation between fewer than 400,000 Aboriginal Australians and 20,000,000 non-Aboriginal Australians? While reconciliation forgives all debt so the two parties can start afresh with a clean slate, Aboriginal leaders and academics make no mention of this in their calls for reconciliation. Instead the pre-requisite for reconciliation is for present and future generations to pay a debt they never incurred. This could be through land claims, housing, scholarships, employment incentives, affirmative action, lower interest loans, separate radio and television stations, compensation for lost wages and stolen generations and more in this growing list of demands.
Leaders justify these claims by looking at the past. They instill fear in the wider community by insisting that acceding to these demands will prevent further outbreaks of violence. They ignore the lessons they could learn from history. For example, when well meaning leaders forced unpopular and crippling compensation payments on Germans for the damage done by WWI they had no foresight that it would give a person like Hitler an opportunity to rise to power. Today’s leaders posses the same lack of foresight.
Governments are frozen with inertia, fearful of yet another round of reparation claims, while leaders of Aboriginal communities demand immediate action. The question to ask is whether the Aboriginal solutions will solve problems or become part of the problem:
- Is it right to demand more of taxpayers’ money for communities but refuse taxpayers the right to oversee the spending of their money?
- Is it right to demand land for traditional reasons, exploit it in non-traditional ways for profit and then not use the money for basics like housing and education?
- Is it right to complain about the problems involved in living in a remote area when economic independence could be achieved through education and through migrating to commercial centres as others have done throughout history?
- Is it right to ask for more grants to fund the Arts, television stations, radio stations and then complain of governments’ paternalistic attitudes?
- Is it right to expect Aboriginal only scholarships for the police force while simultaneously demanding Aboriginal law take precedence over the law of the majority (and some leaders incite an anti-police culture)?
This is a strategy of confusion.
Unfortunately, this strategy is working because many Aboriginal Australians are not living the good life. Excuses readily surface, with the list including unemployment, drugs, boredom, low self-image, abuse, the actions of racist police and meddling governments. But let’s be honest. Aborigines are not alone. These problems occur in other families, but do these families form violent vigilante mobs and blame their actions on everyone who has lived in Australia since 1788? The “blame others” strategy benefits only those leaders seeking power and glory. It destroys the people it purports to support by limiting their maturation process, personal development and aspirations. It encourages Aborigines to wallow in self-pity and blame others for their poor choices.
It is time for a biblically based reconciliation. For those who insist a debt is owed, ponder on the powerful message in The Merchant of Venice and remember German reparations. Consider those who had no choice in settling here in 1788; those who lost their lives during land ownership and cultural clashes; those whose humanity overrode superficial differences; those who endured hardships to create a wealthy nation; those who bequeathed to this nation its social and political conscience; those who protected this democracy; and, those who are its peacemakers. It would seem the debt is already paid in full.
All that remains is for Indigenous leaders to have a change of heart and mind. A government representing 20,400,000 can do no more than extend an olive branch to 400,000 of its people. Is there an Aboriginal Indigenous leader with the finer qualities of Mandela, Martin Luther King and Bonner to lead reconciliation in the 21st century? It is time to admit real reconciliation will never eventuate while money and power, not forgiveness, is at the root of the reconciliation process in Australia.
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