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sociology in indigenous populations. Specifically it will discuss what the terms ethnicity and racism mean, and critically examine how these terms apply to Indigenous Australians? Ethnicity and racism apply to Indigenous Australians (Aborigines) throughout their history, sad but true. Since the English first settled Australian in the 1700s, the Indigenous population has suffered greatly, and it is one of Australia's greatest shames that it went on so long.
The Indigenous people of Australia (Aborigines and Torres Straight Islanders) are one of the oldest cultures on Earth. Archaeologists believe their lineage goes back at least 50,000 years, and some believe it could go as far back as 65,000 years ago. They were the original occupants of Australia, and have a deep and abiding respect for the land and its many different environments. An Aboriginal Web site notes, "For Indigenous Australians, the land is the core of all spirituality and this relationship and the spirit of 'country' is central to the issues that are important to Indigenous people today" (Editors 2008). One reason they have such an affinity with the land is that they lived as nomad hunter-gatherers, each band, or tribe had their own traditional territory, and they literally survived by living off the land.
The land sustained them, and in turn, they learned to adapt to changing conditions and respect the land that gave them life. Before the English arrived, there were approximately 600 different bands of Aborigines and Torres Straight Islanders scattered around the continent, and they lived in everything from arid deserts to lush forests. Each group developed differently, according to where they lived and what skills they learned. They also developed different tools for the locations where they lived. The editors continue, "Tools and implements reflect the geographical location of different groups. For example, coastal tribes used fishbone to tip their weapons, whereas desert tribes used stone tips" (Editors 2008). In their travels throughout the country, the Aborigines began to designate certain areas of land as sacred. One of the most well knows is Uluru, which the British named Ayers Rock. The Aborigines have a unique a colorful history and culture, but since Europeans first came to the country, they have been subjugated and persecuted, much the same as African-Americans were in the United States, and it took them much longer to gain their freedom.
The history of Australia's colonization is well-known. An Australian expert notes, "Australia as a non-Indigenous space began life as a convict dumping ground. Many of the first British immigrants who came to Australia arrived not by free choice but by decree of the court" (Elder 2007). As the colony grew, the colonists, now there supporting the prison colonies or attempting to start a new life, began taking traditional tribal lands from the Indigenous people. The people did not fight back, largely because they were decimated by smallpox that the settlers brought with them. Historian Clarke continues, "This devastation of the natives of Sydney Cove helps to explain the lack of any large-scale resistance to white settlement. Once the disease had swept through the Aborigines of the Port Jackson region, the dispirited remnants were no longer capable of being more than an occasional nuisance to the spread of settlement" (Clarke 2002). After their numbers were reduced, they continued to be pushed away from the white settlements, often living in squalor in remote, untended villages, or moving into the slums of growing cities, trying to find any kind of work they could do to stay alive. Another writer notes, "Colonisation was a period of dispossession, oppression, conflict and violence and occurred at a time of traumatic social change causing much distress for Indigenous Australians" (Bacon, 2007). This continued throughout Australia's history, and it occurs even today, as Indigenous people continue to suffer a variety of social woes because of their ethnicity and societal racism.
A person's ethnicity is more than just their race. It is their culture, their belief system, and their ethnic group. In Australia, all Aborigines and Torres Straight Islanders belong to the ethnic group "Indigenous people," but inside that group, they are broken down into several tribes or groups, each that have a varied culture and belief system. Ethnicity is based on race, however, so it does share a common bond with racism, because most racism is based on ethnicity and culture.
Just one area where ethnic differences create societal differences is the health of the Indigenous population. Indigenous people suffer many more health concerns than white Australians do, and they suffer from shorter life spans, as well. One researcher notes, • "Aboriginal people live 18 -- 20 years less than their white counterparts.
• Only 2 out of 5 Aboriginal men can expect to live beyond their 65th birthday.
• At any age, Aboriginal people are much more likely to die than are non-Aboriginals of the same age" (O'Donoghue 1999). In addition, healthcare facilities are often understaffed or even non-existent in Aboriginal villages and the people may not have transportation to get to a nearby hospital or healthcare facility. Another writer notes, "International research shows a correlation between low socioeconomic status and higher rates of communicable diseases, mental disorders, self-harming behaviour, and chronic conditions such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes" (Adams, 2006). Since most Indigenous people live in low socioeconomic status, this research applies directly to them, and research shows that they do suffer from all these condition, and suffer from more addiction issues, such as addition to drugs or alcohol, as well.
Of course, it is not only health issues that plague Indigenous Australians. They suffer from poverty, ethnic misunderstanding, and their lifestyles have changed dramatically. Historically, they lived off the land and even worshipped the land. Because they are often undereducated and were not allowed to be educated during colonial times, they had no way to preserve their social and cultural history, and much of their ethnicity was lost along the way. Traditionally, white Australians did not consider Aborigines citizens of the country, even though they had settled the area thousands of years in the past. They were not allowed to vote, were paid less than whites for comparable work, and they had few resources to fall back on (Clarke 2002).
In recent decades, there has been a renewed interest in many Aboriginal arts and customs, such as dance, art, song, ceremonies, and perpetuating the Dreaming (creation) stories (Editors). These attempts to perpetuate their ethnicity and culture have been well received by many Indigenous people, and they are one way Australians are attempting to mend the rift between Indigenous people and the whites.
Everyone knows what racism is, unfortunately, because it is an ugly feeling and an ugly word. Racism is the prejudice and even hatred against a group of people because of their culture, their race, even their religion. It is based on biased views and misunderstanding, and it occurs in every region of the world, including Australian. Racism is one of the worst elements of society, because it belittles and diminishes people simply because of the way they look or what they believe, and it diminishes their chances for thriving in society, as well. The group of authors note, "Racialisation is embodied through attitudes, beliefs, behaviours, laws, norms and practices that either reinforce or counteract power asymmetries" (Carson, et al. 2007). Racism in this context does not represent individual intentions or beliefs, but instead on racism perpetuated by society, such as sub-standard healthcare for Indigenous people, or differences in educational opportunities, jobs, and other vital elements of society. Another author makes it even more clear what racism is about. She writes, "The issue of racism is not about the moral superiority of one group over another, but rather the political power of one group over the other" (Elder, 2007). That is one reason why racism still lives on in Australia, because even today, the Anglo-Australians wield most of the political power in the country, and they use it to elevate their own status at the cost of ethnic and racial groups.
Even though Australia's Indigenous people have gained their civil rights, and the government officially apologized to them for past racism and prejudicial treatment, racism is still rampant in the country. A group of writers note, "Racism against Indigenous Australians permeates the very fabric of contemporary Australian society. Such racism occurs in the political domain, in health and in the education system, in sport, in the legal and criminal justice systems, and in civil society as a whole" (Carson, et al. 2007). This racism affects just about every aspect of Aboriginal life, and it affects future generations, too.
Black Americans received Civil Rights in 1964, and that led to widespread calls for an end to inequality for Indigenous people in Australia. Another author notes, "For example, in the 1960s Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians drew on stories from black rights groups in the United States and used them to agitate for an end to the limited civil rights accorded Indigenous peoples in Australia"…[continue]
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