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Grassroots Peoples will outlast corporate control

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Lindy Nolan

This is an expanded version of the article in Vanguard’s hard copy May Day edition. It concludes a series investigating ruptures in pro-corporate support among First Peoples.

Imagine if Tony Abbott turned up at your place, telling you how to live, like he did to Northern Territory Aboriginal Peoples recently. At Borroloola, the Garawa sent him packing.

They can’t drink their tap water or eat the fish from their river because mining multinational Glencore poisoned the lot, and paid no tax on $100 million yearly income from their land.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples have had 230 years of groups like Glencore ripping them off, and pro-corporate stooges like Abbott telling them it’s for their own good. 

The Business Council sets the corporate agenda in Australia and ensures it’s carried out.

If you want to know what the ruling class can do to disorganise and suppress us all, look no further than their actions towards First Peoples today.

How imperialism captures First Peoples 
Today, as they jockey for lucrative mining, real estate and tourism dollars from First Peoples’ lands, corporations outsource dirty work to governments. Good cop, bad cop, threats and bribes, divide and conquer, magnifying and splitting asunder minor contradictions among their enemies. 

Isolation, humiliation, media onslaughts, education which denies who you are and what you need, laws to bind and divide you, suppression of language and culture and – if you’re Northern Territory Aboriginal Peoples – the 500 pages of legislation magically ready overnight, the Intervention, now oppressing First Peoples for 12 years too long.

Arrente-Gurdanji woman Pat Turner immediately called that Intervention a Trojan Horse disguising a land grab. Half the NT now open for fracking by corporate tax-evaders like Santos and Origin Energy, with bipartisan support, is proof. 

First Nations have no veto for fracking, mining or other ‘development’ on their lands. Instead, inserted into Native Title legislation under John Howard’s regime, is a veto on their right to say no. This is the most powerful weapon corporations use to divide First Peoples. The Wangan and Jagalingou struggle against Adani is one of many examples.

There’s different tactics for different conditions. One is to attack quickly on a wide front, exhausting and causing despair in those who respond. You can see it in action. 

Who designed the Community Development Program that enslaves Aboriginal workers? Or Basics Cards that humiliate them? Or turns off water supplies and demolishes communities? 

Who drives the policies that still steal record numbers of Aboriginal children from loving extended families? Who does nothing about an epidemic of youth suicide? Or ignores Royal Commission recommendations, when for forty years an Aboriginal person has died in custody every five weeks? 

All these fires lit by the invaders and their corporate inheritors aim to create despair. The US right call the tactic, ‘Whac-a-mole’, from an arcade game. No matter how many moles you whack on the head, more keep popping up. Yet still First Peoples resist.

Anger and sorrow are not criminal acts
Author, Bruce Pascoe asks us to, “imagine that the culture so wilfully ignored was your own. Try and describe the magnitude of your anger, and don't hold back, because anger and sorrow of themselves are not criminal acts.” 

Prolonged anger is destructive. Its source is fear. It wears you down, confuses your thinking. So, when corporate CEOs, arrive offering solutions, some are won over.

A few First Peoples are convinced by well-funded white academics, that traditional Aboriginal culture, not endless trauma and power imbalances, causes domestic violence. Others are sponsored to elitist schools and universities, learning individualist, top-down solutions. 

Above all, corporations work to a systematic plan to divide, conquer and win pro-capitalist collaborators among First Nations. In 2001 the key BCA-Aboriginal “partnership” Jawun was set up, followed by its offshoot, Empowered Communities in 2013.

In all this, the BCA takes the good cop role for themselves. Corporate reps spend thousands of hours winning allies in Aboriginal communities. 

Evidence based or a trillion-dollar market?
While experience teaches vast numbers that capitalism is the root cause of the world’s problems, relatively few Australians currently see a viable alternative. 

When the left is criticised for telling First Peoples what to do and for formulaic and romantic responses to complex questions, we need to reflect before we react. Dogmatism, trying to get facts to fit the theory rather than the other way around, has been a scourge of the non-Indigenous left. First Peoples’ leaders want urgent actions based on evidence. 

Corporations purport to provide it. Yet their evidence is suspect. Suggestions like fracking won’t affect water supplies or relegating Aboriginal languages till late afternoon lessons improves learning come with reams of “evidence”, and are, nevertheless, lies.

Renowned researcher and teacher educator, Professor Bob Lingard, is scathing of the impoverished, data driven model that’s touted as evidence-based research. Lingard told a NSW Teachers Federation Annual Conference that edu-businesses “hoover up research and researchers” to “prove” their products’ worth.

By 2013 the US corporate education market was worth $1.3 trillion. Rupert Murdoch makes huge profits from it. As education minister in 2008, Julia Gillard met Rupert Murdoch who lectured her on education. She helped organise an Australian tour by Rupert’s mate, Joel Klein, a corporate lawyer running New York schools. Two years later she took teachers to the Unfair Work Commission, where $6000 individual fines were possible, to force them to supervise the new NAPLAN tests. 

The Australian Education Union was right when it said it would undermine education. Australia has slipped in so-called world education rankings ever since. By 2011, Joel Klein was Murdoch’s News Corp Vice President, running its most profitable sector, education.

Good enough for the developing world
Multinational education businesses have different methods of getting control of the staggering profits from a constantly growing world-wide market. For developed countries like Australia, they start with testing. Then they say have products to solve the problems their testing supposedly exposes. Next, they move to control of what is taught and so on. 

By contrast, in continents like Africa, they provide a complete and carefully scripted system that can make trained teachers redundant.This is what they dumped on schools for First Peoples here.

John Howard and Tony Abbott ensured government funding for a hugely expensive U.S. product in Cape York, while underfunding the vast majority of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander kids in state schools. While it has some good aspects in limited circumstances, if it’s so good, how come not a single elitist school in the world uses as a whole system?

Aboriginal languages were later deleted from N.T. schools and a budget version of the same product imposed. Like many corporate promises, it was based on a profitable lie, that the most important thing for young First Peoples’ kids is to “think in English”. Tony acted as corporate salesman. Teachers and their union resisted and eventually won in the Territory. They remain key allies of First Peoples on education. 

It isn’t inevitable and it isn’t forever
Ted Bull was a gentle, courageous comrade and Victorian Waterside Workers Federation leader. His job included negotiating with shipping bosses. “I was always polite,” he told me, “But I never took a sandwich from them.” 

Because then come bribes, encouraging ego (but never a sense of who you are or where you belong), flattery and constant compromise, ‘negotiating’ at the boss’s table, because “You’re only 3% of the population,” and “us corporate leaders are good guys now…We run the world.” And on and on and on it goes. 

And, just like Andrew Bolt and Allan Jones, a tiny number of high profile First Nations’ ‘leaders’ are lured by the fame, the flattery and the money. But it isn’t inevitable and it isn’t forever.

In 1789, Wangal man Bennelong was kidnapped and held in chains by the invaders. He saw the empty camps as the Eora were suddenly decimated by small pox (1).   In England, he saw first-hand the invader’s staggering might. Part diplomat for his People, part collaborator with the British, finally, he finally rejected the invaders, lived with his people, counting ex-convict, James Squire, a dear friend. 

Likewise, the tide is turning for a former 1970’s firebrand adhering to Trotsky’s views, who became the mining industry’s most outspoken First Nations’ supporter. She’s shifting her stance again, supporting Aboriginal and Torres Straits Islander groups and Peoples she’s previously opposed. Perhaps she’s learned that promises from the Minerals Council are just a modern version of the worthless trinkets invaders always offer those they wish to conquer. 

The fire of resistance
Before British invasion First Peoples had no jails, no ruling class. Language, Law and Ceremony ensured survival, for they read the land, strengthened relationships, settled disputes.

Again, against disunity, grassroots’ peoples are rising. Their resistance has never been extinguished. 

Language is the heart of culture. Across the continent, young First Peoples immerse themselves in it, for it tells them who they are and where they belong. It decolonises their minds. 

The young SEED mob work with Elders saying ‘Water is life’. They stand against fracking. 

In Alice Springs, Tangentyere Council Women’s Family Safety Group builds community protection, resistance and resilience against domestic violence. 

The Gweagal commemorate their ancestor Cooman who resisted Cook and Banks’ landing at Kamay, Botany Bay. 
Djap Wurrung gain huge support to protect sacred birthing trees in Victoria.

Clans across western NSW from the Murray River into southern Queensland, are rebuilding unity through treaties with each other, nearly 50 so far. 

This is just the tip of struggle. It seems they don’t want crumbs from the imperialist table. They want the whole cake, and for many years have expressed their willingness to share it with the rest of us whitefella mob living on their land, if we unite with them for justice. 

A rising leader says First Peoples need to “combine our revolution with the working peoples’ revolution, and bring everyone with us.” He’s right. Workers have much to learn from this process

Sovereignty, Land, Law
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples never have and never will give away sovereignty.  It comes from their Land and the ancient living Law that arises from it. 

They know the needs of grassroots peoples can’t be reconciled with invasion or corporate imperialism. They demand Aboriginal control of Aboriginal affairs. They create their own leaders. They assert sovereignty in the way they live their lives each day.

The ruling class tells First Nations they’re only three percent of the population. But that’s 800,000 people. Across the land, grassroots’ peoples are creating unity and winning allies against common enemies. That’s real empowerment. 

United, they can build an unbeatable force.

(1) According to the Australian Museum, the British deliberately brought small pox to Sydney supposedly to inoculate children. By whom the material was taken to infect the Eora is unknown, but First Peoples say it was a deliberate war crime. It had spread in every place the British previously invaded.


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