Walpiri woman Bess Nungarrayi Price – and her white husband David Price – speak out about conditions for rural Indigenous people in Central Australia – ‘Welcome To My World’ on Radio National. Bess has copped plenty of flack for speaking out – reflecting the diversity of opinion in Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities? It is being reported today that she may receive the US International Women’s Courage Award.

Some Background

In response to academic Larissa Behrendt’s harsh criticism of Bess on her Q and A comments 11 April 2011, Bess said:

“The likes of her and others don’t know anything about our people in the bush. Who are they to stand up and talk on behalf of our people. My background is totally different to hers, we are culturally different.”

BUT

Ngalarra Marika has a different point of view, stated in relation to the RN program, 4 May 2011:

I think everyone in the world agrees that all people should be safe and have their human rights upheld. Bess Price has made her life choices – she lives in an urban setting, is married to a non-Aboriginal Christian man, and states she is quite happy that her daughter speaks her heritage language ‘poorly’. That is her choice and no-one has the right to criticise her for making those choices. However, her knowledge about education is minimal and I reject her statements that insist bilingual programs don’t work. Her sister, the late Nungarrayi Egan, was a highly respected educator in a struggling bilingual program for over 30 years. Yes, many programs do struggle, but they can be successful with the right resources. If the theory is right as Mr Price says, we should get the practice right. I reject Mr Price’s assertion that we can’t afford these programs and strongly disagree that we should accept the death of the few remaining Indigenous languages in a country that once had 250 languages. Losing Irish or Welsh is not the same as the loss of our languages. Mr Price can travel back and learn both those languages if he so wishes. Once Indigenous languages are gone, they are gone forever. We can afford what we value and I expect that my three granddaughters at Yirrkala will graduate from Yirrkala CEC with a Year 12 Northern Territory Certificate of Education, speaking both their mother’s (Rirratjiŋu) and father’s language (Djapu) fluently, as well as English. The Northern Territory Certificate of Education allows students to study an Australian Indigenous Language as one of their Year 11 and Year 12 subjects so I fail to see what all the gloom and doom is about, unless the Prices are advocating total assimilation and I do not get that feeling from their speech. The choices my gutharra (granddaughters) make for their future will be their own, but they will make those choices as strong educated bicultural women. That is my vision.

An Excellent Blog Article

Pauline Vetuna writes a ‘Free West Papua’ blog and her comments/blog on this topic are well worth reading at Just The Messenger.

Some Of The Comments On RN’s ‘Welcome To My World’

Not everyone agreed with the detail of what Bess said about education and the intervention, but she did start a non-academic/bureaucratic discussion!

ISHCA – 19 Mar 2012

Thank you Bess and David. I am a Territorian and have worked in many communities in the NT. After reading all the posts and everything I could find about you on the net I applaud you for standing up and speaking the truth. It seems to me that all those that have had the opportunity to visit communities or work and love Indiginous people understand your viewpoint. Some arm chair activists have as I have seen had the biggest difficulty digesting your words. You are spot on. I applaud your courage the bigger this message gets the more haters and ill informed you will have to deal with. Peace and love be with you on your journey. You are ahead of your time and history has shown us the true innovators are rarely appreciated by the masses at the time. Bravo and keep up the fight.

Ronnie Taylor 4 Dec 2011

Congratulations Bess on a wonderful, courageous speech. I have been a nurse in the NT for nearly 30 years, both in the center and the top end. I see the ravages of violence, alcohol, ganja on our indigenous patients every day. I wish I could say it was better, but I think it is as bad as when I started in Alice Springs 30 years ago. It breaks my heart. Change will only come when Aboriginal Leaders take control, and People like you who have the courage to stand up and be heard, and talk to white fellas down south who have never been to town camps, or remote communities and tell them what is happening. All my best wishes.

Colette Livermore 1 May 2011

Congratulations to Bess on her courage and insight. I am a doctor working in remote aboriginal health for many years. What is happening in communities breaks my heart. I don’t know what to do to respond. Most medical problems have social roots. There is much rhetoric about closing the gap but the gap is widening. This generation of teenagers and children are in my experience less literate than their beautiful grandmothers who are trying to hold families together. I agree with everything she says. There are many barriers to education – the absentee rates in Aboriginal communities are greater than 60%. No one seems able to improve attendance. Many children are now affected by fetal alcohol syndrome and have learning difficulties. Homes can be chaotic with both parents impaired and the children hungry. Many toddlers have failure to thrive and thier wight is well below the 3rd centile for age. Scabies and sores which precipitate kidney (Post streptococcal glomerulonephritis)and heart disease (Rheumatic Fever) are common. Infant anaemia which has some effect of brain developement. Getting kids to pre-school and school feeding them there and getting their sores seen to would go a long way towards helping build a strong generation. For those who say this is a return to paternalism many schools in Europe give kids lunch! All power to Bess. Let’s have a real discussion and not dance around the issues with bureau speak and political correctness.

Rosalie Everest 1 May 2011

Bess Nungarrayi Price should be saluted for her courage in speaking her mind with such wisdom and authority. It is time for Australia to give up its hypocrisy and double standards and really listen to those indigenous people like Bess. Their voices have often been silenced in the mainstream media thanks to the dominant voices of ‘politically-correct’, well-meaning (but often naive) members of the white community, or academics who have a purely political or ‘ivory tower’ agenda. Education is certainly the key. Aboriginal women deserve to be empowered (through a proper education) to assert their rights as Australian citizens free of violence and un-cowed by fear of retribution based on tenuous cultural grounds. It cannot be denied that some aspects of ‘traditional culture’ work against the rights of women and young girls in the indigenous Australian community. It should be possible to celebrate and uphold all that is good and positive about traditional indigenous culture while fiercely and explicitly rejecting beliefs, practices and values which come into direct conflict with unalienable rights granted by the Australian constitution.

Marsha 2 May 2011

Men all over the world hide behind this thing called tradition. Aboriginal people don’t have the monoply on this phenomenon. I give you female genital mutilation in Africa or the treatment of women in the middle east. Tradition has nothing to do with right and wrong, it is simply about time and power.
I fully agree with David when he says human rights first, culture second. I fully support Bess when she calls for education. I have worked in Aboriginal communities for 10 years and have seen that the perpetrators are usually the ones with the power to speak as the victims remain silent out of fear. It’s a shame that the useful features of Aboriginal culture,like sharing, are abused by unethical people who seem to be ubiquitous.

How do we ‘get real’- away from politics?

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