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 crackdown on child abuse. In 2010 James Anaya, a United Nations rapporteur on indigenous human rights was very concerned about this controversial initiative known as "the intervention."
That same year the Washington Post reported, "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."
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 best 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.
Those Native Americans actively involved in addressing and seeking solutions to this problem unanimously agree that it can be traced to the era of Bureau of Indian Affairs boarding schools and Catholic Indian 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. And in South Dakota the legislature passed a law that will make suing the Church impossible for the abused.
It is apparent that the forced assimilation of Native American and Australian Aborigine children by their governments using much of the same horrific methods did more damage than good and the U. S. Congress should form an oversight committee to find out what went wrong and what can be done to correct it. Thousands of indigenous lives on both continents were severely damaged and someone has to accept the blame and find a solution. If nothing else, stop placing the blame on the victims and give the indigenous people the technical and financial support to find their own solutions.
(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 email@example.com)