Acculturation and ?

History shows that as our English language evolves new words to describe learned theories and concepts are introduced.  Recent history demonstrates that these words hinge on advances in technology: internet, email, et cetera.  Some theories and concepts adopt the more academic combination of current words. 

One of the problems confronting indigenous community development is the consideration that traditional authority structures are now fundamentally altered, and all within the space of a generation or two. 

In the Wave Hill walk-off (1960s) the authority of Vincent Lingiari was affirmed by the fact that after several years of continuing to strike his determination binded the younger generations desire to return to work on less than minimum wages.  Today that same degree of authority appears to be absent.

The question is, what is the cause of this breakdown of authority? 

There is no doubt that the prevalence of substance abuse and its function as a socio-catalystic epidemic is one determinant (Noel Pearson has written extensively about this).  The five pre-conditions to an epidemic, developed by Professor Nils Bejerot, are (i) access to substance (ii) access to money to purchase substance (iii) boredom (iv) permissive social ideology (v) behaviour of peers.

The first two pre-conditions can be alleviated more directly by practical policy measures.  The third pre-condition is perhaps more difficult, but it is the fourth and fifth that offers more complex and far-reaching considerations for policy makers.

It is correct to say that a permissive social ideology and the subsequent behaviour of peers in this context is the result of a general ‘disempowerment’, but this term does not adequately describe what has happened.  There appears to be a more distinct psychological and social function, or more distinct circumstances than what the more generalised term ‘disempowerment’ can offer. 

The term ‘dispossession’ is often used to describe the socio-economic position of Indigenous peoples, but many people have repossessed their land as a result of land rights and native title legislation, albeit in different forms of rights.  The term ‘dispossession’ ordinarily describes the possession of land. 

Similarly, the term ‘acculturation’ refers to the changing patterns of ‘culture’ as a result of different social groups mixing, but the term ‘culture’ is ordinarily associated with social patterns outside the fabric that binds social obligations, authorities and norms. 

People interpret ‘culture’ as a certain style of painting rather than the obligation to participate in ceremonies, or even the authority of vested people to determine ceremonial duties.

The term ‘acculturation’ is of some use because its structural process directly resembles Indigenous peoples experience.  The structural tenets of ‘acculturation’, rather than its ‘cultural’ fabric, describes the predicament.  In essence it is a distinct process of globalisation. 

Indigenous peoples have been ‘dispossessed’ in ways that extend beyond possessory entitlements to land.  They have been dispossessed of their capacity to control an accelerated process of acculturation and globalisation.  

The power structures and transference of power from families and social groups to the State have ‘disempowered’ Indigenous peoples.  The deposits of power in our modern indigenous-State dynamic is incoherent (see Noel Pearson, here).   

All these descriptions offer partial accuracies, but our understanding of community development and policy deserve more refined language.


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