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Letter to the editor - Mercury September 4th, 1999

Response to 'Whites in the woodpile' by Georgina Warner

A discussion on Tasmanian Aboriginality

In Tasmania only one view of Aboriginal culture is available to the general public. It is sourced from the dominant Tasmanian Aboriginal group, whose perspective on Tasmanian Aboriginality is based on the Tasmanian Aboriginal Center (TAC) perspective.

Tasmanian people are forced to believe only one point of view exists, because the media never gave "the right of reply" to any Tasmanian Aboriginal group.

The spokesperson for the TAC only speaks for those represented by the dominant Aboriginal group. This group does not speak for the entire Tasmanian Aboriginal population.

The TAC is currently the supposed spokesperson for the Aboriginal community, while it is has the highest profile, it is representative of only one small Tasmanian Aboriginal group in Tasmania, and only represents ONE part of the community and NOT the entire Tasmanian Aboriginal Community.

What about the rest of us who have always known our family history, and through historical 'luck' were never part of the oppression of an Aboriginal mission. We are entitled to be heard, or are our voices to be silenced by ignorance like those of our Ancestors.

Until the 1970s the world "knew" that the Tasmanian Aboriginal was "extinct". Even those on the Bass Strait Islands denied their Aboriginality and claimed they were only an "Islander Community".

Between the early 1970s and 1995 the Tasmanian Aboriginal population was accepted from across the state of Tasmania and the off shore Islands. Family histories and acceptance by the wider Aboriginal community of our Aboriginal heritage was enough for recognition.

The policies of ATSIC and the Federal Government's defination were acceptable for all. Many of us were the ultimate "lost Children" of Aboriginal society - forgotten and denied existence by government policies of the nineteenth century, which wanted a final solution to the Tasmanian Aboriginal problem. We were then further denied our ancestry because of the "shame factor" of an Aboriginal ancestor.

Until 1995 all Tasmanian Aboriginal people were encouraged by the then 'Tasmanian Aboriginal community' to become educated. This was to enable us to rectify the historical wrongs of the past.

As a whole integrated community we worked together to educate people about our history. As a whole community we erected the infrastructure of the TAC, Tasmanian Aboriginal Land Council (TALC) Tasmanian Aboriginal Education Association (TAEA) and the other smaller affiliated groups.

Unfortunately, for the greater Tasmanian Aboriginal community, it was this wielding of unimaginable power, by some of those descended from the Bass Strait Islands, that became a heady intoxicant.

It was this component of radical Aboriginal people, who decreed in 1996 that those rules from the Federal Parliament on Aboriginality, were inaccurate and insufficient for Tasmania, and that they, the dominant Aboriginal group, would define the rules which would recognise who was Tasmanian Aboriginal.

That these rules vary from any other Aboriginal community in Australia, and only favour the heritage of the Bass Strait Islands is considered irrelevant by those places where 'rights to appeal' can be obtained.

There appears to be no appeal as to how for a lifetime you can be Tasmanian Aboriginal, and then by the whim of a powerful minority you are no longer Tasmanian Aboriginal.

Yet this has officially taken place in Tasmania.

Thousands of us have been denied recognition by the dominant Aboriginal group and its affiliates. Recommendations by this group are also made to government departments, which are then followed without question, by the uninformed majority who make up Australia's population.

We are called "wanabees", box tickers, and it is whispered that we are "not Aboriginal" and doors close. This does not stop us being Tasmanian Aboriginal. After all what is a name?

However, it is true that there are box tickers who are Aboriginal for the financial gain, and in Tasmania, a high percentage of these have the "white genealogy" that is the only acceptance for Aboriginality by the dominant group.

Why would anyone want to be Aboriginal if they weren't? This is a question which is never asked.

Being Aboriginal is not dependant on being accepted by a small faction of the community. We the discarded Tasmanian Aboriginals gave the dominant group and its affiliates the power they now wield with european patriarchal pride.

No one ever asks the opinion of the remainder of the Tasmanian Aboriginal community who are denied a voice. We are proud of our Tasmanian Aboriginal heritage, and the shame and denial our Ancestors suffered. Why should we be racially denied our heritage in the future because of a small but powerful fraction.

Ethnic cleansing is a european trait. Aboriginal heritage historically accepted and integrated non-Aboriginal people into their Kinship Groups (tribes) by initiation. The historical records show that european men cohabited with Tasmanian Aboriginal women from the beginning of the invasion.

Aboriginality can never be defined by the eurocentric rules of genealogy. In Tasmania even a significient percentage of the non-Aboriginal population have difficulties in doing a genealogy.

Unfortunately now in Tasmania we have one recognised Aboriginal group, which has one recognised spokesperson, who decides the policies for the ethnic cleansing of the remainder of Tasmania's Aboriginal population.

The wider community is denied knowledge and education about the realities of Tasmanian Aboriginal heritage, because only one view is publicly proclaimed as a "truth". Political power and a high profile are all that counts.

The public is afraid to question the "truth" because their ignorance may be construed as racist. The simplistic and incorrect Tasmanian Aboriginal history which is currently foisted on the wider Tasmanian communities does not make it true.

It was politically expedient in the nineteenth century to decree our "extinction", even though at the same time, it was a recorded historical lie. The historical records clearly states the truth about Tasmania's Aboriginal populations from before 1804 and past 1860.

Not everyone was rounded up and removed to Flinders Island. Probably hundreds of women were living with european men. 'Tribes' were still being recorded as living free in 1847, corroborees were being held in the 1850-60s.

It goes unrecorded that most Tasmanian Aboriginal people are proud of their Aboriginal heritage. The shame and denial of the past is our heritage, and the pride of our Ancestry is our future.

We do not need the racists perspective of one small group to tell us who we are. The media should give all community representatives the opportunity to state their case, before taking sides, which sadly only shows their ignorance to Tasmania's Aboriginal history and heritage.

Kaye McPherson (BSc. Hons) November 1999


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