Defending Country| Protecting Wealth in First Nations
Dawn of Humanity
Imagine if you will, the dawn of humanity 40,000 years ago ice covers much of Europe. In archaeological terms, here in Australia, we can trace back 40,000 years and beyond which in comparison predates the human occupation of Europe, homo sapiens are yet to arrive in this icebound landscape occupied by Homo neanderthalensis or Neanderthal man. Yet around at the other end of the globe, on an isolated continent we find Homo sapiens occupying a landmass so unique that its animals have evolved independently of other life forms on earth. And these Homo sapiens are immersed and engaged in a culture and tradition which remains unbroken for 40,000 years and continues to exist into this modern era, that is the Aboriginal experience. Australian Aboriginal people are the custodians of this culture which can be traced back with continuity for over 40, 000 years.
Piracy & Plunder
Fast Track 40,000 years and we arrive in this timeline. Let's say maybe 500 years ago, when the first Europeans venture beyond the shores of their familiar territories, with Vasco de Gama traveling around Africa into India, establishing himself as a feared and notorious pirate wreaking violence, piracy and theft upon the population of India extracting and exploiting the wealth and the resources of these civilized countries.
Not to be outdone Christopher Columbus implores the king and queen of Spain to fund a mission to arrive at India from the opposite side of the world. And in so doing, he travels to and discovers a new world, unknown to Europe. A world inhabited and populated by multiple nations, civilizations, advanced societies. Yet the exact same European approach of piracy, of intimidation, of fear, of crimes against humanity, denial of humanity are perpetrated against those societies. Such is the experience of the Americas … then go forward another 300 years.
The Americans have settlements, occupied by European colonies, some of whom go to war against their Imperial masters and throw them out. And once again, the new faces of European empire the Protestant nations, supplanting the Catholic nations, jealous of the wealth acquired by the Catholic nations move to other parts of the globe, into the South.
Captain Cook arrives at the forefront of this new British Empire and the British Empire Strikes a claim upon Australia a claim based on a false legal fiction of Terra Nullius. In each of these events, you have a European nation engaged in crimes against humanity in piracy, engaged in extraction of resources, and the accumulation of wealth and treasures, from all of these places around the world where they apply their weapons of mass destruction. They steal the knowledge. They steal the wealth, they steal the land, they steal the resources and not satisfied with that they also steal the people. They translocate populations of people from Africa into the Americas to become slaves to work to till the soils to generate wealth for the selected few they translocate their own people from the prisoner of Britain to the penal colonies of Australia to become cheap labor and when slavery becomes illegal, they create false stories of indentured labor or permits to employ indigenous peoples or indentured labor from melanesian islands and through each of these events the common theme is exploitation, of piracy, a practice of genocide… all for what ends, for what purpose?
The purpose is to extract and accumulate wealth for a select few people… so fast forward to today, here in Australia a settler society built on piracy, built by slavery by prison labor and fundamentally built on fictions, falsehoods and fake histories. The nation of Australia. So twisted and bent in its foundations so incapable of dealing with honesty and truth presents itself in a perpetually compounding fiction. (And if you want to see the example of that look no further than the federal government in this year, 2020. Next month, March, we're welcoming a tall ship, a replica of the Endeavor. Captain Cook's ship. This replica is coming to Australia, to circumnavigate Australia, no less! In celebration of Captain Cook's first arrival and $50 million dollars is being spent on this yet. Has anyone asked? Did Captain Cook circumnavigate Australia? No, the answer is no. So how and why does their government invest $50 million into celebrating a fake history?) But that's all beside the point.
What I'm here to talk about, and the theme that I would like to follow through with is the core and the core story is wealth. The accumulation of wealth, the transfer of wealth and how Each point of interaction, point of engagement, each sorry miserable exchange is built around the transfer and accumulation of wealth from one set of hands to another.
Transference of Wealth
Adam Smith wrote The Wealth of Nations in which he expounds the philosophy and way of galvanizing and taking actions and setting directions for governing and allowing markets to operate to accumulate wealth For European nations. At this point I want to introduce an anthropological term, a concept the that concept of the original affluent society, which is how anthropologist identified Australian Aboriginal people, as one of the original affluent societies, in this original affluent society, wealth was grounded in the institutions of social distribution, wealth was grounded in the culture, the knowledge, wealth was grounded in how you take care of the land and the resources and how you then extract and use those resources. And, importantly, for everyone in modern society today, how you apply your time and your labor to extract rewards.
The original affluence of foraging hunter gatherer societies is built around the minimal amount of work for the maximum amount of gain, and by operating in a spiritual domain, operating at a macro level of macro interventions in the landscape Aboriginal people were able to manage the land to produce resources to sustain themselves, their needs their wants to sustain the development of a culture and a tradition and a civilization that survived for 40,000 years and continues to survive today. So, the original affluence is built around the dreaming, built around our spirituality and our creativity, our art, and our people, and how we develop, maintain and sustain relationships between each other as peoples honoring and respecting but also managing and controlling ourselves. Such fundamental concepts as respect or Kunta, other concepts like ngurlu, which literally means fear, but also the word is more accurately Awe.
An Aboriginal person in that space, of affluence listens to their spirit. Listens to the spirit of the land, listens to the spirit of ancestors, and listens to one’s own spirit and calling, This in turn guides actions and behaviors so one makes a contribution to life as a responsible being. That is the original affluence.
Sadly, with the coming of colonization, the disruption of settlement, the full brunt of exploitation and extraction of our wealth and our resources and transference of that into foreign hands. Which in turn builds the foundation to what we now know is white privilege and its assets in the social, cultural, political institutions we see all around us today. The very foundations of the City of Melbourne are built on the exploitation of resources from Australian Aboriginal people. This accumulation of wealth is sustained by a dogmatic and bloody minded refusal to give it back!
The extraction and accumulation of wealth from the lands of the Aboriginal peoples was built on this assumption that the land did not belong to anyone, and the land was free to take and give to someone else. But one day the legal system in Australia woke up and realized, hang on a minute. Under our measure, we cannot continue to identify the Aboriginal people as being so Low in the scale of social organization as to not have rights and interest in land. And we cannot take their land and give it to someone else without first talking to them. So, this realization was the Mabo decision. Many people hail it as a milestone in social justice for Aboriginal Australia. And while I personally am a strong proponent of Native Title I pursue it rigorously and seek Native Title outcomes on behalf of my people and others. I'm under no illusions as to the truth. The purpose of Native Title, the true purpose of Native Title is to legalize the dispossession of Aboriginal people. The Native Title act sets up a legal process to take land from Aboriginal people and give it to third parties. Ie mining companies, developers, someone's new backyard. That is the true purpose of Native Title.
So, the theme of this presentation is to talk about defending country. So, keeping that in context and that to truly understand the motivations of colonialism and imperialism and their byproducts of racism, white privilege, privilege of institutions like these universities, we must follow the money trail, and the money trail takes us back to transfer of wealth from one party to another party, the accumulation of wealth by this other party, to the detriment of the original holders of that wealth and the ongoing process of denying the repatriation of that wealth. Understanding it in that context. That's how we can truly understand the purpose of Native Title and the motivations of parties.
Defenders of country, cultural custodians often campaigning from a position of imposed austerity, imposed poverty, in that space have been denied access to resources, we still have enough of an inherent value, of enough of inherent wealth to motivate and generate and inspire activism, activism for the purpose of managing the flow of extraction of our wealth. In these dynamics the exchange is really quite simple. There is a desire by the Colonial/Settler State to Extract and transfer wealth and there is a system of rules that are designed to regulate, manage and coordinate the extraction of that wealth. This is a system built by pirates, a system built by the occupiers, a system built by the thieves, who seek to transfer wealth. When someone stands up to that and says no, it is then that we end up in a point of conflict. This plays out every day in Australia today. Activism at the margins is the point at which someone seeks to defend their country, defend their resources, defend their people from this extraction and exploitation and transfer of wealth into other hands. I personally have been engaged in many of these disputes going back well over 30 years. Prior to that, my elders have been fighting against it for close to 130 years now, we continue to maintain that fight to keep what is precious to us, perform our spiritual obligations to the land, our spiritual obligations to our ancestors, our spiritual obligations to our future generations. And in my experience as an activist on the margins I'll leave with these short little observations.
Three’s a Party
There are often three parties. There are the pirates and these pirates are generally government and corporates, parties who are seeking to extract wealth and make it their own. There are the custodians, the people who stand up and fight to stop this from happening. And in the middle are people blowing in the wind like a flag, these people, I would say are the collaborators, some may be shocked or appalled to find out that these collaborators are often our own people. We make excuses for them, we point to their poverty, we point to the lack of awareness, but there comes a time where you have to draw the line you have to say there is no excuse. You're either a collaborator or you're a custodian.
Checklist for Piracy
So under these three headings, this is a little checklist that I've developed from my many years of activism at the margins. The developer they must have a textbook somewhere, a textbook to strategize and identify how do you disempower the protectors, the custodians, and how do you take what is theirs and make it ours? One of the first things they will complain about is the black tape/red tape/green tape. They will cry, there are too many regulations there are too many impediments to development we must do away with this and they then call upon the government they say, We're on the same team, your role is to make the rules pure and simple so we can do our thing. And they categorize that as black tape, green tape, or whatever type of tape that seems to bind these free market entrepreneurs from transferring that wealth, as instructed by Adam Smith. If we're able to defend against the black tape argument, they then start encountering the validity or the credibility of the claims. Oh, these heritage sites, they're invented, they're fabricated. They're fake. These heritage sites they don't exist because we have people who can tell you that they don't exist. So that strikes to the validity question, the credibility of the claims of significance. And to back up this questioning, you will find a new group emerges. A dissenting voice, the breakaway group, your own people, maybe your own brother, maybe your sister, your mother, your father. All of a sudden you will find as a cultural custodian, you will find members of your own family sitting across the room from you, sitting beside the instigator, the developer, the government and being used as the collaborator undermining the legitimacy of your position and being used to discredit your claims. These are the dissenting voices and should you hold strong and you persevere and you overcome the dissenting voices and they may start to come back to your side. One other trick in their bag… The national interest, they will come back to you, they will go back to government, they will say, we cannot afford this, it's in the national interest, this development must happen. And that the significance of that site, the value of that site is, only for a small group. It's not in the national interest. The self-definition of what the national interest is, is left in the hands of a puppet of the industry. Whoever at that time occupies a seat of government. So that's the checklist I've come up with. Step one, black tape. Step two validity of claims. Step three, the dissenting voice step four the National interest. And through each of these steps, they will seek to force the full brunt of the nation state against a cultural custodian.
Collaboration is not always good
So, let's think about the collaborators for a minute. Who are the collaborators? I won't name who they are. But you will soon recognize and identify who they are. All I know is when I go to
community meetings, we engage in our rigorous debate. These are the people who will say what can you do They're going to do it anyway. They're going to set up that mine, they're going to do this. What can you do? We might as well take what wherever we can. And let them go ahead. That's their first comment. Second step is a lateral violence. It becomes personal, it becomes bitter, becomes protracted. You get called out at the car park or in your own home or on the phone or through social media, examples of lateral violence. The collaborators are the ones who put their signature to the papers. They sign and they are the very same people who will deny any responsibility in this process and we as forgiving, responsible, reasonable people. Give them the benefit of the doubt and welcome them back into our fold for the sake of family for the sake of cohesion.
Role of Cultural Custodians
So finally, the cultural custodians Who are you? What are you doing and why are you doing it? One of the projects that we have pursued now for seven years we're resting for the moment, but we will continue the battle is we're forever being vigilant is the fight against uranium mining in Western Australia, the walkatjurra walkabout we've walked for seven years between 300-400 kilometers per year. The act of walking is a spiritual process. It connects you with the land, we as human beings are built to walk, to move to be connected with the land with the Spirit. So, the role of the cultural custodian is guided by spirit. First spirit we’re guided by is the spirit of the land because the land speaks to us the land seeks out our assistance. The second voice of the Spirit is the voice of our ancestors who have passed on their legacy, their responsibility to us. And we as the current generation of custodians, it's our watch. And on your watch, do you compromise? Do you give it away? Or do you hold firm until you're ready to pass on that legacy to the next generation. So, in many respects, the role of a cultural custodian is to be guided by the spirit. The role is to never Ever Ever compromise and to be fully aware and awake. Finally, this is a life sentence. If you're truly engaged as a cultural custodian and the power of the land is built on the foundation of life and death and should you do wrong by the land as the custodian you will die? No question. So, you must be aware you must be conscious, and you must take action to protect the land. It is a life sentence in many respects.
In doing all of these roles as a cultural custodian, we must be aware that we are talking to our future generations. We're holding that space now and we passing that on, and many of us as I look around the cultural leaders, the custodians there are things we are doing. Each one of us is creating law. Each time you go to court, each court battle you have each court decision comes out in your name is creating law, establishing precedent, talking to future generations. So be aware, be proud, be inspired. Your role is to inspire the future.
Protect Your Wealth
My little thing, one of the things that I do, defending country we start with a Native Title determination. That is only step one. The very next day you will have a developer a miner or someone asking the government to take land from you and give it to them for the purpose of developing a business or an enterprise aka transferring wealth from you to them for small rent and that's the challenge I put out to everyone out there. All you cultural custodians, the original leaders don't get caught up in being compensated for the inconvenience of having someone else come in and extract the wealth from your land and transfer it to them and in exchange they'll give you the percentage as compensation.
We need to be woke. We need to be aware. And we need to fully understand and appreciate the value of the wealth that we continue to hold. How do we apply that wealth in own cultural ways with our own people to stop the aberration of 200 years and realign with the 40,000 years of history that we already hold, that's the stuff that I'm working on now. Moving beyond the conceptions of the Wealth of Nations as put out by Adam Smith and looking at the Wealth in First Nations and how do we use our First Nations wealth? Enjoy our wealth, protect our wealth, defend our wealth from the descendants of pirates. So that's the challenge. And on that point, all I can say to my fellow cultural custodians… be guided by the Spirit, listen to the spirit and do not compromise. And to you in the audience, rise to this call to action:
• Create Art
• Tell Stories
• Inspire and be Inspired
• Follow the Money trail
• Connect with Spirit
• Defend Country
• Support & Connect with Custodians
• Protect your Wealth
Palunya Ngula Nyaku