According to a 2010 United Nations report, Indigenous people across the world are living in a critical situation. Many are the victims of gross human rights violations. They face discrimination and even exclusion from political and economic opportunities, their ancestral lands are blatantly stolen from them, they are denied the resources they need for survival, and their cultures and languages are on the verge of extinction.
For thousands of years Australia has been home to over 400 different aboriginal nations. But over two centuries of oppression has left these men and women fighting for the survival of their culture. They have already lost nearly half of their languages and the few that are left are in critical danger as the oldest culture in the world is besieged by the youngest.
One such place where this is evident is on Galiwinku on Elcho Island. While the rest of the nation was being colonized during the late 1800s and early 1900s, the Yolngu gained a reputation as being proud warriors. They fought back against the occupation, fiercely resisting it. Their culture remains strong today, but their future in under threat.
Most of the aboriginal people in remote places live in overcrowded housing with twenty or thirty family members sharing a small space. This is a breeding ground for infectious diseases that specifically target ears, nose, and skin. The mortality statistics in these communities are some of the worst in the world, which makes it appalling for an industrialized nation.
Before the arrival of missionaries, the Yolngu lived a nomadic life on their ancestral lands. The church honestly believed it was helping them by forcing them to settle down and live in houses in one place and by changing their natural diets. The imposition of this ‘improved’ way of life caused many ongoing problems such as the tendency to suffer from obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. All of these were unheard of prior to the arrival of the Europeans.
For generations the lives of the aboriginal people have been controlled by government departments. Ironically these offices are set thousands of kilometers away, yet they insist on devising laws and policies without the involvement of the very people the laws are being passed for. The worst part is that they ignore the cultural laws that already exist among the people.
Thirty years of research show that in order for the aborigines to improve their health, the communities must be given back control of their own lives. However it seems like there’s a hidden agenda and it’s time to speak up.