Christian Kerr writes:


A clear majority of Australians consider Aboriginal culture to be an
important part of society, according to a special international study on social
issues conducted by Roy Morgan Research.

69% (up 5% from 64% in 2000) of Australians aged 14 and
over agree with the statement “Aboriginal culture is an essential component of
Australian society”.

In contrast, Morgan finds, only 58% per cent of New Zealanders (up 9%
from 2000) agree with the statement “Maori culture is an essential component of
New Zealand society”.

Morgan notes that Aboriginal people and
Torres Strait Islanders account for 2% of Australia’s
population, while Maori make up 15% of New Zealand’s population.

Is this romanticising of a small minority
of the population? Is it an example of respondents giving pollsters the response
that they feel they should give, rather than the response they would like to
give? Is it purely a nod of acknowledgement to Aboriginal mythology? Or is it
actually a hopeful sign?

“The arrival of governor Arthur Phillip and
the First Fleet and successive generations had devastating consequences for
Aborigines,” Pat Dodson says in The Australian today.
“The dispossession of our lands and the denial of our sovereignty resulted in
the destruction of our indigenous economy and undermined our community
authority.”

For the last ten days we have been witnessing the consequences of that loss of authority.

“Despite the horrors exposed in the [Stolen
Generations] report, as a nation we proved incapable of confronting our past
and dealing with its consequences,” Dodson continues. “That failure alone
should have seen us condemned for a lack of courage and a denial of justice… It
is at an ontological level concerned with unresolved tensions that arise at the
social and cultural interface with mainstream society. Certainly, it is
compounded by the loss of social capital in trying to establish a true dialogue
about the cause and origin of the perceived social disintegration of my people.”

This is a matter of
social capital. It is a matter of giving Indigenous Australians the power to
rebuild their communities. The Government has
been unremitting in its insistence that traditional law cannot override the
laws that apply to other Australians. Social capital depends
on respect for legitimate authority. Does Morgan show we recognise the cultural
power Indigenous leaders can wield to help their people?

Peter Fray

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