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Issue #1742      August 3, 2016

New Aboriginality rules in Tasmania

The Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre (TAC) says the state government’s new Aboriginality policy intentionally confuses the voice of Aborigines.

From last month those wanting to access Tasmanian Government Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander programs and services no longer have to provide documentary evidence of their ancestry.

In line with Australian government policy, the Tasmanian government will now use the three-part identity test – ancestry, with no documentary evidence required; self-identification; and communal recognition through an Aboriginal organisation.

In some cases, including when applying for the cultural harvest, such as mutton birds and abalone, an eligibility form including a signed statutory declaration of Aboriginality will be required. The state government has warned providing false information is a criminal offence carrying jail time.

While some have welcomed the change, the TAC – Tasmania’s longest running and most politically active Aboriginal organisation – is highly critical of the new policy, which has inflamed a long-standing debate on Aboriginality.

“It’s about confusing our voice about our cultural rights, land return and protecting our heritage,” TAC state secretary Trudy Maluga told the Koori Mail.

“We are and have always been one community. There is no such thing as different communities; history in itself made that happen.”

In the 1800s, with the eyes of the scientific world upon them, Tasmanian Aborigines were studied and documented, their bodies examined while alive, then taken after death.

TAC chief executive Heather Sculthorpe said Tasmania did not have the same sort of legislation as mainland Australia where Aborigines were taken off their own country and put on missions.

“In Tasmania there was only the half-caste reserve on Cape Barren Island,” she said. “People have been misled into believing Tasmanian history is the same as mainland history.

“We all come from the mainland of Tasmania, the North East and some the North West, who were all shipped off to Wybalena and later removed to Oyster Cove, or were kidnapped by sealers earlier than that and taken as slaves to the Furneaux Islands, escaping Wybalena.”

There is concern that many claiming Indigenous ancestry may in fact have a black ancestor from elsewhere. The 1971 Census recorded 671 Aborigines in Tasmania in 1971. The 2011 census recorded 19,625 people in Tasmania identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.

Sculthorpe says the state’s new policy is “an outrageous attack on the Aboriginal community”.

“You’re going to have a whole bunch of Aborigines with no Aboriginal ancestry,” she said. “We’re going to be the laughing stock of the country.”

Sculthorpe said the stories some people came up with to substantiate their claims to Aboriginality through oral history were laughable, if it was not such an outrage.

Peter Benson, the chair of the Circular Head Aboriginal Corporation, is one of those people whose Aboriginality has been questioned by some. He along with other members, has applauded the move.

“It will give me a great sense of belonging and identity,” he told the Koori Mail.

“I congratulate the state government.”

* Jillian Mundy is a TAC State Committee member

Koori Mail

Next article – The economics of the Duterte administration

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