Dr. David Barton, a former youth worker, reflects on his experience in Alice Springs in the 1980s and expresses his concerns about the concept of “self-determination” as it relates to Aboriginal communities. He observes that while some Aborigines may call for self-determination, it is mostly white activists who champion this cause. Dr. Barton argues that the current definition of self-determination is about separating from mainstream Australian society and maintaining a distinct identity, rather than integrating or assimilating. He laments that this approach often leads to a heavy reliance on government funding while contributing little to the community.
Dr. Barton acknowledges the importance of preserving Aboriginal culture but criticizes what he sees as the fabrication of aspects of Aboriginal culture in recent years. He points out that many practices, such as violent initiations and tribal conflicts, have largely disappeared, and he believes that the focus should be on helping Aboriginal people adapt to and participate in Australian culture. He also criticizes the Aboriginal industry, referring to it as a collection of uninformed individuals who promote an idealized version of Aboriginal knowledge and history. Dr. Barton warns that this distortion of history, coupled with the exaggeration of the so-called “frontier wars,” serves to undermine settler culture and elevate the status of Aboriginal people.
Furthermore, Dr. Barton highlights current examples of self-determination that he sees as encroachments on settler culture, such as the bans on climbing certain natural landmarks and the renaming of places with Aboriginal names. He argues that these actions are not about respecting Aboriginal culture but rather about asserting ownership and sovereignty.
Dr. Barton questions the need for a constitutional referendum on Indigenous recognition and self-determination, arguing that existing government funding and Aboriginal representation in parliament should be sufficient to address these issues. He expresses concerns about the proposed referendum, suggesting that the government is providing additional funding for pro-Yes campaigns while restricting the dissemination of opposing viewpoints. He believes that this one-sided approach undermines the democratic process and may lead to uninformed voting.
Dr. Barton concludes by drawing attention to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which he believes aligns with the goals of the self-determination movement in Australia. He warns that the implementation of this declaration could have far-reaching consequences for Australian society.
In summary, Dr. Barton raises concerns about the concept of self-determination and its impact on Aboriginal communities and settler culture in Australia. He questions the motives of white activists who champion self-determination, criticizes the distortion of Aboriginal culture and history, and expresses reservations about the proposed constitutional referendum on Indigenous recognition.