February 13, 2009
Feedback: Frances Widdowson, Co-Author of Disrobing the Aboriginal Industry
I am white, middle aged, the husband of a Warlpiri speaking woman who has worked all of her life for her people's improvement. I have worked with and for Aboriginal Australians for almost all of my working life - for over thirty years. I have an adult Aboriginal daughter and three grand kids. We are greatly heartened by the knowledge that there are those in Canada, as in Australia, who are finally starting to get it right. A group of human rights lawyers in Australia have recently formally complained to the UN concerning the 'racism' of our Federal Government's 'Intervention' into Aboriginal affairs in our part of the world. We were delighted with the Intervention though happy to be constructively critical of aspects of its implementation. We have lost dozens of mostly young, indigenous loved ones to avoidable causes. We have confronted regular violence, homicide, abuse and neglect resulting from the clash of two logically opposed cultures. Most of the perpetrators have tried to justify their criminality in terms of cultural mores and many get away with it. In the Northern Territory of Australia Aboriginal men can publicly state that Aboriginal women may be executed for cultural reasons with no response whatsoever from the champions of human and cultural rights. My wife's uncle could tell the Wall Street Journal that women have no power in Aboriginal law. He was, in this case referring to a small group of courageous women who started their own store under the legal regime established under the Intervention so that their kids could be properly fed. The two stores already existing had been corruptly and incompetently managed for years because they have operated according to traditional principles. Again there was no response from the champions of women's rights in this country who are shrill in their castigation of Muslim clerics and white politicians in general if their remarks are perceived to be even slightly sexist. This even though the National Indigenous TV network is controlled by urban based and educated women of indigenous descent. 'Culture' trumps human rights and most specifically, women's rights in relation to our indigenous citizens in the bush living close to their traditions. So the stabbing murder of a 24 year old mother of two, granddaughter to us, results in four and a half years in jail. That's what her life was worth to a legal system that refused to take into account an extensive record of previous violence against her before sentencing. Her life was so cheap because she was black and so was her killer. There are dozens of examples in this country of middle age men receiving minimal or no sentence at all for the rape of underage girls because they were 'promised wives' who should have 'known what was expected of them'. Women have no power in traditional law says my wife's uncle and the courts have too often agreed.
I therefore praise the authors of 'Disrobing the Aboriginal Industry-- The Deception Behind Indigenous Cultural Preservation'. But I also acknowledge the truth of the reviewer's criticism. This country too has many who are good at analysing problems but not good at proposing solutions other than demanding yet more funds from the poor, tired, bemused taxpayer. The solutions will come from those Aboriginal people who are now accorded no power by their traditions to the benefit of the minority of corrupt and frankly criminal in their own communities and organisations. The first thing to do is to give real power to Aboriginal women in the bush not just to those in the cities fantasising naively about their lost traditional culture, who are willing to sacrifice the basic human rights of their sisters in their commitment to laying blame for all problems at the feet of governments.
Let's be honest for a change.
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