A moment ago I read some commentary by Noel Pearson, published on December 30, 2006 in the Australian. (link).
I think it was a sincere attempt to provide some solutions to a pretty serious problem – that being the disproportionately high number of Aboriginal People in jail — but he also said a few things that troubled me greatly.
I would I’d like to talk about these things, in addition to the broader issue of problem solving in Colonial Societies.
Coming to Terms with Problems and Solutions
First, it’s important to understand that in Colonial society, alot of very big assumptions are made which often limit, for the purpose of this article, the ability to problem-solve. The reason being that the assumptions allow us to ignore and even replace the real issue (the cause) with the ever-convenient effect of the cause – the solutions for which may or may not have an impact on either.
An example would be what Noel brings up in his commentary:
I propose three starting points for a reconsideration of Aboriginal over-representation in the criminal justice system.
First, we must acknowledge the intellectual and policy failure of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. Fifteen years after this extraordinary process, which focused on over-representation as the central problem, there are more indigenous people in prison today than at the time of the commission’s report.
Second, we must face up to the point made by Don Weatherburn, the director of the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research: Aboriginal imprisonment rates are the result of Aboriginal crime rates. We cannot keep trying to deny that offending rates are very high by focusing all discussion on underlying issues and the need for social justice.
Instead, we have to confront the breakdown of social order in Aboriginal societies, and we have to confront this problem as a problem of behaviour.
The Mayor of Hope Vale community, Greg McLean, characterised the solutions proposed by those lawyers and criminologists who focus on structural explanations rather than dealing with the behavioural causes of indigenous crime as follows: “They are now trying to decriminalise crime.”
Third, we must face up to a second point made by Weatherburn: much of Aboriginal offending is related to substance abuse.
No offense to Noel, but he’s focusing only on the surface of the problem- while making the mother of all assumptions – that it’s Australia’s unilateral right and obligation to step in and ‘solve’ this problem, which I must add, has been directly caused by that same assumption/colony-based society.
In more manageable terms, Noel’s solution comes down to nothing more than behaviour modification. That’s it. Forcefully condition the Aborigine to cease certain behaviours, and that will apparently make everything alright, even though this not really solve anything.
Historically speaking, this is the epitome of “solution” in colonial society – the best there is, in the same way there’s no justice — just parameters of acceptable behavior and, depending on your profile, the protocl used to variably punish you for doing what is considered socially or politically unacceptable. That’s not justice. Justice is learning, replacement, growth, change, and healing.
And as far as a solution to this issues goes… Well If we seriously want to one, then the cause of the problem must be a primary focus.
But first, of course – we must identify the cause(s)
Noel’s right about policy, that’s a big part of the problem- but policy is not just a scheme for a government to attain a particular ends. It is also a process heavily influenced by inherited legacy, beliefs, desires, fears, and the motives and political agenda of those in power (left or right makes no difference.). Policy is what runs a Government – it is what determines the future of a society.
And what are the policies of Colonial-based societies towards Indigenous People?
Well, there’s quite a list, but to get the gist of where we’re headed here, I’ll just point out a common one : Assimilation or else This is the intent towards Indigenous People in all colonial States.
Politically speaking, this policy stems from assumptions based on the doctrine of colonialism (capitalism is part of it too) and the law of nations theory which, if it was something actually on paper, would say, among many trouled ideas, that any group who can get and hold power has free reign on the territories they can conquer, steal, or buy – so long as they play well with the other states and help maintain an illusion of hope and possibility for the conquered people and their own population
Of course it goes deeper than this, but the doctrine, the theory, the assumptions – this is the framework of colonial society, and in order to really address the causes of the problem and initiate real solutions, it is necessary to get away from this framework, otherwise we are limited to the same old static algorithm which, by the count of history – has yet to actually work.
A view from the outside
In solution making, as in Justice – dialogue is critical. It is never enough to just hear one side of a story – and nor is it realistic to expect those who cause the problem (or enable it to remain unresolved) to define and resolve it without consulting or even respecting those who are/were effected by it. Especially when that very process is part of the problem…
Any solution or discussion about solutions must involve the primary participation of those effected. In this case, the Aboriginal, Traditional People of the Land.
There is absolutely no room for unilateral decision making on part of Australia or any other State with regard to Indigenous People since Indigenous People still hold their inherent rights. States do not have the authority, vision, will and maybe even ability to act in our best interests — especailly since their allegiance, their position, their beliefs and their political agendas always come before our needs, and the needs for the problems themselves. (eg. we don’t hear what’s the solution. we hear, how much money is left in the budget, how close are we to the elections, what did the democrats do last term? What am I going to eat for lunch, today?)
If there are to be real solutions, a clear, direct line of dialogue must be established and nurtured between the State and the Aboriginal People. That’s step one.
And Step two invovles mutual compromise and mutual sacrifice.
In all issues concerning indigenous People that’s one of the most difficult things to hear, for ‘both sides,’ but it’s realistic. States cannot continue as they do because they do not act in our best interests – and conversely, we have to take a primary role in our own affairs, and perhaps know that justice may only be possible for us and for the benefit of history by pursuing options slightly different than those we pursue now, but no less peacefully… States will not self correct, and they cannot be readily forced to.
Conclusions in the sand
Beyond that I can’t really think of anything more to say at the moment – except that, in reminding myself of Noel’s article, I am deeply aware I am talking about exactly what he suggests we must ignore: Social Justice.
Whether we like it or not, te fact is there is a direct correlation between the Aboriginals multi-generational experience of systemic abuse and subjugation to the issues Aboriginals are experiencing today – substance abuse, poverty, violence, suicide, theft, murder, and so on.
Of course, there are a myriad number of reasons these things happen, but in the case of indigenous people, it is the primary cause, and I can guarantee that if this was addressed according to the needs of Justice and the Aborigine People themselves – Australian Jails would have an Aborigine Population of Zero. The number of Aborigines habitually consuming/abusing alcohol would be zero — and crime and violence would cease to exist.
Unfortunately, there seems to be little or no room to have this discussion, and very few willing to explore it fully.
And even more unfortaunate is the fact that the AU goverment will do precisely what Noel talks about.
The way things go for Indigenous People we should except no less. Afterall, it’s policy.
But policy cannot prevent us from solving our own problems, or for that matter, those that cannot be solved while limited with any colonial society..
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