There are two weapons in the Aboriginal lateral violence kit.

The first… ‘You are not a real Aboriginal’

And the second … ‘you don’t have the community’s permission to speak’.

For additional information see Lateral violence in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities – Social Justice Report 2011

These statements are the equivalent of calling someone a wife basher or far worse.  They are designed to smear another person’s character. They are seeds that social media will launch far and wide to be planted by those with vested interests and accidental digital gardeners alike.

Possible scenario:

One Aboriginal funded by government funds (includes a department, institute, advocacy group, service agency) says to another similarly funded and employed Aboriginal – ‘you are acting like a white person’.

[Tell me how my behavior is different to yours?]

You are paid by the government.

[So are you.]

I’m a better Aboriginal than you, I am from the community.

[Me too, I live in the same town like/city as you.]

I heard you have a white (insert family member).

[I know you have a white (again).]

My family has culture.

[So has mine. You just said you don’t know me, so how would you know my family?]

Impasse. Regroup.

I have a big mob who agree with me.

[I won’t ask you to prove that because you can’t. Not today, or tomorrow, or ever will you be able to prove that.]

My elders are very upset by people like you.

[Did you ask them about your behavior? And now it’s only people ‘like’ me? Not me. You have thrown both weapons. Neither of them hit.]

It might end there. Or increasingly in the digital age, escalate on social media.

True identities and employers are tracked down and a letter campaign commences. Monitoring can take the form of diarising and Storifying collections of Facebook comments and tweets. The purpose is to harass online with stalking behavior, and can also be used to supplement a complaint that attacks work ethic, corporate reputation, status and a person’s capacity to earn a living for themselves and their family.

Understanding relationships

Causes of discord & dysfunction

  • You are working for an Aboriginal community (organization, department, institute, advocacy group) and all the senior paid employees are non-Indigenous. You are given all responsibility with no authority and can clearly see why the service is failing to deliver on it’s claim to help Aboriginal people, but no one is interested in your opinion. You may be told that you possess the wrong tone, words, attitude or timing. You will work under this arrangement for twenty years.
  • You live with entrenched racism every day of your life. Generations before you suffered, and you see your children and your grandchildren will also be living in a world of the same institutionalized and sanctioned mistreatment of you and everyone else who identifies as Aboriginal.
  • You are part of someone else’s career. You are not a colleague, you don’t benefit from their advocacy, your life’s purpose is to contribute to their influence and financial success.
  • You do not understand the system and are suspicious that people who do are using it to hurt you. You are ‘jealous’.

‘Aboriginal jealousy’ is complex to define. It can be a reason for a career of bullying by employers and community, and a shortened life of misery and poor health, and is almost certainly the reason why talented productive people would go right out of their way to avoid it when it’s a needless encounter. It draws on issues of reciprocity and survival ideologies, and just as the other civilizations have spoken about it since before the age of writing, it can also be a highly motivating influence.

The way out of an uncomfortable recollection when Aboriginal people share everyday people experiences, is to respond with messages of support and empathy.

That makes me so angry. If someone did that to me I would have said something. But that’s just me.

The question is ‘how would you feel if you couldn’t speak freely?’

If it was actually dangerous to your health, your security, your job, your ride home from work on the bus, your status in the community, to your cat, or to your child?

Start by imagining a day or two, then more, of intergenerational oppression. All those times you didn’t say ‘No, that is unacceptable, it is not fair, you are being unjust to me’.

Jane Elliott’s blue-eyed/brown-eyed exercise in diversity training in the 1960s following the death of Martin Luther King, suggested just how quickly people can become distressed at being ‘oppressed’. Others have argued that it was cruel and unethical, and even a couple of adults who undertook the exercise described it as a form of torture.

Maybe there was just one time in your life when you really wanted to speak up.

A really important time for you, and you couldn’t. Maybe you would have had no say in the outcome, but saying ‘no, I object’ would have meant you died on your feet. And because of the threat to others, you still couldn’t stand.

No one need be concerned that there is an shutting down of the identity conversation. I am part of an ongoing discussion. It’s entry point is

Where are you from?

Who are your mob?

That identity discussion is to be had with every Aboriginal person I meet, even if there was no sound with only hands to signal with. In some parts of Australia Aboriginal groups continue the tradition of  communication, by using only their hands to ask these questions. The identity question is the precursor for discussions around connections to culture and family, and building communities.

What is known in some quarters as the ‘identity debate’ however, has morphed and splintered. Reference to a ‘debate’ has been adopted by a wide range of parties and individuals as part of a strategy for progress, or as a tactic to diminish others. It can get murky finding the source and the logic at times, and at others it is so clearly simple that one can match the ideology with the pay master.

Character smears, threatening behavior and faux identity debates are the vanquished taking up the weapons of the oppressors. I read from time to time someone throws it down like a loose sod of dirt or a sweaty head rag.

It’s not a lack of leadership to walk away from the throw down. It’s not any kind of declaration on identity.

It is walking away from an invitation to a public stoush for the benefits of people not out on the road doing the swinging. It’s not a safe or culturally responsible space. It’s not a fair fight and some have more to lose than others. In that situation, walking away is living on your feet.


ANY Indigenous person who claimed to speak for the vast majority of Indigenous Australians would be met with a degree of suspicion by the people they claimed to represent.

THERE is a reluctance to speak on behalf of other people’s country, family, spiritual beliefs and their political preferences.

SOME would simply refuse to respond, even if this silence is interpreted as indifference or disrespect, such as was on view on Twitter from those impatient with what they perceived as the convoluted process around Indigenous name avoidance practices, following the recent death of an Indigenous statesman.

IT takes considerable resources and expertise to achieve a mandate for a diverse population sparsely spread across a continent still in the embryonic stages of digital communications.  While technology offers capacity, it doesn’t remove the need to manage educated informed choices.

IN the case of a polarizing issue like a Treaty between Australia’s peoples, a self-appointed non-Indigenous spokesperson would need to explain how they gained the authority to speak for the vast majority of Indigenous people.

FALSE information being presented as fact are peripheral to Indigenous consciousness, and can gain traction when it occurs in forums that Indigenous people do not engage with in big numbers.

THERE is a need for healing in the Indigenous community that can’t be neatly defined or readily prescribed. Faced, or as is increasingly the case, educated with the statistics most people would expect a degree of anger from any peoples suffering the extent of disadvantage.

THAT is a common human response and manifests itself in frustration, poor health and fractured interpersonal relationships. It is disingenuous and a disservice to the Indigenous community to attempt to link anger within the Indigenous communities to a single political aspiration, and especially one such as the sovereignty and Constitutional recognition discussion.

INDIGENOUS political history is littered with the intentions of those making spurious claims that favour their support base and a conversation that is more a vent for marginalized angst than a portal to progress.

IT’S a tactic of old in Indigenous affairs and simple in its execution in the fashion of the most devastatingly effective brokers of division to suggest that someone is weak, turning their back on 200 years of resistance, and is thinking like a ‘white person’.

WITNESS emotive language and preemptive strikes as part of the tactic to shut down debate, and to strive for a space so toxic that people walk away, gives rise to the three questions the well informed advocate should welcome – who are you, who asked you to speak, and how did you achieve your mandate?

Consider the looming 2013 Australian Federal election through the prism of IndigenousDX.

IndigenousDX refers to Indigenous + digital + excellence.

‘Indigenous’ is obvious and ‘digital’ refers to computer technology, and both are combined in the pursuit of excellence for all it’s parts.

Indigenous excellence refers to a informally organized movement towards promoting a broader appreciation of capacity and achievement in the Indigenous community.

This may sit uncomfortably for some, not merely because they cannot fathom or are unfamiliar with the concept of excellence in the Indigenous context, but because it is more akin to arenas of less preponderance, such as sporting achievement.

Many would stumble over the words ‘Indigenous excellence’ – but it’s embraced enthusiastically by those working with young people, those working to change racist attitudes, those seeking practical reconciliation, and the list goes on.

Or is the struggle to embrace this clouded by other considerations? Does the resistance to floating ‘excellence’ tap into a reservoir of resistance to other Indigenous aspirations – the right to manage land, the rights to preserve and maintain culture, or to Indigenous rights in general?

It’s important to note that #IndigenousDX is an ideology and @IndigenousDX is a twitter account, under the auspices of the National Centre of Indigenous Excellence.

Just as some promote reconciliation between all Australian citizens, but are not all gain fully employed by Reconciliation Australia. Or people are avid fans of football, but don’t all cherish the Essendon Football Club.

And it’s relevance to the Federal election?

There have been very few unfiltered Indigenous perspectives in past elections. NonIndigenous commentators became accustomed to discussing Indigenous issues amongst themselves for what they anticipated was an almost exclusively nonIndigenous audience.

During this morning’s ABC tv show Insiders, for example, the observation ‘off the reservation’ was made. Even though the origins are North American in nature, consider if this expression was ‘off the Brewarinna mission’. I doubt that it would be bandied about so freely.

Thanks to digital communications, Indigenous people across the world are freely accessible to each other and to discuss the collective Indigenous experience. Or can for just an example, communicate with German people who reflect on their own history, when it comes to treatment of people regarded as outside the dominant culture.

The expression ‘off the reservation’ is less palatable to a Native American than the stuffed bird affixed to Johnny Depp’s head, who is dealing with negative criticism for his portrayal of Tonto in the new Lone Ranger movie.

Whilst chatting on the couch, amongst colleagues, are they mindful that amongst their audience, sit Indigenous people?

The viewing patterns of the Indigenous community – with the exception of NITV – are as diverse as the rest of Australia. But some shows can be viewed with the confidence that those appearing have not anticipated any Indigenous people will be watching.

Exclusion of Indigenous people has a long history and some have, it can be argued, vested interests in maintaining this.

Research institutes have histories of not engaging Indigenous people in the operations of the institutions. It impacts on the quality of the research, if the subject also moves from being under the lens to operating the microscope. The flaw which is patently clear on examining historic research, are nonIndigenous people lacked the knowledge to adequately analyse what they had measured, dissected, tagged and stored under lock and key.

Untruths and distortions have perpetuated today’s attitudes, and in addition to shaping racism has also confused the nonIndigenous community about what is now 2.5% of the population.

That such a small percentage of the population garners so much interest is for two reasons:

Land tenure

Indigenous disadvantage.

In the NT over 60% of the land mass, including most of the coastline, is Aboriginal Land Rights (NT) 1976 land. The poorest, least educated group with the shortest life span holds the strongest form of land tenure, not just in Australia, but in the world.

Over 16% of the total Australian land mass have ‘registered determinations’ under Native Title.

Any group – regardless of their circumstances – that holds interest in that much land is going to be of high importance to governments.

Just as people meet in board rooms all over this country to discuss health, education, housing, employment and racism, there are people just as committed to meeting to discuss the land – who controls it, how to access it, what activity will be permitted on it and how much to pay for it.

That’s a considerable amount of information being circulated, a lot of networking, and the subjects of all this discussion prior to the narrowing of the digital divide, were the least informed.

Benefits to the Indigenous community are significant. For example, isolated Indigenous groups are limited in their bargaining power, but consider all the groups along the proposed route for a gas pipeline being connected to each other with digital access to organisations of greater legal and administrative capacity whilst they negotiate Indigenous Land Use Agreements?

And technology enables a broader discussion and declarations around current national issues including Constitutional recognition, sovereignty, racial discrimination and land rights.

Indigenous people have embraced IndigenousDX with the same diversity as exists with individuals and their communities.

Some are struggling with finding the pathways, and others have jumped the digital gap and landed within a national consciousness that had limited awareness of the emerging Indigenous social media presence. Or had they been geared to believe that Indigenous people were less motivated to educate themselves on issues that matter?

Discussions about ‘Indigenous people’ will invariably throw up the same names, for reasons that can be confusing to members of the Indigenous community. That some Indigenous people became household names was only largely due to the nonIndigenous media.

This appears obvious when observers believe they can confidently point to publications that promote particular entities, communities and issues and contrast it with the other end of the spectrum where pockets of Indigenous media are more inclusive, and far less equivocal, in the main, in identifying consensus or diversity of opinion amongst Indigenous people.

 Our children are our future.

This is not merely an Indigenous catch phrase. The majority of the Indigenous population is under 25. Add to that the reduced life span familiar to many due to closing the gap campaigns, and this accounts for the emphasis on young people and the future.

And finally, who are the people who have the fastest takeup and are the most enthusiastic when it comes to the digital age?

Which demographic are regularly surveyed as less racist, more inclusive of new ideas and haven’t invested careers and livelihoods in maintaining the current political and technological landscape?

Young people, or to be more specific, Australian young people.