Colonial ways 'slaughtering' Aborigines

Patricia Karvelas
8th June 2007

INDIGENOUS people were being "slaughtered" by the colonial imperative to steal land, strip Aboriginal culture, and demoralise black people, Mick Dodson declared yesterday.

Fifteen years after the High Court's Mabo decision, Australian governments were actively and systematically opposing the recognition of native title, the indigenous leader said.

Professor Dodson, chairman of the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, used the annual Mabo Lecture at the Native Title Conference in Cairns to attack governments for their land rights policies. "It's about self-defence. We must defend our identity and our inheritance in the land and sea," he said.

"We must assert our sovereignty and, in so doing, we must prioritise the place of traditional owners and native title holders in our decision-making processes and our resistance strategies."

Professor Dodson said government needed to stand aside and allow indigenous Australians to make decisions.

"We need to push governments out of our lives, to resist their cajoling and interfering, and this will require strength on our part," he said. "We need to take charge of our development. This means we need strong leadership, from men and women, young and old, city and country, all of us together. Our leaders must tackle the problems of grog, drugs, gambling, corruption and the neglect of children.

"We need leadership that displays courage and strength. Indeed, we must reinstate the legitimacy of traditional leadership to make decisions about land and law, which includes punishing those members of the community who act inappropriately, who are violent within our communities and families, and who disrespect the fundamental role of the traditional owners.

"Both at the federal level and state and territory level, governments have opposed the recognition of native title, especially in Western Australia and Queensland," he said.

"The most recent example is the great victory by the Noongar nation, where the WA government lawyers argued that the colonisers had wrought such devastation upon the Noongar people - through dispossession of lands, killings, the removal of children, introduced diseases, suppression of culture - from which they stated Noongars could not possibly have survived," Professor Dodson said. The Federal Court last year upheld the Noongar people's native title claim over more than 6000 sq km of Perth and its surrounds, but the West Australian and federal governments have appealed, claiming the ruling was inconsistent with previous decisions.

Professor Dodson said the West Australian Government, with encouragement from the commonwealth, had tried "every dirty trick" to oppose the recognition of native title in the southwest of the state. "This is not just political opposition for the sake of securing the redneck voters," he said. "It is structural and systematic opposition by governments at all levels to the recognition of native title."

He was heartened by Alice Springs' town camp Aborigines, who last month decided against handing control of their housing to the Northern Territory Government in return for $60million in commonwealth funds.