Monday, July 21, 2014

NAIDOC, Opinion and Us

I've been struggling with a few things lately and NAIDOC has highlighted some of them.  It's reminded me of both the power of social networking to facilitate discussion and the problems that it inherits as a consequence of people posting incomplete 'hit and run' perspectives.  I'll always be inspired by the work of Murri woman, Leesa Watego in exploring the liminal space of identity in online spaces and providing that to the broader community (particularly educators).  But these last few weeks I've been reminded of the power of how and why we put our perspectives out there.  And they were, for the most part in their demonstrations, a good reminder for us to support perspectives and not require agreement.

I loved that there was dissent about NAIDOC.  Not because I have an issue with it, I quite like NAIDOC week, I like how it started, I like - for the most part - how it operates and I appreciate the power that it gives us as Aboriginal People of, as Dr Chelsea Bond, an Munanjahli and South Sea Islander Australian, described in her summary of NAIDOC  'enacting our own agency as sovereign people'.  (Croakey, July 19, 2014 - follow the link)

Absolutely.  But I loved that there was dissent, because it's unlikely that Chelsea, and others - including Stephen Hagan (a Kullilla man), in the First Nations Telegraph - would have articulated the complexity of their positions without some prodding from around the traps.  In particular, they were responding to an article in The Guardian by Nakkia Lui, a Gamillaroi and Torres Strait Islander woman, who wrote Why this year's NAIDOC week will be my last.

I didn't mind the prod, and it wasn't the only one.  It's been a year of this kind of agitation.  So... while I didn't support her position, in fact I didn't support one individual's position on this, I'd like to think that - like many Aboriginal People -  I'm a bit more complex than just blindly going along with these articles that are, after all, appropriately framed as op-eds.   I like op-eds, because they do allow perspective, but frequently they become framed as truth. What I liked about the responses to this article is that they provided genuinely different perspectives and challenged some of these ideas, worried the space, and probably in some ways contributed to making NAIDOC better.

So, it was a few years ago that I got a properly fresh perspective on NAIDOC myself.  Prompted by Celeste Liddle's Rantings of an Aboriginal Feminist blog providing a terrific single-person perspective on our struggle as Aboriginal women and men considering the implications of gender and feminism from an insider perspective. In one of her early entries she talked about Miss NAIDOC and it was through this work that I was first introduced to Celeste, an Arrernte woman.  I found her perspective and ideas refreshing because she problematised aspects of it, but also clearly understood peoples intentions and the celebrations attached to it - it was a complex discussion that was not reductive or simplistically reactive.  I was pleased that this year Celeste began a companion blog to the Rantings space:  Ms NAIDOC - a blog where Aboriginal women are valorised for the things that Miss NAIDOC doesn't include.   I don't hate Miss NAIDOC, nor do I feel represented by them.  In fact I don't really feel represented by Ms NAIDOC either, but that's the point, right?  We're a bunch of individuals who have different characteristics, different life experiences and we can all be celebrated and challenged to talk about ourselves and our lives.

I was going to finish this off by talking about how NAIDOC provided some solutions to the problems that I face in using social networking, but there is a political issue that is simply too difficult to write about here, in a blogspace that has been set up as really a one-way street.   But just to say that the uproar about NAIDOC and how people promoted one or another of these articles as a reaction to Lui's article, were an example of how blunt an instrument that it can be.  But the actual business in these op-eds, when they weren't positing that there is only one way to think about it, was terribly clever and really did open up a discussion of what NAIDOC can be.   I wish that with all things we would give the same time to think around perspectives and not blindly following and promoting links, ideals and protests as truth.

*please note that I have used identity descriptors for people listed here according to their own biographical info.   Please lemme know if you'd prefer something else.