Project investigates Indigenous self-identification

Mar 19, 2014, 04:36 AM

What factors come into play when people are deciding whether to self-identify as Indigenous?

By Peggy Giakoumelos

Source World News Radio UPDATED 28 MINS AGO

(Transcript from World News Radio)

Do you identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander?

It's a question that appears on many government forms across the country but for some indigenous Australians, it's a question loaded with confusion, fear and sometimes shame.

The Bureau of Statistics has been asking Australians whether they identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islanders only since the 1971 Census.

More than 40 years on, Indigenous people are now encouraged to identify themselves when applying for government services as well as when applying for employment.

NSW Koori artist Darren Bloomfield is proud of his heritage.

But whenever he's asked, he prefers not to tick the box, taking issue with the word Aboriginal itself.

"I've been bothered by that for years because again you have to look at the word Aboriginal. Aboriginal means native to land. I find it quite derogatory in the sense of an identification that we stand under. I don't like to be called an Aboriginal. If someone says what country do you come from, I say I come from Australia and I am an Australian Aboriginal, so they know about my identification of what I am to this country, if I am outside this country, yeah, because that's all people know. But I try to convince them after, I tell them that I'm Aboriginal, I prefer to be looked at or identified as a Koori because that's what we identify and put ourselves into. It's our word."

The New South Wales government is concerned that not enough people are identifying themselves as Indigenous when accessing government services, and is looking at the reasons why.

The Aboriginal Affairs unit within the Office of Communities is conducting the project, saying higher rates of identification would mean more Indigenous people would use the programs and services available to them.

An online description of the project, acknowledges Aboriginal identity as complex.

Dr Victoria Grieves is the Australian Research Council's Indigenous Research Fellow in the Faculty of Arts at the University of Sydney.

She says since European settlement, any traditional sense of what it means to be an Indigenous person in Australia has changed dramatically.

She also says past policies of removing indigenous children from families have also left a legacy of fear.

"A lot of our institutional structures have been knocked out from under us and we're in a process still I think of re-grouping and re-forming. Something that goes along with that is confusion, sometimes about identity, confusion about what it means. For example it's very concerning if people think that if I identify myself as an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander person, that means that I'm likely to be discriminated against. But I do believe that there are people who feel that way and they might have good reason to feel that way as well"

SBS asked members of an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Facebook group for their views about self-identification.

These were some of the responses.

" About 60 years ago, Aboriginal people were forced to carry exemption certificates.. Remember FORCED if they wanted to go any where, work other places.... Now The Australian government has tricked us again, NOW you have to have certificate to prove you are Aboriginal.... Oh yes I know the argument of non aboriginals trying to be Aboriginals.... But isn't it funny, how after all the marches and fight to free the Aboriginal, so they would be treated as Humans and have same rights as white fella.... we're back to having to carry a paper.... boy oh boy who got done .. sorry if I offend but I find it ironic."

"...Why would people want to identify in a system that abuses them for statistical gain?..."

"If only we had a group who could help teach the culture to those...