different country, same story

May 17, 2011

community work

Growing up in the ’70’s, I watched a lot of cowboy and Indian movies. I could not believe the injustices suffered by the Native American people. When I was an adolescent, I discovered that similar battles were waged against Aboriginal people in Australia.

Aaron Huey is a photographer living in the US who has documented the hardships experienced by the Lakota people. The statistics he mentions in the following talk on the Lakota are a carbon copy of the statistics for the Aboriginal people.

I’m having difficulties embedding the video, so please view the talk here at TED http://blog.ted.com/2010/11/10/americas-native-prisoners-of-war-aaron-huey-on-ted-com/

And then go to an article interviewing Mr Huey, at http://lens.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/10/20/behind-22/ .

The issues are complex and varied for the Lakota just as they are here for Aboriginal people, and Mr Huey respectfully raises so many important points. However, I had to wonder if this talk would have been available to me if the speaker was not a prominent photographer from the dominant culture but was instead a Native American?

Image from newspaper article: Hopes, dreams, and lofty government promises. Sydney Morning Herald, 13 May 2007.  “At Yarrabah Aboriginal Mission, two or three families – sometimes up to 25 people – share each house, which are little more than tin sheds.”  Photo: Meredith O’Shea

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About hakea

groupworker, parent educator, therapist, mother of three boys.

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28 Comments on “different country, same story”

  1. eof737 Says:

    You raise an important question… and I am reminded again of that shameful side to our world history, the treatment of others in our world, the atrocities, the cruelties and the revisionist history… 😦


    • hakea Says:

      Hi Eliz

      I heard an Aboriginal spokesman some time ago (but I can’t find the reference) talking about funding. He said that there is the equivalent of 20 people (?) for every one Indigenous person, working to provide services for Indigenous people (health, drug & alcohol, education, detention, housing, child protection, youthwork, law enforcement, policy, bureaucracy, admin). Most of the people providing those services are non-Indigenous.

      This figure seems incredible, and at the moment I can’t verify it. I found an article saying that government spending on Indigenous people is twice that of non-Indigenous (http://news.smh.com.au/breaking-news-national/indigenous-help-costs-twice-as-much-20110228-1bbl5.html).

      A lot of money is put into Indigenous affairs but the statistics rarely improve. An economy of poverty?


      • eof737 Says:

        It is pitiful, and the sad truth is that poor people around the globe are pawns in a systemic bureaucracy that perpetuates the status quo… multiple layers of people handling the needs of a few. 😦

  2. Karyn @ kloppenmum Says:

    Not quite as bad here, but issues still abound. Big ones. (Gangs to begin with.)
    What to do *is* the question.
    I’m not convinced we’ve got it right either.


    • hakea Says:

      Hi Karyn

      The Maori people fared a bit better (I think) because they weren’t as pacifist as the Aboriginal people. The Maori people that I have met (and there is a few of them over here) have a confidence that Aboriginal people don’t. Many of them don’t understand why the Aboriginal people are so disadvantaged.

      But as you say, there are still a lot of problems. I’ve heard that gangs are a problem in NZ. As Aaron Huey says, it’s one way for young people to be warriors again.

      At least, you have a Treaty – although that hasn’t worked out well for the Native Americans. And you have the language in schools – I wish we had that.


    • lifewithgoblins Says:

      Sorry to sneak in here, but my impression while in NZ was always that the Maori were SO vocal and demanding to be respected, acknowledged, and valued as an important part of the NZ culture. I honestly found it refreshing, wishing the Native American people were as steadfast. I was raised to respect and appreciate their heritage here and learn from them, but that is not the norm here in the US (sadly). Anyway….just my observation.


      • hakea Says:

        Ah Goblin Mum

        You don’t need to sneak, just barge your way in – no worries.

        Any people who created something like the Haka are not to be reckoned with! Love it.

  3. Karyn @ kloppenmum Says:

    The Treaty is a *hot* topic and is constantly. The language in schools is fairly marginal in most places. We’re very lucky that the boys’ school has their own wharenui (meeting house) and a specialist teacher, but many Kiwis wouldn’t see that as a good thing. sigh. So far to go.
    (If you get a couple of minutes have a look at the latest re-press I’ve put on my blog. I think you’ll appreciate it.)


    • hakea Says:

      That’s a shame, I was living in hope that the Kiwi’s were doing better.

      I have had a quick look and am looking forward to watching the videos.


  4. Karyn @ kloppenmum Says:

    Apologies: that first sentence makes no sense whatsoever. Time for bed.


  5. InsideJourneys Says:

    Narelle, every time I read your posts, I get food for thought.
    Years ago, when i was at university, I did a graduate program in development. More than a third of the student body of this small college were non-native students from Pakistan, India Ivory Coast, Congo, Kenya, Madagascar, Jamaica – you get the picture. Some among them were Canadian residents.
    Many of us got internships working at the development agency but when time came for graduation and jobs in the areas where specialized knowledge, having been born in these countries, would and should have been given consideration, only one person I know of who got something and it was many years later.
    It’s common knowledge here in the black community that when the black person talks about his situation, no one pays attention. But when the white person does, it carries weight.

    When I first moved to the US, I attended an artist’s talk and was blown away when a black artist made this comment, White people legitimize black artists’ work. I jumped out of my seat and challenged him.
    How dare he say that? I asked. I don’t remember his response but I remember thinking, these blacks in America need their heads examined. After living here for nearly 20+ years, I think I now understand what he meant. White people, by their influence can open doors that other blacks can’t. Lena Horne said it in an interview sometime ago, that she married a white man (whom she didn’t really love) because a black man could do nothing for her career.



    • hakea Says:

      I enjoy reading your perspective, and I hope that you’ll be honest with me if you think I’ve got it wrong.

      When I look at the US I’m a bit puzzled, because Oprah Winfrey appears to be one of the most influential people in the country. How can a poor, black, woman, get to such a position – she had three strikes against her.

      Mr Huey gave an amazing talk, but I felt uncomfortable that a white man is speaking for the Lakota people. He did it respectfully, and he put it in perspective in the interview when he said that he can’t define the Lakota people. I see it all the time – whitefellas telling how it is for the blackfellas. Maybe Mr Huey could have enabled some Native American people to speak for themselves? But then would it have made it into mainstream media? As an awareness raising activity, it was brilliant.

      Some of my Aboriginal colleagues are getting angry. They don’t want special treatment because they are Aboriginal, they want to be treated like everyone else. Sure, give them some support because their disadvantage means they’re not as well educated as whitefellas, but don’t treat them like they don’t have to have the same standards as whitefellas. They want to be treated like professionals. They are tired of seeing their young people allowed to get away with breaches of the law because the white authorities don’t know what to do with Aboriginal youth. In the long-term it’s not in their best interests to be treated differently.

      I saw this problem when I was working in foster care. Aboriginal children were shoved back and forth between family and foster care because there was an emphasis on retaining culture rather than considering the child’s basic needs for care and nurture first. This perpetuated the displacement of Aboriginal children and was abuse of a systemic nature.


      • InsideJourneys Says:

        Oprah is very talented, very lucky and had some amazing mentors who helped her along. It could be that combination that catapulted her to the position where she is now.

        As to why there’s only one like her in this position: The explanation I hear most often is that the door is usually only open to let one person in at a time. So while there’s an Oprah, there won’t be anyone else. It could be true, I don’t know. I hate to buy into stuff like that because that’s not how I live my life, but looking on, I have to wonder if there isn’t a kernel of truth in it.

        I agree with your Aboriginal colleagues. If the playing field is leveled for everyone, if everyone is *allowed* to play by the same basic rules, no special treatment, no affirmative action, people would feel more empowered, more as if they they have a stake, that they matter. That’s what people really need — is to feel that they count.

      • hakea Says:

        Hi Marcia and Karyn

        I studied equity last year, and I was surprised to learn that equity doesn’t always mean that everyone gets the same share. Equity can mean that some people get more support than others because their level of disadvantage means that for them there will never be a chance to get to a level playing field. Consider the child with dyslexia who needs extra support with reading. Or the child in a wheelchair who needs ramps and perhaps an aide for support.

        Indigenous people will need extra support for a long time due to the horrendous abuses they have suffered at every level in the past 220 years. I don’t begrudge the extra funding they receive, but I wish it were allocated to the thick edge of the wedge. There are a lot of public servants (white & black) earning a very good living from Indigenous funding with very little perceived benefit in the community.

        I’m still sorting this all out in my head, but I think my colleagues are talking about the stereotypes. They know they need extra support and help. They want extra support and help to become better practitioners. But they are tired of the stereotypes, for example, black = dumb, special, needing different standards. They are tired of the lower standards required of Aboriginal workers because that means their people continue to suffer. A complex issue.

        So, in the case of the medical student – if it is deemed that he or she is capable of such rigorous study and practicums, perhaps s/he could get extra tutoring in order to pass the exam at an A level?

        I had significant disadvantage as a young person, and have pulled myself up by the bootstraps, but it could be argued that being white affords me greater access and opportunity. I don’t have to deal with negative stereotypes and being treated differently due to skin colour (which if you listen deeply to people of colour you will understand is significant).

        Years ago, I wrote an essay about how funding is regarded differently depending on whom it is for. So, there is no question of helping white farmers out when they have suffered loss due to flood, fire, or pestulance. But when the same amount of funding is applied to Indigenous housing, education, or employment, the white majority protest.

        Thank you for your thought provoking comments. Wouldn’t it be lovely if we could all sit around the table over a cup of tea (herbal for me) and have a good yarn?

  6. Team Oyeniyi Says:

    You know, we must be similar. When I was about 12 I wrote to the President of the USA complaining about the treatment of the Native Americans.

    If you don’t visit John already, check out this post about segregation in other parts of the world, very interesting. http://wanderinground.wordpress.com/2011/05/13/segregation/

    We have a terrible record with indigenous people in Australia. That is all I’ll say.


    • hakea Says:

      Hi Robyn

      Thanks – that is an interesting post. I’m not surprised that those fellas are conditioned to being segregated. So many Muslim people I meet are gentle and accepting – insh’allah.

      Jon Stewart (The Daily Show, 2 May 2011 http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/mon-may-2-2011/big-deady) said that with the passing of Osama Bin Laden, finally after 10+ years he is no longer the face of the Muslim people and the focus may now be on the young people in Egypt and Libya.


  7. Karyn @ kloppenmum Says:

    It’s the extra help for Maori which doesn’t seem to be helping them either. And it’s making things worse for race-relations. For example, a student who gained a B bursary (end of school) here and was white couldn’t get into medical school, (they have to have an A) but a Maori student could. Instead of encouraging many white people to go to a Maori doctor, they now wonder if the quality of care is the same – if the Maori student was allowed to get into Med School on a lesser qualification, what else was ‘allowed’ during their training.
    And sadly, most of the Maori activists I see in the media, just want more and more – not the level playing field.


  8. Karyn @ kloppenmum Says:

    It would be lovely, yes! Coffee for me. 🙂
    I think with the A-B grade thing here, it’s being interpreted that the Maori student can get into Med School without being as smart/working as hard. This is of course very hard on those Maori students who have gained an A to get in.
    I fully understand the need to help those more who need more help, and we have the same issues here where a few seem to be making a s**t load of money out of the bureaucracy and not much seems to be making it to grass-roots.


  9. InsideJourneys Says:

    I’ll take herbal, please!

    It is a very complex issue. When I first moved to the States, I worked for a company that had gotten contracts because of a clause in government contracts that set aside 5% of the contracts/work should go to minority contractors – engineers, architects, builders, etc. So, for example, if a firm wanted to bid on a construction project, their bid would not even be considered if they didn’t have a minority partner.

    That program was instrumental in helping the company I worked with, and many others, to get much needed work as historically, major construction work had gone to white owned companies.

    Minority companies in the program could be ‘graduated’ after a certain period, 5 years, I think. The thinking was that by then, they would be able to compete with the white firms.

    That was a very simplistic approach, one that looked great on paper (don’t they always?).

    The reality was quite different. While they were partnered with the larger, white firms, they brought in huge projects, airports, train stations, hospitals and the like, that required them to maintain a large staff.

    After graduation, they had to maintain the staff and employ marketing people to market the firm constantly so that there was always work coming in. But they were not always successful in obtaining those projects because they were now competing with their former partners. So they had to lay off people — no large contracts, no need for a large staff.

    For that reason, I don’t agree with special treatment, set asides, affirmative action. Plus, there’s a stigma associated with them, people always expect you’re not up to snuff. Remember Donald Trump asking to see President Obama’s transcripts? That’s what happens. I prefer leveling (as much as possible) the playing field. Compete on merit and let the best person win, no matter the color or class.

    Yes, I do agree equity doesn’t really exist. Someone with a disability would definitely need extra help, no doubt. What I mean is that if everyone has *access* to the same level of education, for example, what they do with it is up to them. Some people shouldn’t be locked out without there not being serious consequences down the road. (My niece told me something pretty shocking — that by the 4th grade here in the US, they can tell the number of people who will end up in jail and know how many jails they need to build.)

    Just remembering that makes me want something stronger than tea!


  10. Team Oyeniyi Says:

    I would love to have contributed more to this discussion – but it is a bit close to home for me right now.


  11. lifewithgoblins Says:

    It seems the issue of “native” peoples varies slightly from each country to the next, but the underlying feeling is that they are angry on some level (still). I don’t know if there is any way to fix it in any one location, one solution for all. I do think that placing “systems” to “handle” them never works, only leads to more anger no matter how good intentioned the government is. In my humble opinion, education is very important. There is NO education on the actual history of native Americans and/or their culture(s) here in the U.S. Yet their art and presence is everywhere. If we educated our children on these matters (their spirituality, history, etc) that might prove to provide more change than anything.
    As for Oprah, she is a great example of the American mind-set: you can be anything/anyone you want to be if you’re willing to work hard and believe in yourself, things won’t be handed to you…..unless you’re a “George Bush.”


    • hakea Says:

      A couple of months ago on the World Moms Blog (http://worldmomsblog.com/2011/02/10/usa-dancing-to-the-beat-of-a-native-drum/) they asked…

      What cultural learning experiences have you been able to share with your child(ren), and how were they received?

      I wrote…

      “The most important thing I teach my children is not to subscribe to stereotypes. Our Indigenous people are as diverse as our continent. They cannot be clumped into one group. Many do not live a traditional life anymore, and their culture has adapted. Many live a modern life, but still follow cultural values about family and community. Also being Indigenous does not always mean that people have dark skin and dark hair, we have Indigenous people with fair skin and blonde hair. I also teach them about the enormous disadvantage that white settlement and rule has imposed on them, and how they are still struggling with many issues related to displacement from family and Country, poor health and poverty.”

      Recently my middle boy (8y-o) had to answer the following question for school “Europeans considered themselves to be civilised because they cultivated the land and developed farms. Do you agree or disagree with this way of thinking? Explain your point of view.”

      I asked him if he needed help, he said “No mum, I’ve got this one.” His answer to the question was “I disagree. I think the Aboriginal people were not uncivilised because they had their own society and culture and their own way of living in the environment. The Aborigines survived many years without the English. They would still be thriving today if it were not for the English.”

      I was very proud of him.


  12. countingducks Says:

    I agree this is a shameful and embarrasing situation. The ruthless way colonisers have dealt with the indigenous population all over the globe says a lot that is’nt too pretty. This is a subject which I have always found interesting


    • hakea Says:

      Hi Counting Ducks

      Thanks for dropping in and having a say.

      One thing I have noticed is that the longer I work with Aboriginal people the less I talk about race and more about individual needs. At first, this sounds simplistic but it is difficult to have a conversation with an Aboriginal person without you or them starting to talk about the difference between black and white. I had a wonderful discussion the other day with a colleague, a beautiful person, and a true professional, who happens to be Aboriginal, and the whole time we did not mention race. It was refreshing.


  13. eof737 Says:

    Counting duck… I find the subject quite distressing….and I agree with your point of view about the ruthless ways of the colonizers… BUT, the big but is that often post-colonialist leaders come into power, natives of these nations, and perpetuate the oppressions and disdain of the prior colonial rulers… the mentality persists. 😦
    I have gifted three Blog Awards to You! Feel free to post them on your blog and share them.
    Have a Happy Summer! 🙂


    • hakea Says:

      Hi Eliz

      There certainly is a long way to go, and I think today’s children should be learning about social justice in an attempt to break the cycle – if not with their family then at school and in the community. As one of our wonderful artists sings “From Little Things, Big Things Grow”. Oh, how I love that song.

      Thank you for the Awards. You are a blog posting and commenting machine (calling someone a ‘machine’ is a compliment here)!

      Too chilly for Summer here. Remember we are on the bottom part of the planet.



  1. different country, same story – what to do? (via hakea) « The artful abuela - May 26, 2011

    […]   Image from newspaper article: Hopes, dreams, and lofty government promises. Sydney Morning Herald, 13 May 2007.  "At Yarrabah Aboriginal Mission, two or three families – sometimes up to 25 people – share each house, which are little more than tin sheds."  Photo: Meredith O'Shea Growing up in the '70's, I watched a lot of cowboy and Indian movies. I could not believe the injustices suffered by the Native American people. When I was an adolescent … Read More […]

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