Acknowledgement or Appropriation?
“How dare you use uluru and portray it as the centre of jewish Australia. How dare you, have no conscience??? It is FN’s [First Nation] people’s sacred site, how dare you claim it as your own. Your arrogance and disrespect is so blatantly typical of an oppressive regime. Leave the rock, uluru and Our homelands alone. We are the caretakers and guardians of this country, which you know was forcivily taken from us by the European settlers and the English Monarchy back in 1770s, you know of the genocides that were and still being committed by their descendants to this very day, yet here you are doing the same thing, stating claim on somthing you have no right to. Tell me plz what would “Father God” say if here was here? Plz tell me, I am interested in your reply. Because if you treat your enemies with such malious and unshameful cruelty, why should you even have a place anywhere here, if your just going to do the same?? Plz reply, I am anxious to hear what your reply is going to be. Thank you. “The response was:
“Thank you for your comment [Name removed by me]. We acknowledge Aboriginal people as the first inhabitants of Australia and Uluru as a central sacred place that symbolises that primacy for all Australians. Members of our Panel have worked over many years to promote that recognition and the rights and welfare of Aboriginal Australians and we are happy to provide more information if you send us an email address or telephone number.”I felt that this was an incredibly patronizing answer. Even if it was only a complaint from one person, based on my experience, I thought it was a response that many indigenous people would have if they had known about the website. But based on a sense of hopelessness about having any influence, many would do nothing. This set me thinking about the issue of appropriation and powerlessness. Here we have a website that is using an important symbol of indigenous identity for its particular, other, mostly foreign purposes. The connection to Zionism, and the relative power of the Jewish community would be especially controversial. An indigenous person had spoken out – about what was clearly felt to be cultural and political appropriation. Plus61 had patronized indigenous Australians, particularly because it had, without the permission of the known custodians of Uluru, made a clear identification between that place and a particular Zionist agenda. I added my support to the complainant’s lament in online comments. What made me quite concerned was that the Panel (those responsible for the site content) included people with distinguished records in indigenous-related activity in the country. Why was the issue apparently not being taken seriously? I decided to get in contact with them. One person was taking a bush work in the Kimberleys – the most indigenous of places (an automatic email response), but eventually, I ended up having a very long phone conversation with another member of the editorial group. She agreed that the issue should be addressed seriously. I strongly suggested that they write some form of consciousness-raising editorial. I think I may even have suggested that they have indigenous people write some responses. For some time, nothing seemed to happen. Then it has, well, half happened. The large photo of Uluru has been removed from the website – there is now a blank (see below), but the Facebook page remains (as above). Unfortunately, the original photo and header is not to be found on the internet in a cache or archive.org. I find this quite, well, quite an inadequate response. Identity is such a critical issue for indigenous Australians, but the response should not be to just block out one’s own mistakes and let the comments be buried in the website. I think the correct thing to do, as AJDS has done on its own part when found at fault, is to make public what must have been an internal debate, and at least to write something to understand what has been learned, if anything, from that episode. We do need to engage in “broadening the conversation” to quote +61J on this issue. That the +61J website continues to focus on Israel/Palestine and religious issues, and hasn’t made an attempt to discuss in an original way indigenous identity and spirituality in light of their apparent error says to me that +61J has a very weak claim if any at all to use or make a link with an important indigenous site (and not that the photo still appears on Facebook). But be clear. I am not picking on another group in the Jewish community for the sake of it. It just happens that this even occurred in one cultural space that is important to me. It is an issue that is of course relevant to anyone who chooses to appropriate indigenous culture in any community.
More articles by Larry Stillman: “Why isn’t the Anti-Defamation Commission responding to local racism?” 27/8/15 “Vale Steve Brook, our comrade” 19/8/14 “ECAJ, JCCV and Australian Government Donation to UNRWA” 29/7/14 “Responses to the Sodastream controversy” 16/2/14 “AJDS Letter to Julie Bishop Australian Foreign Minister” 17/1/14