Academic journal article Lilith: A Feminist History Journal

Interrogating Non-Indigenous Support for Indigenous Self-Determination

Academic journal article Lilith: A Feminist History Journal

Interrogating Non-Indigenous Support for Indigenous Self-Determination

Article excerpt

This article draws on historical and contemporary sources to explore the contradictions inherent in the project of non-Indigenous support for the Indigenous movement for self-determination. It opens with some observations and accounts from several Indigenous activists and educators who have identified such underlying tension and dispute as debilitating to their work. It then turns to Indigenous and feminist historical and theoretical writings in order to identify further examples and analyses of this phenomenon in the realms of activism and academic discourse. The article illustrates how the lack of substantive and political equality between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people often prevents meaningful dialogue from being attained between the two, generating tension and conflict in work towards self-determination. However, it also acknowledges the possibility of actual dialogue--whether momentary or sustained--between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people, raising the question of what conditions could enable this. It argues for the necessity of decolonising the relationship of non-Indigenous people towards Indigenous people on both personal and societal levels. I tease out some of the ways in which the nature of non-Indigenous support can become a site of contestation through a specific example from Camp Sovereignty, an Indigenous rights protest initiated by the Black GST (Genocide to be stopped; Sovereignty to be acknowledged; and Treaty made) during the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, March 2006, in which I was a participant. Given the issues and dilemmas which arise in this context are complex and varied, it is important to note at this point that my discussion here is limited to consideration of a small sub-set of the possible relevant questions. Within this scope, I conclude the article by suggesting some avenues and approaches for further research into these concerns.

As a non-Indigenous activist and researcher, (1) I am interested in whether constructive ways of reflecting on and dealing with recurring conflict of this kind can be generated amongst activists. Ultimately, I hope that the nature of non-Indigenous support for self-determination can be improved so that Indigenous people's activism enjoys more helpful support. In this approach I attempt to balance a sense of celebration of and optimism for the past, present and future benefits of non-Indigenous support for Indigenous struggles with the need to pay attention to the potential pitfalls of such a project. My guiding focus throughout is on the question of how non-Indigenous people could change or what we/they could do to improve this kind of collaboration. This is based on the notion that 'the dominant group on any issue ... are accountable to the least powerful' (2) Hence, I let rest questions of how Indigenous people's behaviour in these situations might be criticised, contending that this would be a problematic endeavour for someone from my privileged standpoint.

This article is concerned with the Indigenous movement for self-determination, (3) a key element amongst the Indigenous-specific rights that Indigenous people are prevented from enjoying in contemporary Australia. Relations between Indigenous people as a group and non-Indigenous people as a group in Australia, as a settler-colonial state, are characterised by a fundamental lack of moral and legal recognition of Indigenous peoples as First Nations peoples. The material consequences of colonisation are clear from the contrasting socio-economic conditions of Indigenous people compared to the population as a whole in all parts of Australia. Aileen Moreton-Robinson, whose scholarship concerns Indigenous studies, women's studies and critical whiteness studies, invokes these conditions in contrasting the political interests and alliances of Indigenous women with those of white feminists in Australia. (4) Women's different histories and positions in the colonial order, she argues, explain their/our distinct political priorities. …

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