How do we make sense of the ongoing tragedy that is the treatment of Australia’s First Nations people? Is this a singular tragedy or is the identity of Australia and Australians intertwined to produce a multifaceted tragedy that will continue to play out over and over again in the National and personal psyche?
Are we so committed to our own particular stories we fail to see the possibility of one unified story? Unified here refers to a dialogue allowing us to recognise ourselves in the other and to work together for the flourishing of all. It is a move away from defending what we hold dear and what we use as a weapon to bludgeon and control those who are different to us. This applies to non-indigenous and indigenous people equally. We are both trapped by our ideologies.
The more we defend ourselves and our version of the story, the more we find ourselves becoming the same as each other, sharing the same error. Our defence of the indefensible leaves us at the same place as those we are defending ourselves against – enclosed in a world we have defined for ourselves, leaving no space for difference and diversity.
The danger then lies in the oppressed mirroring the words and ideologies of the oppressor and becoming a partner in the further alienation of themselves from the other and, in a deeper and more tragic sense, from whom they truly are and have been.
As such an opportunity is lost. The oppressed are always in an unique place to bring about a “new heaven, and a new earth”. By being deemed powerless and strays in a world of insiders and privileged, they have the capacity to speak truth to the lie without fear of further alienation or rejection. As strays or outsiders they can not be exiled further. They are what they are, where they are and therefore can only go in one direction – in. And yet it doesn’t matter if they do or if they stay firmly entrenched where they are. They already have a formed and vital identity with an authentic and real voice they are required to honour.
It is in the speaking – the use of their voice in word, action and living provides them with the capacity to change reality for all. It is not about them being right and winning the argument. There is no argument. There is simply a dialogue in which they speak and they listen, and then repeat the hermeneutical circle of engagement.
Unification as the recognition of the sharing of what makes us human as found in the tragic imagination is the task in which both are to be engaged. In this space we are to cease protecting our rights and our wrongs and work to bring about reconciliation based on our humanity. This is not a great work, but the only work. It is the letting go of what makes us safe and the hearing of the needs and insecurities of others and ourselves equally.
This is the act of thinking together about what we know and what we don’t know. It is the act of thinking through transparent dialogue, of finding a language to articulate what we both do not know and what we need to know, and what we do not and cannot know, in order to reconcile broken relationships and ruptured polity.
It is not the place of fixed cultural and community knowledge or of a personal commitment to an inner moral or spiritual anchor. It is the place of the unknown, of finding ourselves in the space-in-between certainty and tragedy together and agreeing to stay in that place until we reconcile. This reconciliation is not about an innocent for ever after but a shared conscious decision to stay engaged in a process that will take us into and out of that space-in-between certainty and tragedy, over and over again.
It is time to get out of our intellectual ghettos and admit what we don’t know i.e. how to live reconciled lives together. It is not about Closing the Gap or even about treaty or treaties, it is about admitting how we got to this place and beginning to negotiate the path to hope.
This is the response our nation needs at all levels of dialogue including the dialogue within the main protagonists – the indigenous and non-indigenous positions. What we have presently are people speaking out of fixed immovable positions and attacking those who speak different ideas and defending ideas or positions they hold themselves. It is the ideology of the oppressor versus that of the oppressed. These are not real but ossified rhetoric employed to avoid the hard work of thinking and talking together.
This is the place of the stray*, those who have no thing to lose and, paradoxically no thing to gain. They are who they are and they do not need to be anything different. They have retained their dignity and have the authenticity to speak what is plain to all but impossible for those who are protecting their fragile possession of country, resources and people.
It is the stray who can say this is what I know and, at the same time, this is what I don’t know. This is the place of mystery and abyss, and only those who have lived a long time in this place can speak with authority on what is required now.
* Barbara Creed, Stray: Human-Animal Ethics in the Anthropocene, Power Publications Publication, 2017