plants db - indigenous

Pacific Edge Permaculture + Media pacedge at magna.com.au
Mon Dec 31 00:52:32 EST 2001


Hi Felicity...

Thanks for your email and for information about the book 'Why Warriors Lie
Down and Die' by Richard Trudgen.

> I just have to say something on this subject. I also found that first
> statement introducing Russ' comments about the accessibility of knowledge and
> the rights of Indigenous people really confronting.
> 
I guess the reason my statement sounded the way it did is because virtually
all of my limited dealings with Aboriginies have been with people in urban
areas who are members of lobby groups. This has come through past work in
the media where, writing on environmental issues for an independent business
journal, my encounter was with Aboriginies who were at home operating in the
European mode as lobbyists. Thus, 'confronting' or 'devil's advocate'
statements were acceptable and formed part of the way all interests in the
lobbying process operate and part of the way journalists draw information
from people. Sure, it does nothing to make you popular and draws criticism
and accusations onto yourself, but popularity is not the name of the game.

I was less worried about offending (although I never set out with the
intention of doing so) European Australians who support reconciliation
because I believe they would be capable of reading something that they would
find potentially confronting in a more or less objective way. I have found
that reading opposing viewpoints, or viewpoints questioning the orthodoxy or
popular beliefs and attitudes to be a way of reassessing your own beliefs.

Incidentally, I support reconciliation, a treaty with Aboriginal nations and
full human rights for Aboriginies, however I do not go out of my way to be
'politically correct', do not censor unduly the words I use (though I adapt
them to particular audiences) or questions I raise and don't place any
people or culture on a pedestal as somehow more virtuous than others (I'm
not alleging that you are doing this Felicity - I was warned against it by
an Aboriginal teacher when in training as a bush guide).

> I agree with many of the points made later in his original email but find it
> so difficult dealing with analogies people draw between Aboriginal peoples'
> behaviour/attitudes and whitefella behaviour/attitudes when there is a
> whitefella perception of reverse discrimination.
> 
I don't believe that there is overt reverse discrimination as alleged by
some with political or economic ambitions (or by certain commentators in the
metropolitan dailies) although I am very much aware that this belief is
prevalent and colours people's attitudes to proposals to redress issues in
Aboriginal societies. The influence of the One Nation Party, whose policies
seem to have been subsumed by the prime minister in recent times, has
reinforced that belief.

My attitude is that special programs are sorely needed to bring to
Aboriginal people such basic human rights as health care, a relevant
education (in whatever languages they choose), clean water, nutritious food,
self-esteem, confidence in their culture and so on.

> His book explains/illustrates the overwhelming power of the dominant paradigm
> (that dominates all the thinking of non-Indigenous Australians of
> caucasian/Euro background) and its effect on yolngu spiritually and
> psychologically - at the same time as challenging all of us who go to the bush
> to consider how we carry our culture's baggage and then (usually unconsiously)
> impose it on other people and take all our understandings of their
> actions/behaviour through eyes colored by our cultural viewpoint.

Valid point, and remedying it would take a lot of self-analysis and
self-awareness. I think it's incredibly difficult to step outside your own
culture because culture infuses your whole being. Maybe experiences such as
you have had, working with people, is a way to do that.

My attitudes, as I might have said in my original email, stem in part from
work in the development/ aid area. The Pacific people I had contact with,
however, had traditional rights to their land, a culture still largely
intact (one that incorporated elements of modernity) and an independent
country... maybe that makes them different to Aboriginies to work with and
perhaps it eases the way for Euro-Australians to work with them on a more
equal footing.

The other point in my piece, about private/ cultural/ traditional versus
public knowledge, I raised because I believe it to be pertinent to any
broader discussion about access and rights to cultural knowledge.

Some non-Western cultures might want to retain their knowledge because they
see their way of life changing and knowledge being lost... on the other
hand, there could be a great benefit to making wider use of that knowledge.
It's a vexed question and one relevant to permaculture people because so
many of them seem to end up working in developing countries or with
Aboriginal communities.

It is also one that I have direct experience of, through the production of a
forest food manual for a Pacific culture. They were aware that their
traditional knowledge was disappearing and wanted to preserve it in a
permanent form as a book that could be retained as a reference and used by
local schools. They did not have the resources or skills to do this
themselves, so the Australian NGO I worked for obtained funding to carry out
the project. While a particular (Western educated) person was quite wary
about producing the manual, the communities wanted it. Instead of retaining
the copyright for ourselves, we vested it in the local landowner's
association so they could control the use and distribution of the manual.

In regard cultural products, you said that your work has been with
Aboriginal artists and 'art centres'... and, even though it has little to do
with the subject matter of your email, I am interested in the question of
how copyright law is applied to cultural artefacts such as traditional art.
I am aware of disquiet by some Aboriginal artists or spokespeople about
non-Aboriginal artists making use of motifs, such as found in dot paintings,
in their work. I also know that artists copy the work of their counterparts
in other cultures, drawing inspiration from them (and perhaps income?),
making it very difficult to place any blanket ban on the use of particular
motifs.

Do you know what artists and their representatives though about this in the
areas where you worked? Is there a scheme where art produced by Aboriginal
artists is marketed with a logo (akin to the way organic food is certified
and sold in Australia) certifying it as 'genuine Aboriginal art' to
distinguish it from 'Aboriginal-insipred art'  by non-Aboriginies who make
use of motifs found in Aboriginal art?

...Russ Grayson


>I just have to say something on this subject. I also found that first
statement introducing Russ' comments about the accessability of knowledge
and the rights of Indigenous people really confronting. I agree with many of
the points made later in his original email but find it so difficult dealing
with analogies people draw between Aboriginal peoples' behaviour/attitudes
and whitefella behaviour/attitudes when there is a whitefella perception of
reverse discrimination.

>I'm sorry I don't have the time and energy to write a long piece about this
issue (there's permaculture property outside my door demanding most of my
time and energy at the moment) but I URGE (BESEECH) any of you interested in
Postcolonialism and its impact on Indigenous people to read the book 'Why
Warriors Lie Down and Die' by Richard Trudgen published in 1998 or
thereabouts. It's published by the Aboriginal Resources and Development
Services (ARDS) that operates in Darwin. They have a website and I ordered
the book from there.

>Richard writes specifically about his experiences and work over more than 20
years in Central and North East Arnhem Land in Australia as a community
development worker (originally went to the bush as a fitter and turner) and
he has dedicated years to learning local languages and understanding how it
is to walk in the shoes (I suppose footsteps when you are barefoot!) of
yolngu (Indigenous people). He now runs cross-cultural awareness workshops
in Darwin, Nhulunbuy and beyond that are highly effective in challenging and
educating. After hearing of his work for years by chance I ended up working
on a five month consultancy in Ramingining that finished a couple of weeks
ago that is the community where he worked for many years.

>I have been working with Aboriginal people in remote communities,
specifically artists and their locally owned and managed cooperatives known
as 'art centres' since 1986, and have published on the subject. Reading
Richard's book this year was an incredible experience (not said lightly) and
helped explain so many of the issues, challenges and problems I had been
dealing with internally and in my relationsips with others (black and white,
personal and professional) in my years of working with Indigenous
Australians. His book explains/illustrates the overwhelming power of the
dominant paradigm (that dominates all the thinking of non-Indigenous
Australians of caucasian/Euro background) and its effect on yolngu
spiritually and psychologically - at the same time as challenging all of us
who go to the bush to consider how we carry our culture's baggage and then
(usually unconsiously) impose it on other people and take all our
understandings of their actions/behaviour through eyes colored by our
cultural viewpoint. It has relevance to all colonised people and discusses
the myriad expressions of alienation, dispossession and resignation, what
causes them and proposes solutions.

>So, if you're up for a challenge and re-thinking your relationships with
colonised people and pondering the answers to the questions people always
ask me like 'Why do Aboriginal people do X (some inexplicable behaviour from
our cultural reference point)?' or 'What's the answer to Aboriginal health
problem?'........

>cheers flick (Felicity) wright



1earth permaculture wrote:

>>> It seems, on information supplied, that this woman was generalising about
>>> 'white folk' the same way many Australians of European origin generalise
>>> about Aboriginies.
>>> 
> This poor, and great, woman has seen the genocide of the Tasmanian Aborigine
> and has experienced first hand murder, rape, torture, slave labour, the
> introduction of smallpox and alcohol, and the kidnapping of her babies, and
> experiences her daily doses of racial villification.  Despite this, she is
> good natured and cares more about the earth and it's people than many who
> adopt an ethic to do so. Despite lengthy scientific and cultural arguments as
> to why she should share her knowledge of the plants, I respect her wishes to
> be careful as to whom this knowledge is passed to.
> 
> Marcus
> 






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