Author: Pekeri Ruska
Originally posted on The Guardian on Tuesday 26 January 2016 10.00 AEDT.
On this Invasion Day, I am angry. Australia has a long way to go
26 January is alternately known as Australia Day, Invasion Day and the Day of Mourning. @IndigenousX host Pekeri Ruska reflects on what this date means to her and her people
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I am an Aboriginal women, born in 1987 into a staunch family who were ready to teach me and my siblings the truth from birth. They had walked the walk and had earned their right to talk the talk, to educate.
But before I had even left my mother’s womb, I was a statistic, another Aboriginal person to be counted on the census to add to the 3% or so of other Aboriginal people that made up our population in 1987 on a continent where only 199 years prior to my birth, we made up 100% of it. By 1900, it was estimated that the Aboriginal population had decreased by 87%.
Many Australians today will tell you that what happened was not their fault, that they can’t change what their ancestors and other “colonisers” did. In order to truly understand, this country needs to accept a lot of truths that are otherwise conveniently ignored.
I’ve never known 26 January as Australia Day, I was fortunate to be educated outside of the official curriculum and was taught what really occurred on this date 228 years ago. It is because of that education I know 26 January as Invasion Day and the Day of Mourning. On this date began a war, an unsolicited occupation and the mass murder of our people. The acts of aggression committed against Aboriginal people constitute nothing short of genocide, yet many Australians chooses to remain wilfully ignorant.
The true nature of the Frontier Wars is rarely taught in schools and most our massacre sites go unrecognised by the mainstream. Yet Anzac Day is made a public holiday so the country can commemorate the sacrifices of those who fought a foreign war on foreign shores. This is a prime example of white Australia’s denial and guilt. Maybe it’s just too close to home, too unsettling for them to acknowledge that the land they stand on was stolen, drenched in the blood and suffering of our Aboriginal ancestors. The longer they exclude or sugarcoat the whole truth from the curriculum, the longer non-Indigenous Australians will remain ignorant.
It was on 26 January, 1938 when the Aborigines Progressive Association declared this date the “Day of Mourning”. A conference and protest was held “against the callous treatment of our people by the white man during the past 150 years”.
Seventy-seven years on, this is still a day of mourning. We choose this day to commemorate our fallen warriors. We take to the streets to pay homage, to continue their legacy of fight and resistance. They did not die for us to celebrate the beginning of invasion and genocide. It is only because of all our ancestors have done that we can call ourselves Aboriginal, that we still have an identity. Every time we take to the streets we continue to stand for our Aboriginal identity in an attempt to be free, for our people now and those of the future.
If you ask most Aboriginal people what it means to be Aboriginal, they’ll proudly tell you the name of their tribe and where they belong. To varying degrees, we still have our stories, songs, dances, languages and ceremonies. Our identity is an ancient one, rooted in ancient customs, traditions and culture, all connected to people, place and creation.
But if we ask what it means to be Australian? Ask any Australian about their national dance, culture and language. They can only give you an example of something adopted from elsewhere, more often than not the United Kingdom. They do not have anything of their own to connect to but a recently-formed national identity, connected to a country many thousands of miles away, privileged to be living on stolen land and the proceeds of genocide.
Australians can take responsibility for what their ancestors did and maybe find a true meaning to their identity by firstly encouraging the teaching of real history pre- and post-1788. They could go further to understand that not all Aboriginal people want to be recognised in the Australian constitution, and that voting in any election on this issue is an assertion of their privilege.
Instead, they could listen to the alternatives that we discuss among ourselves, such as a treaty, a seventh state, even our own tribal council to make our own laws that would allow for land to be handed back on our terms, not the terms of the coloniser. And on days like today, the rest of Australia could commemorate the invasion and death of our lands and people, not celebrate it.
But for now, I am angry. I see red. My blood boils. And as I head to my favourite beach, on my beautiful island home to write this article, a convoy of patriotic tourists flying Australian flags bigger then their windscreens, are bogged in the soft sand of Stradbroke Island. The family members stand on the sand dunes, drinking beer, cheering the drivers on as they rip up the dunes as a form of entertainment.
Australia still has a long way to go.
“Our stories, our way” – each week, a new guest hosts the @IndigenousX Twitter account to discuss topics of interest to them as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people. Produced with assistance of Guardian Australia staff.