Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Indigenous peoples

The UN General Assembly recently adopted a non-binding declaration upholding "the human, land and resources rights of the world's 370 million indigenous people". Guess which countries opposed this declaration. Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States.

Australia defended its decision to oppose the declaration, saying that the document was "outside what we as Australians believe to be fair". Fair enough. The minister of Indigenous Affairs, Mal Brough, explained haphazardly: "We haven't wiped our hands of it. But, as it currently stands at the moment, it would provide rights to a group of people which would be to the exclusion of others." I fail to understand such mumbo-jumbo.

Once upon a time, the British colonialists in Van Diemen's Land—the early name for present-day Tasmania—set out to exterminate the Aborigenes, as if they were vermin. One of the last survivors, Truganini, pleaded to be buried in her mountainous homeland. Instead, her remains were placed in a glass museum case. Today, I have the impression that our Aborigines are still being treated, not as fascinating human beings, but as specimens in an antiquated museum.

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