…to include and embrace the Aboriginal Australian Nation as an enduring, and living part of Australia’s multicultural spectrum and continuum – not to relegate it to a historic footnote.
The Australian Constitution is up for a rewrite this year. It’s an endeavour to more appropriately and significantly recognise, acknowledge, reconcile and more fully embrace the Native Aboriginal Nation in a national context; both past, present and future. In the rewritten constitution I urge the language of the document to be such that the Native Aboriginal Nation is referred to as the “Founding Peoples” of Australia rather than the “First Peoples” of Australia. The reason for this is manifold and I will list a number of the issues behind the suggestion or recommendation.
The term “First Peoples” is easily misinterpreted and has various classist and segregationist associations that the Aboriginal Australian nation want to distance themselves from, as well as the rest of the population, in addition to it sitting very uneasily with the Australian population’s sensibilities and its culture at large.
Australia is a great multicultural nation, and if there is one thing that rankles with us, it’s the notion of classism. British classism in particular, which, let’s put the blame squarely, is significantly to blame for most of the troubles around the birth and creation of Australia as a new nation has been largely irrelevant in the more enlightened heyday of its, like China’s, emergence on to the world stage as a major player with a strong and vibrant character of its own. While the British economic, political and social system is still in the throes of self-loathing and self-deprecation in terms of its own classist divisions, which, despite its many attempts to gloss over their existence are still a significant cause of its socioeconomic problems; the notion of classism is not well tolerated or liked in Australia. We fundamentally believe in equality; of race and gender and sex, and more recently religion, not stymied by who your parents were, what your bloodline was or what your socioeconomic background was.
The truth is, despite the odd racist or bigoted straggler, Australia’s multiculturalism is world class and second to none. We, as Australians embrace other cultures, assimilate them, and in turn, they nourish and enrich our community and culture. We are unlike the more monocultural multiculturalism of the US, where immigrants and migrants commit or pledge themselves to upholding a singular cultural ideology and identity, where the multicultural idea is a monoculture of Americanism’s. Australian multiculturalism, like the English language itself, is happy to absorb, assimilate, grow and evolve from the new cultural material, while retaining a strong and enhanced sense of self and national identity.
The label of “Founding Fathers” and “Founding Peoples” has a lot of stock in the Western cultural zeitgeist. In addition to that, the principle and language of “founding” something has stock in most cultures as being of worth or worthy or having legitimacy. It has a grander resonance than merely “starting” something. It has roots and associations with the creation of something enduring and lasting. “Founding” is also easy to accept, from a modern cultural perspective, as there is no argument to be had. Yes, the Aboriginal Australian’s came to Australia at some point in the past 70, 000 years and founded and built a nation and society which was going strong for thousands of years before the modern day European trading colonists arrived here.
There is a faux legitimacy which is symbolised by the “First Fleet” and the “First Colonies” in Australian history. That somehow, their claimed arrival before other European nations gave them some legitimacy to claim ownership or squatters rights or something equally as alien to the national mindset at the time. But to try to “beat them to the punch” culturally by labelling Australian Aborigines and the Australian Aboriginal Nation as the “First Peoples” stumbles naively into the English trap of attempting to legitimise the same argument while getting peoples backs up and creating a historical classism and bigotry which is as offensive to the modern Australian culture as is the notion of modern day classism.
No Australians dispute the Native Aboriginal Population was here first.
No Australians claim that the Proud Australian Aboriginal nation were sitting here, biding their time and being at one with the land, just waiting for a few shiploads of English castoffs and coppers to make sure they stayed put.
It’s why various government policies regarding asylum seekers rankle with the Australian population at large. Australian culture has a very strong and ingrained rejection of the notion that we are a collection or colony of an exported criminal underclass, that somehow grew like mould “down under” like the barnacled hull of an unkempt vessel: the notion that we are a nation of misfits and ne’er- do-wells or the unworthy or that we are a nationalised underprivileged class, with a few spattering’s of English or European “cream” who emigrated or sought to colonise or manage the outpost rankles to the deepest core of the Australian zeitgeist. It’s the source of our national irreverence for authority and classism, associating them not with good governance and wise social ordering, but with the excesses and brutality and evils and selfish, self-aggrandisement of the worst of the British Imperialist mindset. The same mindset that was responsible for the Irish and Indian famines which slaughtered millions in a callous and culturally elitist disregard for human life, explained away in administrative bungling and agrarian mismanagement.
So modern Australians as well as the native Australians who were so, let’s face it, outrageously unfairly dispossessed of their land and their culture by these self-same British notions, both today share a culture which is intolerant of the type of classist and socially segregationist mindset which caused those occurrences. Therein the notion of the Aboriginal nation being labelled or called the “First Peoples” contains a bitter trap in social terms, and in terms of the zeitgeist of modern Australia; like the poisoned flour the first settlers used to so despicably trap the trusting and unwary natives. It contains in it the seeds of a classism of belonging, and a cultural two tone classism that is guaranteed to rankle and undermine the very notion it is attempting to engender: the memory of (and respect for) the Australian Aboriginal Nation being a valid and existent entity, long before any English troublemakers arrived on the scene.
Calling or labelling Aboriginal Australian’s the “First Peoples” has the associations that everyone not of Aboriginal lineage is suddenly relegated to being a second class citizen in their own country, even if they were hitherto vehement supporters of the memories or principles of native sovereignty. That the national identity of modern day Australians who were born and bred here, have fought and even possibly died, protecting their motherland, are suddenly the victim of a second “stolen generation” of words and relegated to “second best” or “second class” citizens. Not really Australian’s anymore because they weren’t here first or because they aren’t of Aboriginal descent.
Such language is the bitter “shlmeil*” of the English culture. The English really want to hold on to Australia as a trophy, and have as little regard and respect for Australia and Australian culture now as they ever have, really. They aren’t happy about the notion that we have outgrown them and out evolved them socially as a nation, or about the imminent prospects of our becoming a republic or independent nation of some form or another. So in the traditions of bad sportsmanship, they are further attempting to cloud the issue by subtly encouraging and manipulating this lingual association.
The American’s too (who have their own native genocide and black repression issues), don’t like to regard the Australian nation as an equal, but more of a dumber, hick cultural sidekick, like the cartoon characterisations of the lovable but stupid ethnic sidekick depicted in so many of their earlier cartoons. They are also happy to see Australia “come a gutsa” in the grandest of traditions by miswording a constitutional rewrite and the ensuing cultural weakening and “discohesion” it will engender.
So why not take a leaf from their book? Everywhere from the Mormons to the Freemasons to the Parliament in America, the notions of Founding and the Founding Fathers and the Foundations has a grand ring of cultural dependability and bedrock, and instantiated legitimacy. No one doubts for a moment, domestic or foreign, that the Native Aboriginal Nation wasn’t founded in Australia, wasn’t founded by native Australians, and wasn’t founded thousands of years before the English had crawled out of caves and painted themselves with wode, or had their arses handed to them by the Romans, or the French. No one doubts that. And since it also happened many centuries before anyone in modern day Australia was born, it’s something that anyone can get behind without any personal cost, and even wave a flag about. The Founding peoples, those wise ancient forefathers… It’s a notion that is easy on the cultural palette and it has lots of good associations and positive cultural stereotypes.
The term “First Australians” however is manipulatively wrapped in cultural snares. From the recent modern day struggles of Australian culture’s “tall poppy” syndrome to cut down those perceived to be better and stunting the nations elites and its performance in elite areas (another manipulative cultural shackle and a backspin on its opposition to classism) to the notion of first being better, being a winner in a race or competition. The subversion of the notion that we are a united nation, a grand pinnacle of a multicultural nation, and that now a particular race is vying for supremacy and sole legitimacy. The snake in the multicultural garden of Eden is whispering into the ears of the other races. Are the Aboriginal Australians announcing that they are the best race then? That they are the “number 1” race in Australia? The first before all others?
It’s a subversion and distortion of the very core of the message which the Aboriginal Nation is attempting to transmit, and which the alteration of the constitutional wording is attempting to redress. The historic apology of the Rudd government was, despite much of the criticism of tokenism, as good a cultural phenomenon as it was a grand gesture. It was easy on the ear to the modern generation of Australians because absolutely not one of us were responsible for the atrocities and wrongs of that time, or could be blamed for them, and had we been there at the time , we certainly wouldn’t have acted that way or been a part of them.
A successful outcome for a constitutional rewording will be along similar lines, if cognizant of the same cultural sensitivities of the wider community. If modern Australians, all Australians, don’t feel suddenly gazumped that they have been, by some cruel word trickery, disinherited of their national identity and cultural identification, or that they aren’t suddenly being stripped of first class citizenship of the nation they love and were born in. That they feel tomorrow, like they did yesterday, of being proud Australians, with a culture and a multicultural record and identity to be proud of, then you know the wording is in the ballpark and the compass is pointing in the vicinity of north.
If the activity or enactment of a constitutional word change does little to enhance the pride and inclusiveness all Australians feel, both the Aboriginal nation of the past, present and future and all the other cultures who have come together to make up todays vibrant and evolved multicultural Australian society, then something has gone wrong in the process. And the subtle poisonous trickery of those attempting to culturally steal or dominate or poison Australia for their own selfish interests has probably leeched into the firmament.
So I urge, while time is with us, the rewording of the constitution to reference the Australian Aboriginal Nation as the Nation’s Founding Peoples and not the Nation’s First Peoples. I urge others to get behind this more inclusive and more culturally palliative, and more Australia centric nomenclature. In addition I believe this term has more legitimacy and truth (in both feeling, concept and association) and will make for a stronger and more solid foundation for Australian cultural evolution. The Nation’s Founding Peoples is a title of strength. Of power and stamina, and of respect and dignity, of going the distance and of something still surviving. Something all Australian’s can get behind and support, and it doesn’t disinherit anyone.
The title “the Nations First People” rankles in some quarters, and is attempting to use the disputed legitimacy of the timing of British colonist arrivals, in a similar context, rather than referencing an already established Aboriginal Nation and Culture, and has various associations and notes of classism and segregationism which make it less than desirable for inclusion into a National Constitution, and if used in a constitutional context, has the real potential for unpleasant (and weakening and disunifying) social side effects.
In this country, Aboriginal Australians are part of modern society, part of the conversation, part of the landscape and part of the culture. They aren’t a dispossessed minority living on the reserves, who want just a historical footnote on the constitution, and the title “the Nation’s Founding Peoples” encompasses the right elements and has the right flavour and the right energy to both reference past, present, and future and to increase the pride and dignity of all Australians.
Footnote: Shlmeil* a term for the principle of the tactic that if you can’t win, ruin the prize for the winners so their victory is tainted or spoiled. It’s a Jewish term for fool or idiot.