Recently, I attended a workshop as a part of the ‘Aboriginal Water Initiative’ of NSW Office of Water, where I work. The program, ‘Aboriginal Water Initiative’, is to ensure water used by Aborigines for their cultural services are taken into consideration and provided for when water is allocated and managed in river basins. This is one of the four categories of ecosystem services provided by water, others being provisioning, supportive, and regulatory. I had been in the water sector for a long time, and I believe this ‘initiative’ is one of a kind, and again, Australians are showing the way forward.
The prime objective of the workshop was to sensitize non aboriginal Australians to sensitivities of Aborigines in Australia. There were 24 participants, none of them were Aborigines. The instructor had Aboriginal mother and Italian father. This gave him the liberty to use a wide ranging vocabulary, some are politically incorrect. Those words did drive his messages though.
His first exercise was to remind everyone that occupation of Australia by non-Aborigines is only for the last 227 years, Aborigines inhabited this vast continent for more than 40,000 years, and the continent itself is very much older than the people who live(d) in it. Well, everyone knew this, but the reminder set the scene.
Then he asked the group to split into two, those who were born in Australia and those who immigrated. The split was 50:50. Those who immigrated were separated on the basis of their country of origin, and those born in Australia were separated on the basis of their parents’ country of birth. By this time, there were almost 24 groups, each with one member. The point was made again, we are all different, yet we are all the same. We differ, if we choose to, we conform when we choose to. He maintained, although we differed, we are all unique and should be very proud of our ancestry. No one could disagree.
Then what’s the problem? The problem is when one group thinks their ancestry is some or other better than the others’ ancestry. I see this as the root cause of conflicts. In Sri Lanka some Sinhala-Buddhists consider their ancestry is some or other better than Tamil-Hindus or Tamil-Muslims. In the Arabian Gulf, ISIS considers it superior to everyone else. I can go on.
What we do not remember is that most of us did not choose our mother tongue, nationality or religion. We were born into whatever we are. Every one’s ancestry has lessons for others to better themselves. Our focus, especially in societies like in Australia, should be to cherish the opportunity and learn the best from each other.
There’s also confusion between Nationalism and Patriotism among some. I can be a proud Jaffna-Tamil, and a patriotic Australian, can’t I? Patriotism will be challenged only when I expect every Australian to be like Jaffna Tamil. After all, Tamil is only 5000 years old,and Hinduism is only 12000 years old. In comparison with the period Aborigines have inhabited Australia, I haven't got much to brag about, isn't it!
So, let’s be proud about our ancestry, let’s not insist ours is better than that of others’, and definitely not insist on everyone to become like us.