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Reconciliation campaign aims to take back identity

The eviction of the Aboriginal tent embassy from Brisbane’s Musgrave Park last week brought into focus tensions between protesters and the authorities.

Dr. Winnifred Louis, social psychology professor at the University of Queensland, says prejudice, racism and hate are still issues in the city.

“Brisbane is more welcoming of minorities and more favourable to Indigenous Australians than many rural and North Queensland communities, but less welcoming than states like Victoria and South Australia.”

A Facebook campaign by ReconciliAction hopes to ease these cultural tensions by challenging the Australian identity.

The campaign gives Australians, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, the chance to define their own identity by creating a label.

Nadine McDonald-Dowd from the State Library of Queensland is behind ID2012 and says the idea came from the library’s collection of Norman Tindale images and the coding used to identify Indigenous people during that period.

“We’ve got a record database here called the Tindale collection so we were always interested in that whole traditional genealogical capturing of our mob and how they were coded and classified with symbols and numbers,” Ms McDonald-Dowd said.

“The idea evolved out of a discussion around identity and who has the right to determine someone else identity, what percentage blood they are or indeed challenge their right to their own cultural background.

“I think another part of ID is how historically we used to be broken down into full-blood, half-caste, quadroon, octoroon etc”

“So we wanted to turn it on its head and give it a contemporary context and say ‘how do we as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders identify?’

“We were looking at traditional contexts of identity and how we identify today and were laughing saying it’s [ID2012] a sexy way of identifying who we are.

ID2012 is about creating an avenue for all Australians to express their own identity as well as encourage Indigenous community members to show the diversity within their own community according to Ms McDonald-Dowd.

Affecting mental health

Dr. Louis says a person’s mental health can be affected negatively if their identity is rejected.

“We all belong to multiple groups and have multiple identities – for example, as Australians, women, mothers, or as Indigenous or European Australian,” Dr Louis said.

“When the groups that we belong to are accepting and value us, and when we can easily and flexibly shift among our identities depending on what matters to us most, it helps our mental health.  But if other people reject us, or define us with rigid negative stereotypes, that is problematic.”

Community response

The Facebook community has been quick to jump on board, including high profile people like Naomi Wenitong from Indigenous hip hop group ‘The Last Kinection’. 

Ms Wenitong says it was refreshing to see young people come up with great ideas for promoting reconciliation and is essential people get behind the project.

“I think it’s really important because it involves everyone, every Australian so I think it’s really important that when we do have the chance to do something like this we do it,” she said.

“It was really easy you know, you just take a picture.

“I reckon you should pay attention to stuff like this as it gives you a chance to contribute and do your part in the easiest way.”

Showcasing Australia’s multicultural diversity a number of Australian’s from various walks of life and cultural backgrounds have been uploading their photos in the past month to the Facebook page.

ID2012 is a creative approach to reconciliation discussions as it allows the community to engage with the idea of identity, says Ms McDonald-Dowd.

“Today still in 2012, there’s still this huge conversation happening around identity,”  Ms McDonald-Dowd said.

“Particularly in our own community as to who identifies us as being Indigenous or non-Indigenous and to what level.

“Social media is a platform sometimes for a lot of hate and this kind of challenges that and it’s a platform were you are able to put forward your own identity, how you see yourself.

“Social media is very sexy, it’s accessible, it’s immediate, it’s there and it reaches a hell of a lot more people than a piece of paper.

“There’s a demographic in our community that will take the lead on these big social issues and if we don’t start creating a space for them to be proud of who they are no matter what their identity then they will have to deal with the same questions and issues I’ve had to deal with, and I’m 38.”

Reconciliation means a lot of things to a lot of different people but to Ms McDonald-Dowd it is all about education.

“If we don’t begin to change people’s education and awareness of our true history that has been denied to every Australian – whether they be black or white – of the settlement of this country and the treatment of the first people, then I don’t think true reconciliation can ever be achieved.”

For Ms Wenitong, the key issue is mutual respect and not being judgemental of others because of their background.

“I’m actually mixed race, so I always joke around that I’m reconciliation’s love child,’ Ms Wenitong said.

“I think the main thing is to be able to get along regardless of your past and where you come from and to not be judgemental of people because of where they’re from or their blood line.

‘It’s a little bit old school I think, I can’t believe people judge you on your race and I think it’s [reconciliation] is trying to get rid of that.”

The images will be on display as a digital slideshow for various reconciliation events including the free reconciliAction concert at the State Library of Queensland on May 27, as well as NAIDOC Family Fun Day at Musgrave park in July.


This article also appears on ABC News at
http://www.abc.net.au/news/2012-05-23/id2012-reconciliation-project/4028568

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