A book on movements in support of indigenous people asks important questions about the role of allies in the fight for justice, says SUE TURNER
Decolonising Solidarity by Clare Land (Zed Books, £18.99)
THE PEOPLE at the heart of Clare Land’s Decolonising Solidarity are the Aborigines of Australia, for whom she has been a long-standing supporter in campaigns for land rights and community control.
Most Aboriginal people feel they are still suffering from slow settler-colonial genocide. This is no longer manifest in the kidnapping of their children and massacres as in the past but in an undermining of their culture, leading to a deterioration in their physical and mental health, a drift to assimilation resulting in impoverished lives, racial abuse, substance abuse and diseases associated with poverty.
Land’s book, an exploration of working in solidarity politics, discusses the problems which arise when non-indigenous people seek to support Aboriginal struggles for justice. She poses both theoretical and practical questions, using case studies and many quotes from Aboriginal and white activists.
Her premise is that Aborigines themselves must own the nature and leadership of their struggles, with the right to speak for themselves a fundamental issue. And she argues that non-indigenous activists must be responsive to the political perspectives and experiences of Aboriginal people and take their mandate from them.
She also stresses the need for non-indigenous people to come to terms with their status as beneficiaries of the illegal settlement of Aborigines’ land and the theft of their resources, if they are to work successfully as solidarity activists.
Any collaboration between indigenous and non-indigenous people must be on the basis of indigenous, not equal rights. As white supporters come from a background of privilege, power and entitlement, the notion of a partnership between equals is a false one.
She cites Yorta Yorta activist Monica Morgan on the issue: “If you come in to support indigenous people, you must understand that they’re First Peoples. When you’re talking about supporting them to gain rights to country, then you’re doing it recognising them as sovereign people. So you haven’t got the same rights, no... There’s no such thing as partnership between equals because the fact is whitefellas have got their power through the system and the structure.”
Land’s history of white support for Aborigines throughout the 20th century is particularly germane. A wide range of activists were involved, including trade unions, civil rights organisations, anarchist groups, environmental groups and the Communist Party of Australia. In the 1920s the latter put forward a radical programme for Aboriginal rights and in addition to its theoretical position gave active support to Aboriginal struggles.
Although the book deals specifically with solidarity work with Aboriginal people it aims to have a wider application, with relevance to a range of people involved in allied struggles such as those working with the impoverished and charity and aid workers in developing countries and supporters of refugees.
The global population of indigenous peoples — the world’s largest minority — numbers around 370 million, of whom 150m live in tribes and their treatment is a major humanitarian issue.