Consequences of assimilation

by Lee Sheppard from Brisbane

When I was a child my mother’s assertion that she was ‘Australian’ rather than ‘Indigenous’ when filling out the Gallop Poll mystified me. However, surreptitiously listening to my mother’s conversations with friends and/family over the years provided the answer. Government policy which forbade the transmission of culture and language from one generation to the next also instilled a sense of shame to identify as Indigenous. I must admit that I felt I was lesser than non-Indigenous people when I was young. However, that did not last long. I had other family/friends of the family who maintained a strong sense of self and culture. Over time I came to understand my mother’s reticence to identify as an Indigenous person. Losing that sense of self and culture aided her to negotiate her way through a harsh life that was dictated by government policies, ie. assimilationist policies. My mother successfully provided for her children financially and ensured that we performed well in Western education. It pains me that my mother ‘had’ to feel shame about who she was, and that this shame had led her to not acknowledge and disown her culture. Belonging, for some, was/is a mine field.

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