Patti McGill Peterson Center for International and Intercultural Studies
Australia: The Process for reclaiming the identity of the Indigenous Community
The colonization of Australia in the 1700’s had many long term impacting factors. One of the most discussed long term factors is around the concept of identity, rights to identity, and restoration of identity. With colonization came the idea of racial identity. The races became divided between white and black. Those in-between the races found it hard to identify themselves. Linguistic identity and diversity was lost. Of the 50 creole languages that were spoken by the indigenous population only 15 are widely spoken now. With colonization, many indigenous populations had their land taken away leading to the loss of territorial/ geographical identity. As Anthropology major, the concept of identity is fascinating to me. It is the role one performs for one’s community in order to keep social order through roles and duties and performs for categorizing groups in order to have alliances and enemies. My research became based around how identity can be restored or reclaimed by the indigenous populations after centuries of interactions with colonizers that defined indigenous culture as “savage”.
In the 1960’s the government of Australia decided to step into the homes of many families in indigenous communities and take children out of the households. The majority believed that many indigenous households had unfit conditions or cultural conditions for the proper raising of children. Children taken out of their households were referred to as the “Stolen Generations”. The Indigenous populations at this time were seen as deviant and it was necessary to assimilate the next generation to the Australian majority’s morals. These actions on the government’s behalf backfired. Taking the children out of their homes led to a loss of cultural identity for the following generations. Many children lost the beliefs, traditions, and values that were instilled within the indigenous communities.
By the 1990’s there is a documented spike in representation of Indigenous youth in the criminal justice system. Due to their deviant behaviors from the majority, indigenous youth who are described as loud, rowdy, and mischievous are criminalized and became the folk devil. This begins a lot of political activity/ advocacy against unjust law and unjust indigenous representations. Many indigenous people have become political leaders to give the minority a voice and rid the identity of indigenous people represented by the majority. It is this era, where my research begins. I took part of direct actions to protest against the government and the “Stolen Generations”. I went to many cultural awareness workshops to keep the identity of the indigenous population alive and well understood. I had debates with other students as they argued over putting Tok Pisin, a creole language spoken by millions into the high school curriculum. Just before I left Australia, Tok Pisin was added as a language option in high schools though it was denied a place before. Parties working for the indigenous populations grew. By asking open ended questions and talking to many influential people both young and old I began to see the complexity of misconceptions of a people, loss of identity, the creation of identity, and the reclaiming of identity . My own racial, geographical, linguistic, and cultural identity was questioned and I became connected to my fieldwork.