The dirty secret is, there is a Train. But the bad news is, if you're black, you're going to find it hard to get a first class ticket.
This Train stops at many destinations.
Stop One - The Corporate World
With all the focus on Native Title, Caring For Country, Welcome to Country and all other matters Indigenous, we've created a whole raft of new jobs that need filling by Aboriginal people. Many of them with quite generous salaries.
Let's look at a few:- (for those playing along at home, todays current Koori Mail employment pages)
If you're from the Geelong mob, why not become a 'Koorie Transition Officer'. Pay range $76k - $90k plus.
Or, how do you like the sounds of 'Medicare Enhancement Officer' on your new business cards? Contact VACCHO if you're interested, they're looking for one right now.
Want to shoot to the very top? How about CEO? You guessed it, that one is up for grabs too, and best of all, it comes with a six figure salary!
But there's one catch. Most of them have an impressive selection criteria that tends to weed out a lot of the blacks that need jobs. I see no entry level jobs, no apprenticeships, no nothing to help someone get that springboard step from poverty to a new and brighter future. The Victorian Government has pledged a 1% Aboriginal target for Public Sector employment by 2015. Already advertised is one position for a Solicitor, several for Child Protection workers, some for Prison Officers, and one single Traineeship. But if you don't have any skills and don't want to be a Fisheries Education Officer, you'll have to keep the job hunt going a little longer.
Stop Two - Small Business Owners
A little annoyed at yourself that you went and studied that Aboriginal Archaeology course? Well, don't be down, dust off those degrees your parents scoffed at and start your own small business! Cultural Heritage Management Consultant has a nice ring to it, doesn't it? You can charge a bunch for your time, doing fun stuff like taking photographs of rock scatters, sitting back and admiring said rock scatters, daydreaming about how they may have come to be here. Write your dreams on paper, making sure to pepper it liberally with terms such as "shell midden", and "artefact" - or my personal favourite, "tribal gathering place".
Leave space at the top of your report (for the obligatory Wikipedia copy and paste about the history of the local area and its 'tribes' ) but be sure you haven't left out several gratuitous references to the co-operative nature of the company who is going to pay your exorbitant bill (Oil companies, Mining Companies, despite all their money, they still need their egos stroked) and their genuine warm feelings of reconciliation and respect for the local Indigenous peoples. It also helps if you mention that they are going to work hard with you to maintain and preserve any cultural sites of significance. It helps if you don't mention that if it is in the way of a large Gold deposit, or where they want to pipe Gas through, it will have to go anyway. Negotiation only goes so far of course.
Stop Three - The Arts World
Poor reviews getting you down? Well, despair no more, Stop Three is where you need to be.
Instead of competing against all the other bland white artists, you need a professional edge. You need to stop advertising yourself as a 'Struggling' or 'Urban' or 'Contemporary' Artist, and start using the words 'Aboriginal Artist'. Enter yourself in all the major Indigenous Art Awards (don't worry, I know of one major award that doesn't ask for proof of Aboriginality along with your entry), and even if you only come away with a Shortlist or Finalist placing, it is really all you need. You've achieved the hardest part of all, cementing your credibility.
When you engage the news media, you don't actually need to explain your heritage. Refer to a descendant of a parent in wistful terms, using just enough suggestive prose for the impression to be clear that the descendant was 'stolen' and you now have a tactical advantage. You see, probing further would be seen as highly offensive and no journalist who doesn't want to be hauled before court will dare challenge you, or even ask for something as silly as proof.
Stop Four - Pretend Elders and Fake Traditional Owners
Well kids, the last stop on our journey. While the sarcasm may drip from my words, I can tell you, this is one that really breaks my heart.
The Elders were once a revered bunch. Given a status that reflected their dedication to their community, their vast and superior wisdom, once upon a time, there were laws that governed who could, and couldn't be, an Elder. These days, it is little more than an assumption. If you're old enough to remember a time before mobile phones, you're old enough to demand the title. We still have Elders in this state who fit the original criteria, those who should be revered, but when every other person is an Elder, society loses sight of what such a title really means.
The low blow for me, came the day I realised that you don't even have to be Aboriginal, to be an Aboriginal Elder. Yes, in one Aboriginal Co-op here in Victoria, we have at least one woman who demands the title of 'Aunty' from her staff and visitors, despite her only connection to Aboriginal ancestry being admittedly by marriage (i.e not a blood relative) and workplace osmosis . Perhaps working in an Aboriginal Corporation has a funny effect on people from time to time, including altering your genetic make-up.
Traditional Owner is also a pretty neat title to whack in front of your name. It's got a nactivist kind of feel to it, tempered with the mystical affectation we give to the word Elder. Either way, it's not a bad job to have. If you're looking for a late start to this race though, forget about it. The boat left a little ways back. The early bird catches the worm as they say, and if you weren't jumping into bed with NTSV years ago, you may find yourself left out in the cold.
I'm not saying the Heritage Council are making bad decisions. What I will say, is that the current legislation leaves a lot of loopholes. The onus is on those who oppose any application, when it comes to the burden of proof. Having lodged opposition myself to one such application (which went on to be declined in 2011), I am thankful that the party in question made a fatal error of judgement when deciding to flout regulations and write member profits into their rule book. It probably wasn't also a good idea to have a membership consisting of just one family group either. I'm sure the information I provided was helpful, but when the other side is stupid AND greedy, I won't gloat and chalk it up as a victory for me.
If you're wondering about what happened to the poor guy whose application is now left in tatters, and how he is going to feed his starving, disadvantaged family - I have good news. Fake Traditional Owners are a resilient bunch. Already a successful Indigenous business owner with many Government funded subsidies to help out along the way, I'm sure he'll be positively 'buzzy' with what his future holds. He may not have a Monsanto like grip on all matters Indigenous where he lives as was hoped, but I'm sure in time, he'll learn to be happy somewhere between the middle and upper classes with his various income streams. Best of all, he's white, so his Aboriginality isn't going to hold him back at all. Just open a few more doors that the rest of society aren't allowed to open, and allow him access to a niche market that asks few questions, and goes along with whatever you say.
I hope you've enjoyed your trip on the Gravy Train with me. As you can see, the Train is not for everyone. Few seats are ever given to blacks, but that is not to say, that some have not ridden. Whilst I do not forgive a black brother or sister lightly who steals from their own people, society shames them far worse than I could. We've had some corrupt blackfellas over the years. I won't deny it. We have honest people among us, and, dishonest ones. Greedy and benevolent. When you create entire systems (like ATSIC) that are open to exploitation, you make monsters. When you're given a job - not because you're the best person for the job, but, because you wield the most power or have more influence and wealth than your peers - then the likelihood that you will be productive, meet your targets and make life for all those poor saps counting on you better, it is, well, pretty low.
To all my black brothers and sisters out there, this is why you should be asking questions. This is why you should be getting angry.
How has your life been made better by the Billions in funding that has been spent in YOUR NAME?
Have you been helped or hindered when you've asked for help from an Aboriginal organisation?
Does your local Aboriginal organisation scrutinise itself with regular audits?
Do they allow you to attend meetings and be a part of the democratic process that is supposed to give us all a voice, as the very people they are supposed to represent, to provide services to - that our Government funds them well to do?
Are they working to provide jobs for the local people, or just friends and family?
If you wanted to change your life tomorrow, study and train for a career or vocation, could you reasonably expect that help and assistance would be available for you to attain such a goal?
What makes me sit up and worry at night, is a whole bunch of people who are being denied all of this and more. What makes me angry, is that those who are denying it to them, claim to represent them.
Every socially accepted, urban living, middle-class, white aboriginal person who has used their heritage to further themselves, contributes to the problem. It creates inequity in the market. Twenty years ago, we started making real leaps forward in planning our Indigenous future. Big talks resulted in great aspirations, our kids would go to college, we'd have Aboriginal Doctors, Aboriginal Lawyers, and all our kids would be just as smart as the white kids.
What happened after the talks?
Committees were formed, Key Initiatives were set, Funding was given, Scholarships and Indigenous University places grew.
But very few black, disadvantaged kids were graduating. Instead, the first wave of graduates were overwhelmingly pale skinned, and often two or three generations removed from a single Indigenous ancestor.
Hang on a minute, I hear you say. How are you to know that these people didn't go on to do wonderful things in remote communities and spend their life dedicated to helping Aboriginal people?
I don't. And frankly, it matters little. Whether our imaginary graduate goes on to be the Mother Teresa of the outback or not, post graduation, the end does not justify the means. If our graduate was that dedicated, she'd be there. Ask any of the hundreds of average people who have given of their time and hearts to any one of our many impoverished remote settlements. Ask some of the dedicated non-Indigenous staff who take a shitty wage to stay in a job they love to make a difference in the lives of kids who have so little to smile about. They aren't doing it because they're Aboriginal, they're doing it because they want to help.
Instead, what I see, is a growing trend of those who focus on their career, their speaking engagements, their own achievements - and when they need to, using the Aboriginal name to help themselves along and in some cases, form the foundation for their whole identity and life focus. In their giddy indulgence of self-identity, they are robbing us of ours. We are asked to accept the face of the white man as the face also, of the black man. He is both our enemy and our brother. And although my white brother may move about the world freely, accepted as normal to others and blending in with the majority, we are told we must remember his suffering is akin to ours, and never mention the difference. His white skin is a shield, however, in order not to offend, we must readily make generous concessions that allow far less racism to be equal to or greater than, deeply ingrained and generational racism. We must never admit that a pervasive racism exists, nor ever reveal that the blacker your skin, the greater your chance is of experiencing such a phenomenon.
We have one section of the Aboriginal race (as defined by any means) doing well, and another, as if in a third world country. I will never apologise for believing this must change. I refuse to pretend I didn't notice that those doing well are overwhelmingly pale-skinned, and those enduring the suffering are overwhelmingly black. I will think you are missing the mark when you make comments such as 'but, the criteria doesn't say you have to be disadvantaged, you just have to be of Aboriginal descent' to justify you making a commodity of your thin strands of heritage and taking that opportunity.
Did you stop and think that if all those who really shouldn't be eligible made a moral decision and opted out, that maybe, just maybe, we'd get an accurate picture of how things really are?
Imagine if in 2013, we only had disadvantaged, remote Indigenous Australians eligible for every Aboriginal Art Award, Scholarship, Traineeship, IBA loan, Identified job position etc . As a nation we would be embarassed into a state of action when we saw how few of these roles were able to be filled. Instead of congratulating our ever growing army of pale skinned High Achievers, we would be shamed into taking real action to address what should be a national disgrace. What happened to the days when we looked at a child who, through the lottery of birth and not choice, is dealt a crappy hand in the Game of Life and said 'how can we help?'. When did we change to a society that instead only asked of itself 'What's in this for ME?'.