Many people are angry about what is happening in the NT at the moment. Most will be surprised to know that many Aboriginal Youth and adults have had real anger boiling away inside them for a long time.
“The anger within these two communities comes from very different sources,” said Richard Trudgen, Author and long-time Community Educator with the Yolngu people in north-east Arnhem Land.
The peace and security that the mainstream Australian community expects was lost generations ago for most Aboriginal people. This happened when the ancient Aboriginal Australian democratic systems of Law and culture were extinguished in favour of British culture and Law. This left many Aboriginal people very confused as to how Australian society operates.
As an example, many non-English-speaking Aboriginal people now believe that the government pays all the wages and expenses of all businesses in Australia. This leaves them very angry as they do not understand why they cannot get a piece of the cake.
How they got to this confused state takes a bit of working through. But let’s think about it this way.
If Australians had to live by Aboriginal law
Suppose English-speaking Australians had to live according to the original Australian Aboriginal Law, culture and social codes. How many business owners in the NT would know how to work and operate within that original Australian system?
This means they would have to speak and know an original Australian language along with their legal system codes and culture.
If the thought of this leaves you a little bewildered, you can start to see the confusion many non-English-speaking First Australians face daily.
In the early 2000s, I helped Yolngu elders build Yolngu Radio, a media outlet that would allow the Yolngu people of north-east Arnhem Land to get answers to their questions about how contemporary Australian society works, alleviating their confusion and defusing their anger.
Sadly it’s been almost impossible to get government departments and NGOs to understand the need to ‘answer the people’s questions’ so they can operate as normal citizens in Australian society today in a healthy, constructive way.
Before the English ways came to Australia, the Yolngu people of Arnhem Land traded internationally for many centuries. In 1906, the South Australian government stopped this trade and destroyed an important part of the Yolngu people’s livelihoods and society. Since this time, the English way has been trying to erase the history and memory of this trade.
According to the English way of understanding, Aboriginal people were primitive and backward and had no economic system. This has always been demonstrably false. Aboriginal people have very complex economic and legal systems, which we can see today in their languages and Law. These systems enabled them to survive on this continent we now call Australia for over 60,000 years.
The international trade between Yolngu and their regions was easy for them to operate as they spoke the same economic trade language as Makassar people from the Sulawesi region. When the Makassan traders were in Arnhem Land, they lived on Yolngu land according to the Yolngu laws and codes of this ancient land, now called Australia. This system of trade was based on mutual understanding and respect.
In contrast, now most Yolngu and many other Aboriginal people like them are confused about how the British English-speaking way works.
Youth programs can add to the problem
Many youth programs just add to the problem. They may offer ‘safe places’ and ‘keep the youth busy’; however, they also offer food, games and entertainment that are not usually readily available in the young person’s family environment.
Many believe these services are freely available to all Australians and are their right. As a result, young people are losing respect for their parents and elders and telling them to get lost because they can not deliver these ‘treats’ and entertainment. Therefore, it is not surprising that the drop-in centres in Alice Springs led to a doubling in youth arrests, as young people flocked in from their homelands communities to access the free ‘treats’.
These poorly designed programs can further erode their family unity and social system and add to these young people’s confusion. Many young Aboriginal people now hate their own culture and just want what they think is the ‘white man’s ways’ of ‘free goodies’.
Youth programs that do not build the whole family unit and fail to deliver the false expectations they have produced in the minds of these young people, produce very unhappy, angry young people. Who, in many cases, just want to get drunk in any way they can and cause a lot of trouble for all involved.
Solving the problem
People need answers to their questions in their own language, told through their own worldview. In this way, education builds their understanding using their cultural knowledge base as a foundation; things that they already know are true and real. This approach requires specially trained bilingual, bicultural community educators.
Information delivered by government departments “from on high” will usually only add to their anger because they miss the mark so badly.
For online or phone interviews, please contact Richard Trudgen
Email: email@example.com or call 0400 880 954
Richard Trudgen has been working with the Yolngu people in Arnhem Land for over 50 years. He speaks Djambarrpuyŋu and is the author of Why Warriors Lie Down and Die. He is the CEO of Why Warriors Pty Ltd, a community development social enterprise company that empowers Yolngu and other First Nations people by providing access to information and building capacity and understanding between Australian Aboriginal people and the Dominant Culture.
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