Aboriginal leader lashes at assimilation

AAP | www.ninemsn.com.au | Aug 8 2009 + MORE GARMA FESTIVAL ARTICLES

Aborigines are not native animals and building houses for them is only another attempt to assimilate indigenous Australians into white society, Aboriginal activist and leader Rosalie Kunoth-Monks says.

Passions flared on Saturday at the Garma Festival of Traditional Culture in Gulkula, eastern Arnhem Land, as indigenous leaders and academics spoke out against the Northern Territory intervention.

More than 2000 local indigenous people have been joined by interstate and overseas visitors for the five-day festival, which concludes on Tuesday.

Ms Kunoth-Monks, president of the Barkly Shire Council, made her comment at festival forum focusing on the impact of the intervention.

Measures introduced under the policy, established by the former Howard government in 2007, include quarantining government payments to individuals, an influx of social services and a crackdown on illegal behaviour such as sexual abuse of children.

Ms Kunoth-Monks cautioned white members of the audience about how they might view Aborigines and the steps taken by the commonwealth and NT governments to help them.

"Be careful in your support of us - that you don't think for us. Indeed, that you don't become paternalistic," Ms Kunoth Monks said.

"Sure, there are some beautiful people with a heart of gold in the government forum. But please, please get off this agenda of making me a carbon copy of yourselves."

She took aim specifically at the $670 million Strategic Indigenous Housing and Infrastructure Program, which was launched 15 months ago to deliver 750 new homes in remote indigenous areas over five years.

To date, not one home has been built.

Ms Kunoth-Monks has asked for $5 million of the funds for her Tennant Creek-based shire, which covers an area 1.5 times that of Victoria and is home to about 7500 Aborigines.

She said politicians need to create better policies to advance the well-being and culture of indigenous Australians.

"It is time now to have a look and to be intelligent about it and also to acknowledge we are not part of the flora and fauna of Australia - we are human beings," she said.

"And it is time the territory government and the federal government took this seriously and used their brains on how to include and be inclusive of the Australian Aboriginal person."

Australian National University professor Jon Altman also spoke at the forum and lambasted the territory government's homelands policy to turn 20 towns into regional hubs.

Funding to more than 500 outstations, or homelands, would be frozen, forcing residents into larger towns in order to have access to vital social services.

Professor Altman has been studying visual arts in indigenous communities for the past 30 years and said the move would crush the Aboriginal art industry.

"The lack of support for outstations may see centralisation and this will have a disastrous impact on the visual arts for the very simple reason that most of it is produced at outstations," he told the forum.

"The Australian state, be it the commonwealth or the Northern Territory, cannot intervene into communities and run the arts.

"It does not have the capacity and it will not get community support.

"If successful, the state-project of improvement via state intervention will destroy Aboriginal creativity and the arts."

More about Rosalie Kunoth-Monks

Aboriginal leader Rosalie Kunoth-Monks has a simple message for white Australians, born out of both her Christian faith and her Indigenous culture – "do not accumulate!".

The accumulation of material possessions was destructive both for society and for the environment, she continued: "Look at the natural resources being swallowed up!" Christians – and all Australian adults for that matter – needed to take more responsibility for what was happening in Australian society, she said. "We all have to look outside of ourselves," she said. "We have to ask questions, to query things. We can’t just sit comfortable in our lounge rooms and let the boat people drown out there."

Mrs Monks, from the Utopia Aboriginal community 250 kilometres north-east of Alice Springs, visited Melbourne at the end of May to mark Reconciliation Sunday.

A high profile leader of her people over many decades, Mrs Kunoth-Monks first came to prominence as a teenager when she played the lead role in the iconic 1955 Australian film, Jedda. That experience is still a burden for her, she said. Though there have been many significant milestones in her life since, it is as Jedda that she is most remembered.

Posthumous recognition for Aboriginal leader

Louisa Rebgetz | www.abc.net.au | 10th August 2009

The Northern Territory Administrator has presented the family of the late Indigenous leader Dr Marika with her posthumous Member of the Order of Australia.

The presentation was made at the Garma Festival, near her homeland of Yirrkala.

Administrator Tom Pauling joined Indigenous clans from across Arnhem Land to honour Dr Marika, who passed away last year.

Dr Marika was a leader in the Yirrkala Dhanbul community, a prominent educator and linguist who passionately fought to preserve Indigenous languages.

She was also an organiser of the annual Garma Festival, set in the bushland on the Gove Peninsula.

The event provided a fitting setting to honour her.

Overcome with emotion, her clan group performed traditional song and dance as the Administrator presented her family with the medal.

He also honoured another member of the Marika family, Waninya Gary, who was given an Order of Australia Medal for his work as a cultural liaison officer.

More about Dr Marika

Dr. Marika understood all of the fourteen clan languages of the Rirratjingu people and spoke three of them fluently. She had a long involvement with Indigenous education and was a Director of the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies.

Dr Marika worked mostly in primary and adult education and was responsible for planning and delivering numerous orientation, induction, and Yolngu Matha classes for professional teaching staff. Her writings on two-way education are highly respected around Australia.

Dr Marika was an expert in this field of work, which is the practice of drawing on two separate domains of knowledge, like a meeting of two bodies of water in a lagoon where salt water and fresh water come together. Dr Marila was also active nationally as a board member of Reconciliation Australia.

Dr Marika passed away in May 2008. Our deepest sympathies are with her family.

John Butler's surprise visit to the Garma Festival

www.skynews.com.au | August 10th, 2009

Singing and guitar sensation John Butler has reached out to children in the NT with music and advice during a surprise visit to a sacred Aboriginal festival.

The 34-year-old star rocked up to this year's Garma Festival of Traditional Culture at Gulkula, in East Arnhem Land, where more than 2,000 people have converged for five days.

Rumours spread rapidly that Butler was around and would first pop up at the festival's youth forum.

More than 100 adolescent and teenage children from the local Yolngu clans and across Australia had gathered in a tent when Butler strode in without his trademark dreadlocks but in shorts, a t-shirt and thongs.

He slid into the plastic chair and leaned into a microphone to greet the crowd with his signatory 'Yo'.

Butler began by recognising the traditional owners of the land and then he broke into Better Than with his brother-in-law Nicky Bomba on the hand drum and then followed up with Zebra.

During question time, he told of completing Year 12 but leaving uni after a year with the support of his arts teacher and his family.

'It almost doesn't matter what you want to do as long as you work hard at it and be true to it,' Butler told the captive audience.

'If you don't want to work hard for something then you're probably going to be disappointed many times in your life.'

He also urged the young people to take chances, assuring them they would benefit whatever the outcome.

'If you want to stay still and stay safe it's going to lead to a very safe and boring life,' Butler said.

'The worst thing that can happen is that you fall and you get back up - and I've fallen heaps and I'll probably fall a few more times and I'll get back up.'

Butler turned down requests for a lock of his hair and even his guitar.

'See, that's brave and sometimes you're going to fall on your face,' Butler told a chuckling audience.

He rattled off the names of a few bands when asked about first inspirations and revealed his first cassette tape was Bon Jovi's Slippery When Wet.

Asked about the pressure of stardom, he said little had changed for himself and his band.

'We just go into the studio and we try to do the best we can,' he said.

'We don't really think about how to keep people happy.'

Before breaking into his instrumental Ocean he talked of the importance of Aboriginal culture and the lack of culture in western society.

'The non-indigenous mob, we don't come from really strong culture a lot of us - I don't and I've had to go searching for that,' Butler said.

'I come here to expose myself to culture, to learn, to listen, to be quiet, to share, to exchange and to take part in something.

'You can't take anything with you at the end of the day - you can only be part of something while you're here.'

He rounded off his appearance by signing t-shirts and appearing posing for photographs with his young fans.

It was rumoured that he's be one of the acts in Sunday night's festival line-up of indigenous bands.

Fast track for indigenous arts workers

Ashleigh Wilson | The Australian | August 11, 2009

Over the past 15 years, Peter White's career in the arts has coincided with an explosion of interest in Aboriginal culture.

But as an Aboriginal man in a senior arts role, the 38-year-old acknowledges, with some sadness, that there are very few others like him.

"There's more and more appreciation of Aboriginal culture out there," he said yesterday. "But the difference is behind the scenes. If you look at most major museums and art galleries in Australia, there's maybe only one or two (indigenous) people."

White, who spent several years as an Aboriginal heritage officer at the Australian Museum in Sydney before moving in 2005 to Arts NSW, said the challenge was to attract talented indigenous people to the arts.

"One of the issues is that there's been a lack of leadership opportunities for people to progress their careers," he said.

Yesterday, in an announcement at the Garma festival of Aboriginal culture in northeast Arnhem Land, White was named as one of the three inaugural recipients of a creative leadership program designed to support indigenous workers in the arts.

The program, called Accelerate, was set up by the British Council and the Wilin Centre for Indigenous Arts and Culture, part of the Victorian College of theArts.

Winners were chosen from 69 applicants, and organisers plan to increase the number of recipients in future years.

British Council director Rebecca Matthews said the program would help prepare the three recipients for senior arts roles in Australia.

"What we're really looking for is the next generation of cultural leaders," she said. "Often it's very hard to make the jump from administrative positions or as an artist into a senior role in the creative sector."

The program includes an all-expenses paid trip to Britain, where all three recipients will do leadership and professional development courses and explore cultural policy at several large arts organisations.

Another recipient is Torres Strait Islander Alisa Duff, who works in an indigenous student support program at Sydney's University of Technology.

Duff, a dancer who has performed in Europe, said more work needed to be done to ensure the sustainability of Aboriginal performing arts, in particular. She, too, has seen how few Aboriginal people are employed at senior levels. "The further up the chain you go, the more you realise there's a lack of people at that level," she said.

The third winner is Tina Baum, a visual arts curator at the National Gallery of Australia.

Lydia Miller, executive director of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Arts at the Australia Council, said the winners would be given access to some of the world's leading creative minds.

"It is time to see indigenous creative leaders accelerated around Australia and the world," she said.