I recall a conversation I had with a friend several months ago, regarding Indigenous issues. Having both grown up in small towns with a significant Aboriginal component, we were discussing responses to the various Indigenous issues, and he raised a point that I believe to be neglected. To paraphrase, my friend stated something along the lines of; “Well, the problem with Indigenous people is that people don’t understand their differences. There are hundreds of different tribes, languages and cultures, so to say one person can represent all Indigenous people is impossible. Well, not impossible, but it would be a very difficult thing to do and most people realize this”.
The enormity of variation and diversity among Aboriginal people is not to be underestimated. There are different values, beliefs, and perspectives on life, which all too often are thrown into one category. For instance, if a meeting were to be held among leaders, including leaders from every single tribe, to discuss an issue such as welfare dependency, thousands would pack a hall, making it impossible for coherent communication to occur and for the voice of every tribe to be heard.
Considering this, it is important to recognise that any statement made by an Indigenous leader by no means represents the entire Indigenous community or population. In fact, it could very easily represent a very small aspect of the Indigenous population as a whole. I say this not to defame the view of Indigenous leaders. Rather, it is crucial that Australians keep their perspective, when leaders discuss matters of alcoholism, drug problems, closure of Indigenous communities or racism, as in many cases there may be differing views within the Indigenous community itself.
Fundamentally, the notion that Indigenous Australians are one people is at best a dubious claim. It is comparable to stating there are no significant differences between China and Japan. It is a myth developed by White Australians who seek to simplify the history and difficulties associated with Aboriginals, even though in reality this could not be further than the truth.