The Dean of Indigenous Research and Education, Professor MaryAnn Bin-Sallik, presented the first lecture of the May 2008 Public Lecture series last Tuesday.
More than 35 people came to hear Professor Bin-Sallik deliver her final lecture before retiring from CDU later this year.
Professor Bin-Sallik’s lecture offered a new perspective on the terms “urban” and “traditional” and “of Indigenous descent” as used to define and categorise Aboriginal Australians.
“Not only are these categories inappropriate, they serve to divide us,” Professor Bin-Sallik said.
“The positioning of Aboriginals within the wider society by formal government terminology is used both to define and divide us.
“Current terms always categorise Aboriginals as the ‘other’ – under the current terminology, Australian Aboriginals never enjoy being part of the mainstream.”
Professor Bin-Sallik said that stereotypes of Aborigines as being genetically inadequate, intellectually inferior and being of a child-like race were transferred from 19th Century scientific thinking to 20th Century government policy.
“And from government policy they were fostered into the stereotypes that are prevalent in modern Australian society,” she said.
“Sadly and unfairly, many Aboriginal people begin to identify with, and behave in accord with the label, and this continued negativity prevents any real chance of challenging such a formidable and consistent portrayal of who we really are. That, and over time, it is simply easier to confirm to these toxic labels.”
Professor Bin-Sallik asserted that if people realised the offence Aboriginals took at these common terms, they would think again about the appropriateness of using them. She maintained that common terms used to define Aboriginals, used by both the Aboriginal and wider communities, were insulting and racist.
Assumptions about so-called “urban” Aborigines not being “real” Aborigines were insulting because “the assumptions are based solely on the colour of their skin”.
“Government’s insistence on categorising us with modern words like ‘urban’, ‘traditional’ and ‘of Aboriginal descent’ are really only replacing old terms ‘half-caste’ and ‘full-blood’ – based on our colouring.”
She called for a replacement of this terminology by the word: Aborigine or Torres Strait Islander, “irrespective of hue”.
“Until that happens,” she said, “we are all as the ‘other’, standing on the sidelines of Australian humanity.”