Aboriginal Facts

 

This information was taken from the following web site – http://reconciliaction.org.au/nsw/

About Indigenous Australia
Jul 28th, 2007 by reconciliaction

The aim of this page is to give a brief overview about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people (who are also often referred to as Indigenous Australians). This page includes a summary of the key statistics which explain where and how Indigenous people live, and a list of online resources that you can use to find out more. Specific issues like land rights or health are explored in more detail on the other Issue pages (listed right).

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples

There are two distinct groups of Indigenous peoples of Australia – Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islanders. Aboriginal people are people who traditionally lived on mainland Australia and Torres Strait Islanders traditionally lived on a group of islands off the north east of Australia known as the Torres Strait. Together Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islanders are often referred to as Indigenous peoples or Indigenous Australians.

Indigenous Australians were the first people to live on the continent (and the surrounding islands) that is now known as Australia. There is evidence that Indigenous peoples have lived in Australia for over 70,000 years, or even up to 120,000 years, making them some of the oldest, if not THE oldest, surviving civilisations in the world today. Some 500 – 700 Aboriginal nations existed, each with their own systems of government, languages, cultural practices, religions and traditions.

Many Indigenous people today maintain a strong connection to culture, language and their traditional lands. In Australia today:

70% of Indigenous adults recognise their traditional country.
Although many languages have been lost, today 21% of Indigenous people speak an Indigenous language. The number is growing as more schools run programs to support the revival of local languages.
Indigenous native title rights are increasingly being recognised. In 2006 native title was recognised over 8 per cent of land in Australia, compared with 5 per cent in June 2004.
There are growing numbers of shared co-management agreements where local Indigenous people have taken over management of their traditional lands to protect and manage them. This includes many national parks, for example the world heritage listed Kakadu National Park in the Northern Territory.
There are large numbers of Indigenous controlled organisations and services.
Population

In the late 1700s Australia was colonised by the British. No-one knows how many people lived in Australia at this time, but it is known that the Indigenous population decreased dramatically following the invasion through disease and armed conflict.

In Australia today the Indigenous population makes up only around 2% of the Australian population. The rest of the Australian population (around 20 million people) is made of people from many different countries, with people of British descent still making up the largest single group.

The number and proportion of Indigenous people compared to the rest of the Australian population has been growing in recent years. The Indigenous population is also a young population, with around 70% of Indigenous people aged 25 and under.

Over half of all Indigenous people live in New South Wales and Queensland. NSW has the largest Indigenous population in Australia (with 29%), followed by Queensland (with 27%).

There is a common misapprehension that Indigenous people mostly live in the bush, and it’s true that a bigger percentage of Indigenous people live in remote areas than other people. Overall though, most Indigenous people live in large regional centres and cities like Sydney.

In some states, particularly the Northern Territory and Western Australia, there are less Indigenous people overall but there are large numbers of small Indigenous communities. In more remote areas there are also many communities where english is only spoken as the second or third language.

Closing the Gap

Indigenous people today are the most disadvantaged group of people in Australia. On all the major indicators such as health, housing, education and employment Indigenous people are significantly worse off than other Australians.

In 2007, the statistics highlight some of the big gaps between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.

Life expectancy is 17 years less for Indigenous people: that’s 59.4 years for Indigenous men vs. 76.6 years for all Australian men and 64.8 years for Indigenous women vs. 82.0 years for all women.
Infant mortality (the rate at which babies die) is three times as high, and Indigenous babies are twice as likely to be low birth weight, which makes them much more vulnerable to illness.
There are significantly higher rates of chronic diseases, communicable diseases, disabilities and mental health problems amongst Indigenous people.
Indigenous students are half as likely to stay at school until the end of Year 12 as other students.
The average Indigenous household income is only 62% of the national average (this means Indigenous households get an average of $364/wk compared to $585/wk for other families, as of 2001 Census), and over half of Indigenous people get most of their income from government welfare.
The Indigenous unemployment rate is about three times higher than that of non-Indigenous people. Many Indigenous people also rely on government funded work unemployment programs, like the Community Employment Development Program (CDEP).
Indigenous people are much more likely to be renting a house (63.5% vs. 26.6% overall) rather than owning their own home (12.6% vs. 40.5% overall).
Overcrowding in housing is a major problem. This is worst in remote communities where up to 17 people can share a 3 bedroom house.
Indigenous people are much more likely to be victims of violence, for example Indigenous people make up around 15% of murder victims, even though they only make up 2.3% of the population.
There are much higher levels of substance abuse, family violence and suicide in Indigenous communities.
Indigenous young people are more than 4 times more likely to be sexually abused.
The gap in how well Indigenous and non-Indigenous people are doing is not just driven by Indigenous people living in remote communities, where some forms of disadvantage, like health, can be much worse. The statistics show that moving to the cities does little to reduce the disadvantage experienced by Indigenous people. Non-Indigenous people in urban areas (cities and country towns) tend to be better off, and Indigenous people are over-represented in the poorest suburbs and parts of town.

Moving forward

Over the last few years some measures of Indigenous wellbeing have improved, for example more Indigenous children are completing school than in the past.

But Australia has also gone backwards in other measures. For example, more Indigenous people are being locked up than ever before. Between 2002 and 2006, the imprisonment rate for Indigenous women increased by 34 per cent and the imprisonment rate for Indigenous men increased by over 20 per cent.

Other measures, like health and life expectancy, have only gotten a little better. For more information see the Health Issue page of this website.

Australia compares badly to other similar countries in terms of the ongoing treatment of its Indigenous peoples. In Canada and New Zealand for example, there have been massive improvements in areas of disadvantage like life expectancy. In these countries the gap between how long Indigenous and non-Indigenous people live has narrowed from about 20 years to 7 years. This shows that real change is possible – and Australia could do a lot better.

Apology to the Stolen Generations
Feb 11th, 2008 by reconciliaction

Update 12 February 2008
Apology to the Stolen Generations

At the first session of the 2008 Federal Parliament on 13 February 2008 the new Prime Minister Kevin Rudd delivered an official apology to the Stolen Generations.

The ‘Stolen Generations’ refers to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (Indigenous) people who were forcibly taken from their families by the government. It was the official policy of the Australian Government to remove Indigenous children from their families from 1909 to 1969. For more information about the Stolen Generations see the Stolen Generations page of this website.

The apology was made for what the Australian Government had done in the past and to express regret for the pain and suffering it had caused Indigenous people. Even though the practice of removing children has now ended the current Prime Minister apologised as the representative of the government.

Overseas, apologies had also been offered to other Indigenous peoples by their governments for past treatment. In Canada, for example, the government in 1998 told the local Aboriginal people that it was “deeply sorry” for the physical and sexual abuse suffered by children taken away from their parents and housed in special Christian boarding schools called ‘residential schools’. In 2008 the Canadian Prime Minister again apologised, when he announced a financial compensation fund for the victims and their families.

Every other Australian state and territory leader had already apologised in the late 1990s, when details of what happened to Australian Indigenous children when they were taken were uncovered in the 1997 ‘Bringing Them Home’ report.

Why were Indigenous children taken?
Under the government policy of the past Indigenous people who were ‘not of full blood’ (that is, had a parent who was not Indigenous) were encouraged to reject their Indigenous cultures and join mainstream ‘white society’. At the time Indigenous people were seen as an inferior race, and it was thought that Indigenous people could become ‘assimilated’ into the broader society so that eventually there would be no more Indigenous people left.

Children who had lighter coloured skin were taken and encouraged not to mix with ‘full blood’ Indigenous people. It was thought that this way Australia could ‘breed out’ the Indigenous race. Similar racist policies also happened in other countries to the local Indigenous people, for example in Canada (as mentioned above).

Where people doing the ‘right thing’?
The lack of understanding and respect for Indigenous people at the time meant that many people who supported the child removals believed that they were doing the ‘right thing’. These included white people who adopted Indigenous children as part of their families.

There was a view in society at the time that Indigenous people lived poor and unrewarding lives, and that institutions and white families would provide a positive environment in which Indigenous people could better themselves. Indigenous culture and language was seen as primitive and to be discouraged. The dominant racist views in the society and government also means that people believed that Indigenous people were bad parents and that Indigenous women did not look after their children.

All this means that some of the people who removed or took in children thought they were doing the right thing. Some of the people who were taken were adopted by loving families, who they had good relationships with throughout their lives.

However, the reason that children were taken in the first place was based on a lack of understanding and respect for Indigenous people and culture that was very racist.

Overall, Indigenous children did not benefit from the removals. Many of the institutions and homes in which the children were placed were very cruel, and sexual and physical abuse of the children was common. Many of the people who managed the removals, including both the government and churches, abused their power and breached their supposed obligations as protectors and ‘carers’. It is hard to argue that the people who abused the children were doing the ‘right thing’, even by the standards of the time.

The children who were taken were generally expected to become labourers or servants, so in general the education they were provided was very poor, and as young adults they became a source of cheap labour, as until the 1960s it was legal to pay Indigenous people much less than white people even for doing the same work.

Did Indigenous children get a ‘better life’ because they were taken?
While some Indigenous people taken were placed with loving families and supported, overall the Indigenous people who were taken have not ended up better off. If the aim of removing children was to improve their lives, history now tells us that the policy failed.

Generally, Indigenous people who were left with their families were better off. In addition to the trauma that many members of the Stolen Generations experienced as children, as adults today they have worse health than other Indigenous people, are more likely to suffer a mental illness, and are even more likely to be arrested.

Will the apology lead to a flood of compensation claims?
One of the arguments that people who have made against an apology to the Stolen Generations is that it will lead to a flood of compensation claims by Indigenous people, against the government.

Over the years a number of Indigenous people have tried to get compensation through the courts. Most of the claims have been against the state governments, because state governments managed much of the removal policies over most of the last century. These claims have generally been unsuccessful.

Before the apology by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, the government received legal advice that the apology would make it no more likely for claims to be made. During his speech the Prime Minister ruled out establishing a national fund to compensate Indigenous people who were taken from their families.

The Federal Government and different state governments have offered other kinds of compensation requested by the Stolen Generations, including some funding for services to help Indigenous people find lost family members.

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