Global Reconciliation: Pushing and Pulling for Difference


Within David Singh Grewal's discussion of "Cultural Convergence" in his book Network Power, he states that there is a growing "movement of non-governmental organizations working across borders [such as Us vs. Them (Tilly)] to solve problems ranging from environmental degradation to nuclear proliferation to human rights abuses" (283).   Reconciliation Australia is a a "non-governmental" agency working towards mending the disparities and conflicts between indigenous and non-indigenous communities. However, the most visible actors within this agency function as what Grewal would call a "Faculty Club" or "epistemic community," a network of experts, primarily consisting of indigenous and non-indigenous academics, lawyers and activists, that share a similar conceptual frame (albeit based on Berger's fourth face of global culture, missionary evangelical protestantism)  to solve the social inequalities and violence persisting in remote indigenous communities.

The Logo for Reconciliation Australia

This communities' conception of reconciliation was internationally influenced by the success and power of South Africa's reconciliation campaign, which was based on a politics of sameness. This politics of "sameness" equates the "black" person and the "white" person and calls for a coordinated and collective effort to forgive and forget past atrocities.  This framework, however, not only diminishes the importance of the indigenous struggle to gain sovereignty (the right to their own land and self-determination), but also completely avoids and represses contemporary debates about the human rights violations that exist within indigenous communities. In other words, Reconciliation rhetoric only visualizes the progress and hides the continued violence and injustice. Repression will not reduce violence, but perpetuate it.

On May 1, 2011, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) produced a podcast on Bess Price, a Warlpiri woman and black leader for Aboriginal people. She gives a briefing about how the continued abusive violence (a result of a historical network of  structural violence committed by the government's misuse of indigenous land rights for mining) by indigenous elders in Central Australia has torn her family apart.

Bess Price

Unlike Reconciliation's "epistemic" community, Bess Price supports the Northern Territory Intervention, a series of law enforcements and social welfare provisions by the Australian federal government to improve the lives of women and children that suffer abuse. Bess Price believes that to overcome violence and crime in her community her children need to be better educated. She notes, "why should we live in ignorance and poverty and live short and violent lives so that white fellas can feel less guilty, so that the stolen generations can fantasize about their culture that was taken away from them." Price believes that by merely holding on to cultural traditions, Aboriginal people are injuring their chance at any kind of progress towards reconciliation and healthy lifestyles. In opposition to Price, Larissa Behrendt, an indigenous Professor of Law at University of New South Whales, sees Price's endorsement of the "white" intervention as justifying the colonizer's (or privileged network in Grewal's terms) eradication and exploitation of Aboriginal culture and land. This argument follows Grewal's "push & pull" model of cultural convergence, on one hand, indigenous people are forced to adapt to the global standards of modernity, and on the other, there is a will to push away and maintain difference (Behrendt's argument).

White Australia has a Black History

Although Bess Price is endorsing adaptation and the pulls of "White" society, she does not want indigenous communities to completely let go of their traditions. Instead, she desires translation, communication and coordination between both indigenous  and non-indigenous Australians. This will not only require education within Indigenous communities, but will also require agencies likeReconciliation Australia and other privileged communities to take the time to understand the indigenous language and perspective.

The continued violence attributed to the indigenous right to self-determination and sovereignty has been going on for hundreds of years and today the fight has become more symbolic than ever. Indeed, Reconciliation Australia's "conceptual frame" (Grewal 268) of harmony and coordination stems from the protestant privilege of reconciliation, which is founded on forgiveness, faith, and renewal.  The key to reducing violence in this context is not going to be solved by religious ideals or "soft-power," but through education and adaption of the standards -- from both parties. Only through education, will indigenous communities be able to innovate and propose alternative ideals to the "national" (albeit international) standards of reconciliation and human needs. The next step for Reconciliation Australia will be the most difficult; to break away from the conventional and "standard" framework created by a elite and privileged framework, that frames indigenous conflict as rooted in maintaining cultural traditions. By turning away from this "cultural" argument and towards a politics of difference and diversity, global and national conceptions of indigenous reconciliation will no longer be seen as just preserving indigenous authenticity, but as an ongoing global effort for maintaining basic human rights. Grewal notes, "in reworking today's globalization, we are able to find less destructive ways of asserting our collective will, including the will to difference..." (295) Unlike Paul Collier, author of the Bottom Billion, I have not looked at how conflict traps in the Bottom Billion countries evolved, but have offered solutions to ongoing violence within one of the most developed countries in the world, Australia.