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As set out in its Manual the ARG seeks to continue their basic aim which is to “Engage with Aboriginal People in Western Australia through Mutual Friendship and Trust”. This will be achieved by educating Rotarians about the history, culture and issues impacting Aboriginal people, as well as advising Clubs how to engage with Aboriginal people in a way that leads to successful and sustainable project outcomes. Fundamental to this is respectful listening. Having sought considerable Aboriginal input, the ARG not only fosters projects that help resolve symptoms of an issue, but works to identify the basic underlying causes of the issue and devise projects that address and eliminate them.

This is all done with a longer term and wider framework of collaboration in mind, for which we use the shorthand name “the third space”.

The aim is to “progressively move attitudes and behaviours of both Aboriginal and non- Aboriginal people into the third space. The first space is Aboriginal, the second space is non-Indigenous, and the third space is where and when BOTH groups have made changes in their thinking and practices that then enable them to find solutions that are beneficial to all concerned”.

The examples below may help understand this approach.

Changes in the non-Indigenous population

The issues

  • A negative attitude to Aboriginal people has arisen from a regular diet of media reporting negative images of Aboriginal people such as large numbers of Aboriginal people in prison, the ‘Three strikes and you’re in’ laws, of drunk and other poor behaviour in public places, and poor school attendances by Aboriginal children. For a small number of people this negative attitude is the outcome of personal experience of being abused or being stolen from. Most people have little or no understanding of what has happened to Aboriginal people since European settlement.
  • The effect of white settlement on Aboriginal people.
    Aboriginal people’s sense of self-worth plummeted as a result of false assumptions made about them and by a complete misunderstanding of Aboriginal culture by European settlers. Subsequent racially-based policies and laws such as the White Australia Policy, the Aborigines Act 1905 (WA), appointment of Chief Protector of Aborigines, and so on, made the situation worse. On the surface these policies were meant to protect Aboriginal people but in practice they led to separating Aboriginal people from the area of land that sustained their spirit as well as their livelihood, the separation of children from their parents, and forbidding Aboriginal people to use their own language.

How can we change attitudes?

  • Changing attitudes can be brought about by a change in focus from looking at symptoms to considering causes. While the tide is beginning to turn, it may take several more generations to enable Aboriginal people to return to a feeling of self worth.
  • For non-Indigenous people, attending a workshop conducted by Noongar Aboriginal Danny Ford at Kambarang Services is one good way to start (dannyford60@westnet.com.au). The booklet Walking Together, (28 A4 pages) developed by Kambarang Services with support from Auspire, provides excellent background information. It can be purchased from Kambarang Services.
  • Showing respect for Aboriginal culture and people is another way to change attitudes. This can be achieved not only through avoiding stereotyping and racism but also by positively accepting and advocating for such things as use of Aboriginal names for places, training and employment of Aboriginal people, developing a reconciliation plan, more use of Aboriginal art in public spaces, and business and government support for Aboriginal cultural events.

Changes in the Aboriginal population

The issues

  • The cultural norm of custodianship of the land rather than ownership fitted well in the 60,000+ years of Aboriginal occupancy of what we now call Australia. However, it is incompatible with the business-oriented economics-based society we have had since British settlement. As Aboriginal people were increasingly impacted by European farming practices that affected their traditional food supplies, they took it as entirely acceptable to take sheep (for food) from early settlers, whose very different culture defined this as stealing. Similarly, today when an Aboriginal person earns a wage, they are expected to share this income with other members of their mob, and this makes it hard to get ahead financially.

How can we change attitudes?

  • The acceptance of the concept of private property is essential to change. This not only necessitates acceptance that stealing is a crime, but also that skills need to be acquired to operate in a monetary-based economic system. For example, the ARG asked an Aboriginal group to develop a business plan for a project and in the process discovered that there was not a single West Australian qualified Aboriginal accountant. Addressing this problem began with the creation of a scholarship in Financial Services beginning in 2021.
  • 60,000+ years of continuous occupancy of this continent tells an amazing story of success. There is much that Aboriginal people need to learn about their past: the many skills that their forebears developed, the deep understanding of nature and the environment, water and food sources, tools, agriculture, family and group structures, mutual respect, and protocols for dealings between groups. Becoming deeply proud of their heritage will aid in developing feelings of self-worth.