August 27, 2014

Tim Giago: American Indians and Australian Aborigines travel a similar path

March 1, 2010


There is a colonization connection the indigenous people of Australia and America share.

Both were driven to the brink of annihilation by invaders. Both had their children ripped from their arms and placed into institutional boarding schools intent upon acculturation by whatever means (See the movie Rabbit Proof Fence).

Aborigines make up two percent of Australia’s population of 22 million and, like their American Indian counterparts; they are their country’s poorest, unhealthiest and most disadvantaged of all minorities. Both governments have spent millions of dollars on housing, hospitals, community programs, and educational reforms and worthless experiments over the past decades, but the living conditions of most Aboriginal and Native American people remain abysmal. Why is that? Try asking an Aborigine or a Native American instead of a government official.

Both have severe traumatic problems with alcohol and child abuse. Many indigenous educators believe this can be traced back to the cruelty and abuse they suffered as children at the nation’s boarding schools. As I have written many times, you cannot take innocent children, place them in an isolated institution, and abuse them emotionally, physically and sexually, and not expect that when they become adults, they will not become the abusers. And that is happening right now in many American Indian and Aborigine reservations and communities.

The government of Australia established a program imposing radical restrictions on Aborigines in a crack down on child abuse. James Anaya, a United Nations rapporteur on indigenous human rights was very concerned about this controversial initiative known as “the intervention.”

According to the Washington Post, “The program forced a series of tough rules on Aborigines in the Northern Territory, including bans on alcohol and hard-core pornography, in response to an investigation that found rampant child sex abuse in remote indigenous communities.”

Anaya said, “The measures are incompatible with Australia’s international human rights obligations, including the U. N. Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.”

Indigenous Affairs Minister (Sound like the Bureau of Indian Affairs?) Jenny Macklin responded, “The most important human right that I feel as minister I have to confront is the need to protect the rights of the most vulnerable, particularly children, and for them to have a happy and safe life.”

Many of the strict measures taken by the Australian government were implemented without consulting the Aboriginal people. Many of the rules, regulations and laws that have restricted and disrupted the growth of Native American people and communities have also been enacted and enforced with little or no input from the Indian people. The Australian and American governments have acted in common when they tell their indigenous people to go sit in the corner “because we know what is good for you.”

The crackdown by the Australian government was enacted without providing Anaya or the indigenous people actual numbers. The government had to suspend its own anti-discrimination law, the Racial Discrimination Act, so it could ban alcohol and hard-core pornography in the Aboriginal communities and regulate how the Aborigines spend their welfare checks. What is worse, the restrictions do not apply to Australians of other races.

News stories I have read on this issue have one thing in common, including the article I quoted from the Washington Post: not a single Aborigine was asked for his or her opinion.

I would have loved to hear comments by the Aboriginal people. A law that assumes they are guilty without sound evidence places them in the position of having to prove they are innocent.

Those Native Americans actively involved in addressing and seeking solutions to this problem unanimously agree that it can be traced to the era of Catholic mission boarding schools.

Following a huge cove-up, American bishops concluded that there were credible accusations against nearly 5,000 priests involving the abuse of about 12,000 children and adolescents since 1950. The Indian mission boarding school era began in the 1800s.

Several dioceses, including Tucson, Arizona and San Diego, California, had to seek bankruptcy protection when they were unable to pay the financial settlements ordered by the court on hundreds of claims that had been filed. The Archdiocese of Los Angeles alone was ordered to pay more than $660 million in damages, which represented a substantial share of the more than $2 billion paid out by the U.S. Catholic Church as a whole. To date the Native American children of the United States have not received one farthing.

A series of sex scandals also shook Ireland, where a commission concluded that about 35,000 children were beaten and abused in Catholic children's homes and orphanages between 1914 and 2000. Will there ever be a similar report on the abuse of Aborigine and American Indian children? Or will the answer always be, “Who gives a damn?”

The Australian and American governments should take a hard look at what happened in this country, Ireland and Germany and then compare notes. And then they should appropriate the funds to allow the Aborigine and Native American people to solve their own problem, because, ironically, no one else does give a damn.



(Tim Giago, an Oglala Lakota, is the publisher of Native Sun News. He was the founder and first president of the Native American Journalists Association, the 1985 recipient of the H. L. Mencken Award, and a Nieman Fellow at Harvard with the Class of 1991. Giago was inducted into the South Dakota Newspaper Hall of Fame in 2008. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. )

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