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Can we breathe?

At the end of 2020, it is useful to reflect on the fact that bushfires, white supremacy and coronavirus are all the natural consequences of colonization. They are all symptoms of societies who don’t know their values, don’t know how to connect to country or manage the natural world, and don’t know how to balance individual agency with the collective good.

The oldest human living cultures on the planet, on the oldest continent on earth, knew that to survive ice ages and genocide itself, we had to evolve extremely sophisticated and yet deceptively simple governance systems. We knew how to balance power and authority, individual agency with the collective good, and both male and female power. We still do.

But white people are obsessed with white supremacy. Apparently only they can know what good is. This is a lie. They are extremely naïve and young cultures – obsessed with greed and money over their own survival.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples had, and have, science well before white people got here. We were and are epidemiologists, engineers, genealogists, lawyers, doctors, midwives, scientists and teachers. We weren’t just stumbling around the bush bumping into a kangaroo every now and then. This knowledge, the oldest and therefore most successful human knowledges on the planet, is still alive. But we will not blindly share it with people with no soul and no ethics.

And so it is time to re-assess the relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Peoples, and between humans and the countries we live on. The survival of humanity depends on it.

While Keating meant well, reconciliation was the wrong framing of Australia’s history then, and it is the wrong framing now. Internationally, the concept of reconciliation presumes there was peace between two equal parties, then a conflict, and then a need to talk, atone, forgive and rebuild. In the Australia context, this was always fundamentally a lie.

Reconciliation is dead. It was dead before it started. It only reinforces white power.

The truth shall set us all free. ‘Australia’ is stolen. Genocide occurred here. Its effects are still very real on white Australian people (denial and barren-soul disease), and of course, on sovereign Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples (police brutality, racism in health, destruction of sacred sites).

A more proper framing of Australia’s history is peace-making and diplomacy. After a conflict, one must try to rebuild peace. But even that framing presumes the conflict has stopped. With over 534 murders in custody, and counting, can we really say the war on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander bodies, minds and hearts has stopped? When school curricula is essentially white and taught in English only in many remote Aboriginal communities with over 95% Aboriginal populations, can we truly say we are interested in peace-making?

Instead, we frame ‘Aboriginal affairs’, itself a colonial construct, as one of capacity-building – that if Aboriginal people just got educated and thought like white people and got on the neo-liberal treadmill of being cogs in a wheel for someone else to get rich, then we too could be ‘good people’.

We are measuring the wrong things – instead of measuring only things like economic productivity or Aboriginal youth suicide, why don’t we also measure white privilege, male privilege and policy brutality? If anyone wants to murder Aboriginal people and get away with it; just move to Alice Springs or any similar other town, or join the police in any state, and you’ll be free to live out all of your white supremacist fantasies.

In talking about the truth, let’s also talk about justice and healing, and enact them. Let’s instigate a hold on Murdoch, a hold on the church, a hold on mining – that’s who’s greed has corroded the state.

If we the citizens continue to act like sheep and blindly follow the neo-liberal ‘rules’, scared to talk back to power, then we are complicit in our own destruction. The police state is corrupt and powerful because the corporations need you to believe your ‘freedom’ will come from working sixteen hour days and watching Netflix – that exhaustion and fantasy is the pinnacle of human achievement. Rome burned. Australia is burning. George Floyd and David Dungay aren’t the only ones who couldn’t breathe.

In this regard, coronavirus is a massive gift to humanity. The lesson is to stop. S. T. O. P.! Breathe. Rest. Look within. Make peace with your situation. Find your voice.

When we can breathe again, when the rain comes, when Aboriginal brilliance is properly valued, when the truth is told and the tears have fallen, when white people truly atone, when justice is served, then humans have a chance.

I’m not holding my breath. But I am breathing.

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