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Transcript of Wellbeing Lecture
BRD251: Indigenous Well-being
Country, well-being and identity
"Country is a place that gives and receives life. Not just imagined or represented, it is lived and lived with" (Bird Rose 1996, 7).
Country (known as 'boodjar' in Nyungar) is an entity with its own consciousness, it nurtures and provides a sense of belonging. Therefore, country is central to wellbeing.
It is also, for many (not all) Indigenous people, the cornerstone of their identity.
Q: Why not all?
The process of colonization interrupted Indigenous relationships to country.
Dispossession, loss of languages, assimilation policies; forcible removal etc. made continuing that connection to country a difficult task.
For many, this had serious implications for individual identity and, as a consequence, Indigenous wellbeing.
I argue that personal wellbeing relies on the ability of the people we form relationships with, to clearly see an individual as opposed to a politicised body. However, it's important to remember the strength that can be drawn from one's sense of identity.
Indigenous contestation of colonization
Indigenous political resistance to colonization emerged in the 1970s.
This movement, the land rights movement, was one unified and mobilised around the importance of land.
The 1972 Tent Embassy is most indicative of this.
Importantly, the setting up of the embassy coincided with the emergence of a collective pan-Indigenous identity.
Braden Hill - Kulbardi Centre
'Identity politics' signifies a wide range of political activity and theorizing founded in the shared experiences of injustice of members of certain social groups.
Political identity formations aim to secure the political freedom of a specific constituency marginalized within its larger context.
Members of that constituency assert or reclaim ways of understanding their distinctiveness that challenge dominant oppressive characterizations, with the goal of greater self-determination (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2002).
"To assert an identity is to distinguish oneself or one's group in a certain way and to differentiate oneself or one's group from others" (Stokes 1997, 5)
For this sort of politics to work everyone must exaggerate their similarities.
Second-wave feminist politics were based on women's 'universal' experience of patriarchal oppression.
For example, 'we're all women, we all suffer discrimination on the basis of gender, we have, as women, all run into the glass ceiling, etc.
This sort of politics gets things done!
it's not unproblematic.
For example, Women of Colour feminists felt excluded from the feminist movement. They argued that patriarchal oppression wasn't their primary oppressor - racism was a greater evil.
So, what does all this have to do with the well-being of Indigenous people?
Well, because Aboriginal identity was based on the universal experience of colonial oppression - particularly dispossession - the politics which emerged in response gave Indigenous people a strong political voice and brought about important Land Rights Legislation whch saw Indigenous people
Identity Politics and Homogeneity
Therefore, identity politics are a double-edged sword as narrowly constructed identities can exclude, oppress and marginalised some individuals who don't 'fit the mould'.
Identity politics and strategic essentialism forced the first steps towards reconciliation (what some call 'healing').
Land Rights Act (1976) provides the basis upon which Aboriginal people can claim rights to land based on traditional occupation.
It was also a significant moment in that it formally recognised the legal myth of 'Terra Nullius'
The identity of a collective (Aboriginal, Australia, gay, Christian etc.) is constructed in a dynamic and interactive social process. These identities change, they are contested, fought over, policed and controlled
For example, to be granted Native Title, claimants must demonstrate that they have maintained a connection to their country. Indigenous people, non-Indigenous people, the legal system, the media, history (to name a few) all contribute to our shared understanding of what is means to be Aboriginal.
Is the belief that people have an underlying and unchanging essence that exists commonly among all people within a particular social grouping.
Some essentialist claims:
Men are naturally more aggressive than women because of hormonal differences.
Indigenous people are closer to nature than non-Indigenous people.
Women are more emotional than men.
Men are more rational than women.
Sometimes essentialism can be used in strategic/political ways.
The catch-cry 'born this way' is a form of strategic essentialism. It is politically useful for gay activists to point out that people are born gay, people are born straight, sexuality is fixed and pre-determined etc.
The 'Real' or 'Authentic' Aborigine
The double-edge sword
Despite the good it may do, identity politics can become problematic when the stressed differences become unbridgeable or even just incoherent. It can lead to nastiness and oppressive behaviour.
Emphasizing an essentialist conceptualization of Aboriginality doesn't allow for fluid understandings of what it means to be Indigenous.
Diversity allows people to be who they want to be: an individual without being accused of being a traitor.
Bird Rose argues that:
'The relationships between the people and their country are intense, intimate and full of responsibilities' (Bird Rose 1996, 49).
'Aboriginal relationships to land link people to ecosystems rather than giving them dominion over them' (Bird Rose 1996, 11).
European culture of conquest, Aboriginal culture of balance.
What do you think it means to be
It is vital to think critically about the use of identity politics and acknowledge its limitations.
Let's think critically about your readings this week:
The fostering of relationships to nature or 'country' are not the sole responsibility or domain of Indigenous Australia.
The notion of 'country' is one we can all share in (Indigenous and non-Indigenous alike).
In fact, it is vital for our own well-being and the well-being of our ecosystems to reconfigure our relationships to the environment.
'Country' exists everywhere. It's not just locked up in wilderness, it's all around you.
So, where is your country?
So, to wrap-up, we need to avoid essentialist identities that stifle individuality and thus threaten personal and collective well-being.
Think critically about identity politics.
Argue against claims such as 'all Aboriginal people are', 'all women are', 'all men are', 'all homosexual people are' etc. because it can be harmful and sometimes just plain dumb.
"It is about people who are really connected to their planet, we have a lot to learn from that, because we are also connected, not as literally as they were, but without our planet we're nothing. We need to a lesson from...from those people".
As you can see, this stuff is complicated, that's why it's important to...
It's important to remember that colonization isn't just an event - it's an ongoing process.