The following book review is brought to you by Northwest Territories Chapter of the Institute of Public Administration of Canada.
As part of its monthly Book Review Forum, the IPAC NWT Regional Group is pleased to present the following review for the month of June: Damien Freeman and Shireen Morris’s The Forgotten People Melbourne: Melbourne University Press (2016).
“If our institutions, our foundational document, can belatedly embrace indigenous Australians, would it not benefit us all?” (23).
Deeply rooted in the history of any country that has grown and developed through a practice of settler colonialism are disparities between rights of the Indigenous peoples and the colonizers, and, as such, there is much room for improvement to bring all citizens into the fold. In the modern era, for those countries committed to improving their nation-to-nation relationships with Indigenous communities at least, the question becomes how to best move forward in a way that gives all residents a sense they are truly citizens, complete with all the rights and access as they should have been able to enjoy from the first moment when their homeland became a country.
But what is the solution? How do we decide which is the best way to move forward? What are the possible options?
Freeman and Morris’ book presents five possible options to give Indigenous Australians the rights and standing for which they have been fighting and clearly deserve. Instead of coming at the question from a purely academic perspective, Freeman and Morris approached individuals from several areas of Australian society – politics, academia, constitutional law, Indigenous rights – to discuss one of the possible paths forward.
The first two options – recognition and reconciliation – are simple to understand and represent important starting points for improving the relationship between Indigenous Australians and settlers. From there, the authors’ proposed options get a little more complicated. The more complex options they explore include a declaration and recognition of Indigenous Australians entrenched in the Constitution, the development of an Bill of Rights for Indigenous Australians, and even the establishment of an Indigenous advisory council to serve as a form of self-government for the Indigenous population. More than half of the book is dedicated primarily to discussing and analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of each option.
By the end of the book, the reader comes away with a better understanding of the possible options, as well as the inherent risks and benefits of each one presented. There is no clear front-runner out of the five, but that perhaps is the book’s greatest strength. The editors and contributors don’t claim to have the solution or even answers: they simply present several possible policy options, with arguments for and against each. They argue instead that there can be no one answer, making it clear in the introduction of the book that finding a solution should not be limited to any ideas included in this book, because there could be another possible option that was not addressed in The Forgotten People, and perhaps yet to be uncovered. Instead, in providing the information, this allows the reader to come to their own conclusions about what might be the best option for moving forward.
From a Canadian perspective, the different scenarios presented in The Forgotten Peoplecould be adapted to be implemented here in Canada. Although Canada’s situation is not completely identical to Australia’s, that nation, too, has a need to improve the lives of Indigenous Australians that is not very different than what has been taking place within our own context. Here in Canada, the arrival of British colonists represented a period of rapid expansion of the British Empire at the expense of Indigenous Canadians. These peoples had been willing to welcome the newcomers to their lands and had negotiated treaties in good faith, only to have those treaties ignored. As many of the contributors to this book mention in their essays, there must be reconciliation as well as the establishment of a new relationship between Indigenous Australians and the Crown: a subject of increasing focus within our own society, and one that only recently has begun to see any kind of progress.
In the foreword to The Forgotten People, Indigenous Australian lawyer Noel Pearson expresses hope, seeing this book as a step forward and an opportunity for more discussion about the rights of all Indigenous Australians. It does not represent the end but instead the beginning of the work that needs to be done on the road ahead. As a reader, this resonated for me, as I finished the book with a better understanding of the Australian context as to compares to Canada own struggles to move ahead, and feel that any reader walks away from this book with an opportunity to better understand how they see the road forward. In addition, it prepares readers to work to make that hope a reality by providing a stepping-off point for discussion and looking deeper into the possible options for resolution. In carefully analyzing each potential road through the eyes of respected individuals from all areas of policy development, the strengths and weaknesses – and in some cases the inherent pitfalls – of each option are brought to the forefront. This provides the reader a better understanding of exactly how each option would work within the Australian context, which readers can also consider in terms of the Canadian context.
For those people interested in examining policy options when it comes to Indigenous-settler relationships, The Forgotten Peopleis definitely worth a read.
This review was authored by ANNE-MARIE JENNINGS. Based in Inuvik, Northwest Territories, she currently works as the Registrar for Oil and Gas Rights in the Petroleum Resources Division with the Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment (ITI). This review was prepared for Northern Public Affairs magazine by the Institute of Public Administration of Canada’s (IPAC) NWT Regional Group. Please note the views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of IPAC.