Padraig Colman

Rambling ruminations of an Irishman in Sri Lanka

Tag: indigenous people

Reconciliation in Australia

This article appeared in The Nation on Sunday December 23 2012


In the Australian Federal Parliament on 13 February 2008, the then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd delivered an official apology to the Stolen Generations. From 1909 to 1969, it was the official policy of the Australian Government to remove Indigenous children from their families. 100,000 children were taken from their families. The policy was similar to Nazi eugenics in that it was designed to “breed out” Indigenous people. Some Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children were removed from their families on genuine welfare grounds, and some benefited from greater opportunities.

However, stolen children were more likely to suffer from depression, have worse health and a shorter life span than other Indigenous people, and are more likely to be imprisoned than other Indigenous people. 50 percent of deaths investigated by the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody were of Indigenous people who were removed from their families as children.
Rock Art and other historical sites show that the first Australians have the oldest surviving culture on the planet, with people living on the mainland over 60,000 years ago and on the Torres Strait Islands for more than 10,000 years.

Indigenous Australia was not one nation, but up to 400 aboriginal nations, speaking about 250 languages. The indigenous population could have been up to a million people. According to the 2011 census, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population on census night was 548,370. This was an increase of 20.5 percent on the 2006 census.
When Anthony Trollope visited Australia, he noted: “There has been some rough work…We have taken away their land, have destroyed their food, made them subject to our laws, which are antagonistic to their habits and traditions, have endeavoured to make them subject to our tastes, which they hate, have massacred them when they defended themselves and their possessions after their own fashion, and have taught them by hard warfare to acknowledge us to be their master”.

By 1911, 123 years after settlement, the “rough work” had reduced the Aboriginal population to 31,000. Colin Tatz  examines the question of whether the treatment of Australia’s indigenous people constitutes genocide. Professor Noel Butlin, an eminent economic historian, concluded that the single most effective killer of Aborigines was smallpox. While the origins of “the main killer” are obscure, “it is possible and, in 1789, likely that infection of the Aborigines was a deliberate exterminating act”.

Stephen Kunitz argues that the 25 percent decline in the Queensland population was caused by “the savagery of the settlers and their calculated slaughter of the indigenous population”. Kenneth Minogue believes that accusations of genocide made by Raimond Gaita and Robert Manne are extreme and offensive, “exploiting … a prefabricated emotional charge” but Minogue himself admits “Aborigines were raped, killed, dispossessed and so on”.

The first white settlers arrived in Tasmania in 1803, and by 1806, the serious killing had begun. In 1824, settlers were authorised to shoot Aborigines, who were regarded as vermin. Aboriginal children were abducted for use in forced labour, women were raped and tortured and given poisoned flour, and the men were shot. White settlers killed some 10,000 blacks in Queensland between 1824 and 1908.

Although the 2011 census shows an increase in the indigenous population, all is not well today.
In 2007, the Howard Government announced a national emergency response to child sexual abuse in the Northern Territory (NT). New welfare laws involved an Income Management Regime replacing 50 percent of welfare payments with cards that could only be spent on food and clothing, and only at specified major retailers. The rules applied, not just to negligent parents, but to all the Aboriginal people living in particular communities.

Indigenous Australians continue to be disadvantaged in employment, education, housing law, justice and health. Indigenous people experienced poverty when they were moved off their traditional lands, cut off from their traditional lifestyles, also denied equal wages. This has led to poor health over the generations. Indigenous people also experienced racism from doctors, with some doctors and hospitals refusing to treat Indigenous people. 45 percent of Indigenous males and 34 percent of Indigenous females die before the age of 45. The corresponding proportion for non-Indigenous males and females is 10 percent and 6 percent.

From 2001 to 2007, ‘practical reconciliation’ was the official policy of the Howard Government. The government purported to focus on practical things that improved the living standards of Indigenous people. This did not lead to many practical improvements. More funding was given to ‘mainstream’ agencies rather services run by Indigenous people.

‘Rights-based reconciliation’ means recognising that problems will be solved more quickly and for the long term if Indigenous people are supported to manage the issues themselves. This is the principle of ’self-determination’ which is recognised in the International Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. It also means respecting the special rights that Indigenous people have as the original custodians of Australia, such as the right to own and manage their traditional lands.

– See more at


Militarisation, Genocide, Ethnic Cleansing



An interesting book on militarisation was recently published by Michigan State University Press. Winona LaDuke calls her book The Militarization of Indian Country. That title may be a bit of a stumbling block to PCers who think we should be talking about “Native Americans”. For the sake of consistency, I will follow Ms LaDuke and use the term “Indian”. The most accurate term would probably be “the indigenous people of the territory now known as the USA”. The term “Native American” was the bright idea of the US government itself and has met with only partial acceptance. No other proposed naming conventions have been accepted by all indigenous groups. According to the 1995 US Census, 50% of people who identified themselves as indigenous preferred the term “American Indian,” 37% preferred “Native American” and the remainder preferred other terms or had no preference.  “American Indian” appears often in treaties between the USA and the indigenous peoples with whom they have been negotiating since the colonial period.

Numbers Game

As always with body counts the facts are in dispute.


It is impossible to estimate how many Indians populated the area now covered by the USA before the white man arrived. Some scholars of the subject speak of an inflated” numbers game”; others charge that the size of the aboriginal population has been deliberately minimized in order to make the decline seem less severe than it was. In 1928, the ethnologist James Mooney proposed a total count of 1,152,950 Indians in all tribal areas north of Mexico at the time of the European arrival. By 1987, in American Indian Holocaust and Survival, Russell Thornton was giving a figure of well over five million, while Lenore Stiffarm and Phil Lane Jr suggested a total of 12 million. Anthropologist Henry Dobyns in 1983 had estimated that in 1492 the aboriginal population the present territory of the USA was about 10 million.

It seems that a mere 250,000 Indians were still alive in the territory at the end of the 19th century. Today there are around half a million Indians in the USA.


According to Ward Churchill, professor of ethnic studies at the University of Colorado, the drastic reduction of the Indian population represents a “vast genocide . . . , the most sustained on record.”  David E. Stannard, of the University of Hawaii, wrote that by the end of the 19th Century, American Indians had undergone the “worst human holocaust the world had ever witnessed roaring across two continents non-stop for four centuries and consuming the lives of countless tens of millions of people.”

Readers of Gordon Weiss might pause at the open-ended vagueness of that phrase “countless tens of millions of people” but surely there is no doubt that a lot of indigenous people died.

The simple definition of genocide is: “The deliberate killing of a large group of people, especially those of a particular ethnic group or nation.” The international legal definition of the crime of genocide is found in Articles II and III of the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide. Article II describes two elements of the crime of genocide: 1) the mental element, meaning the “intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such”, and 2) the physical element which includes five acts described in sections a, b, c, d and e. A crime must include both elements to be called “genocide.” Article III described five punishable forms of the crime: genocide; conspiracy, incitement, attempt and complicity.

Relocation, Land Grabs or Ethnic Cleansing?

The Trail of Tears is a name given to the forced relocation by the US Army of Indians from south-eastern parts of the USA following the Indian Removal Act of 1830. Many suffered from exposure, disease and starvation on the route. Many died. By 1837, 25 million acres had been opened up for predominantly white settlement.


Even before the Indian Removal Act, the fixed boundaries of autonomous tribal nations were subject to continual cession and annexation. There was pressure from squatters and the threat of military force in the newly declared US territories (those federally administered regions whose boundaries supervened upon the Indian treaty claims). As these territories became states, state governments sought to grab the land therein. These pressures were magnified by US population growth and the expansion of slavery.

Relocation continued after the Trail of Tears and continues today. In theory, Indians are free to live anywhere. It is estimated that one-third to one-half now lives in cities. Nowadays, there exist about 300 federal reservations, with a total of 52,017,551 acres held in trust by the federal government, the large majority west of the Mississippi. There are also 21 state reservations, most of these in the East.

Indians and the Military-Genocidal Complex

According to Ms LaDuke, many Indians live in places called Fort Something or Other, in poor and devastated zones. She asserts that the military: “has taken our lands for bombing exercises and military bases, and for the experimentation and storage of the deadliest chemical agents and toxins known to mankind… Uranium mines, depleted uranium testing, and nuclear waste storage have done as much or more damage to Indian Country as nuclear bomb testing.”

In Alaska, 700 active and abandoned military sites include 1,900 toxic hot spots. There was an aborted plan to create a harbour in Alaska by dropping a series of nuclear bombs. If the Great Sioux Nation were in control of its 1851 treaty areas, LaDuke claims, “it would be the third greatest nuclear weapons power on the face of the earth.”

Ethnic Cleansing by Assimilation and Abduction

In the 1880s the US government implemented a policy of forced assimilation. Lakota children as young as five were forcibly removed from their homes and taken to boarding schools hundreds of miles away to boarding schools, where the motto was “Kill the Indian, Save the Man.” The policy continues today.

According to a report dated 22 January 2013, (A Report to the US Congress from the Coalition of Sioux Tribes for Children and Families) American Indian children constitute approximately 13.5% of the child population of South Dakota, yet they make up on average 54% of youth who enter foster care in the state each year. The number of Indian children entering South Dakota foster care every year is about 742. As of July 2011, there were 440 American Indian children in family- run foster homes in South Dakota; 87% of them lived in non-Indian family foster-care.

Nearly $100 million in federal funding is being sent to South Dakota to administer foster care each year. These federal funds constitute a significant portion of state expenditures, and, according to the NGO Families USA, they have “a positive and measurable impact on state business activity, available jobs, and overall state income.” All this demonstrates a strong financial incentive for state officials to take high numbers of Indian children into custody.

A vigorous campaign is currently being waged by the Lakota People’s Law Project to secure the return of over 2,200 Lakota, Dakota and Nakota children illegally taken from their homes by DSS. In one case a young boy was abducted when he left his relatives to use the restroom while family members were attending a high school graduation ceremony. It was weeks before his family found where he had been taken.

Cannon Fodder


South Dakota has nine reservations, with unemployment ranging from a “low” of 12 percent on one smaller reservation to 89 percent on the largest reservation. These figures were last compiled in 2005. South Dakota’s overall unemployment rate is 4.7 percent, exclusive of reservations. Unemployment, poor health, violence, alcoholism, PTSD all plague the Indian community.

It has been suggested that American Indians, as a result of the loss of life, land, and destructive government policies, suffer from a legacy of historical unresolved grief, which shares PTSD symptoms. The research that has been conducted suggests that American Indians suffer from PTSD at a greater rate in comparison to the general population; data indicates that 22% of have PTSD. In one population of American Indian adolescents it was found that 96% of children had witnessed at least one traumatic event and 75% had some symptoms of PTSD.


Indians die from diabetes at a greater rate than all other races and ethnicities combined in the US. The leading causes of death among Indians ages 1-14 are accidents, and homicides. The leading causes of death among this same population ages 15-24 are accidents, suicide and death. For those aged 25-44 the leading causes of death are accidents followed by chronic liver disease and cirrhosis, which are usually attributable to excessive alcohol use. The white man introduced firewater and it continues to be a problem today.


In spite of being victims of the army, Indians have made a disproportionate contribution to the armed forces. Many Indians recognize in current US wars echoes of wars against the Indian nations. Nevertheless, Indians have the highest military enlistment rate of any ethnic group and the largest number of living veterans (about 22 percent of Indians aged 18 or over). “How,” LaDuke asks, “did we move from being the target of the US military to being the U.S. military itself?” She opposes militarism but wants veterans to be honoured.

Around 1.7% of US active duty forces are Indian; their proportion of the US population is 0.8%. Sergeant Brandon Bowden, a recruiting officer says: “Many want the college benefits; others are out for some skill set they could use, as the economy is very bad in this small area. Quite a few are looking for jobs, with the unemployment rate so high.” One mother was furious at the US military for the death of her son in Afghanistan. She reminds herself of what her son always used to tell her. “They are the ones who sign my cheque Mom; they are the ones who help me support my family.”

THE PRESS | Music Reviews

Click Header to Return Home

Julie MacLusky

- Author and Blogger -


A fake image is worth zero words

Poet's Corner

Poems, poets, poetry, writing, poetry challenges

Casual, But Smart

Pop Culture From An Old Soul

PN Review Blog

‘The most engaged, challenging and serious-minded of all the UK’s poetry magazines’ - Simon Armitage

The Manchester Review

The Manchester Review

Slugger O'Toole

Conversation, politics and stray insights

Stephen Jones: a blog

Daoism—lives—language—performance. And jokes

Minal Dalal

The Human Academy