Thursday, 5 January 2017

DNA stories

It's been reported regularly over the past year of so that 'The largest study on the DNA of indigenous Australians confirms Aboriginal people were here tens of thousands of years before European colonisation.'

This kind of study heartens many black hearts. It proves we were here ‘first’, or at least a long time - thousands and thousands of years - before the second wave of migration in 1788. Anyway you look at it, it gives some special status to Aboriginal Australian people.

Being first is great if you are in a race.  But I wonder about the relevance of these DNA stories these days to many a urban-based mixed heritage person who claims their Indigenous heritage.

594 people were tested – and most of them were from the NT, WA and a sprinkling from other states.

Any debate instigator who suggests they talk for Aboriginal people, will be quick to tell you 'most Aboriginal people live along the south coast'. There are a lot of rubbery figures when it comes to urban people claiming their authority to speak and direct public policy, with all the power and influence that their shrinking echo chamber provides.

Often heard is the cry of why ask a Territorian, or some one from a town that doesn’t boast a shopping mall, why ask them anything at all about Indigenous issues…when most blackfellas live in Western Sydney?

But do ask them – the scattering of small groups across the interior and the remote north, in fact take as much blood as you need, if it proves ‘our’ collective ownership of the entire continent.

It’s not just their geographical location that sets these separate groups, these separate nations apart. 

Don’t panic, I’m not going to mention skin colour, language skills, ceremonial practices or traditional lifestyles in any detail.

However, I do want to mention the transference of knowledge. In the old days, and going back thousands of years, stories were passed down intact through the clever use of story telling techniques that hardwired future generations to retell these stories of creation, environment and morality.

Rainbow Serpent creation story
Private collection, photo by Siv Parker 2014

Are these stories as compelling as Facebook? How much will they eat into the time rather spent on seeking out identity debates?  Will they get the blood fired up as much as a debunked racist slur as old as the hills?

One yarn I came across this week that was full of dirty dealings involved native title.  I don’t know the country discussed - I've only been there two or three times - so I can't say for sure what’s going on. 

I absolutely cannot say a thing about their country.  It's an old rule, and a good one, though no longer as diligently practiced as it once was.

The biggest threat to culture is not an LNG plant: the real battle for James Price Point
“there is a lot of anger about it … (people) know that he is not the black Elvis.”

I imagine the black Elvis scenario is played out over and over again all over the country. 

It reminded me of a conversation I had recently.

Immigrant social justice warrior: Oh, you’re from….I really like ‘Self-appointed-leader-of-strangely-no-actual-followers'

Black woman: I think he should be in jail.

ISJW: Oh…I really like him.

BW: I don’t like him at all.

ISJW: He’s such a good advocate. So friendly. He always say hi.

BW: He’s a criminal. And he’s not from there.

ISJW: ….I was thinking of inviting him to one of our conferences.

BW: I hope he’s in jail by then.

Ok, I had given a few clues but there was no shaking the devotion. I’m not sure how much more I can say than someone is a criminal and slinking about up to no good on someone else’s country.  And I am the only black person in the conversation, though my opinion is hard pressed to make an impression on someone who has a fondness for anti-government outsiders. They'll probably visit him in jail, if it comes to that, and have very little to say about the trail of mismanaged organisations that brought yet another community to its knees.

Us blackfellas, we may share the same DNA but now as it has always been, there are restrictions on who hears the stories when told from old to young and so on.  No one is telling an adult yarn to a child, and increasingly many will never grow into those hand-me-downs.  Reduced life expectancy makes it’s even less likely.

Some will never hear the stories. Through no fault of their own, it’s true, where they’re descended from people who were forcibly removed, or forced to move across to someone else’s country to survive.  
Or they moved for a better education, for economic reasons, to get a job, or because their country had been fouled up by farming or mining by smash and grab developers. They lost contact with their old people. They rarely went home. They found it just wasn't how they remembered it, it made them sad and sorry. It no longer felt like the home of their social media posts.

Or maybe the reminders of the past – the black stuff, the hand signals, the lip movements, the extra sensitivity to surroundings, the mysterious and cumbersome social mores, and everything else that younger generations have chosen to reject because Facebook is giving them everything they need – are just too hard.  And it doesn’t fit with cultural appropriation of US popular culture, just as bush ways once didn’t fit with big town living.  

Or maybe the old people – their political aspirations are just not cool.  They are not disruptive. They are naive. They are living in the past. They are simple. They are silent. They are gone. They are missed. They took their knowledge with them,  and left you with the DNA.


DNA study conforms Aboriginal history
The largest study on the DNA of indigenous Australians confirms Aboriginal people were here tens of thousands of years before European colonisation.
"It confirms what indigenous people have passed on from generation to generation."

DNA study of Indigenous Australians
DNA samples of 594 self-declared Indigenous Australians from around the country were analysed and classified into mitochondrial haplogroups - genetic groups that share a common ancestor and often show a distinct distribution.
 “I’m not surprised, but still heartened, to discover that this DNA analysis supports what our parents have taught us over many generations that we have lived here in Australia since the Dreamtime.”

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