For Indigenous people and their allies, 26 January is a day which invokes trauma, with calls to move Australia Day to a different, more inclusive date.
Like any Australian organisation, it’s important for CARE Australia to acknowledge Australia’s history and the power imbalances that have — and continue to — lead to great disparities between Indigenous people and most others in Australia. In 2018 we launched our first Reconciliation Action Plan, which was the catalyst for a range of activities for staff to learn more about Indigenous cultures and the injustices stemming from colonisation. And this has direct relevance for our work overseas.
Our RAP includes a commitment to reconciliation and offers some practical approaches such as seeking to use Indigenous-owned businesses and exploring opportunities for greater Indigenous representation in our workforce. In many ways, operating in a great and respectful way here in Australia is consistent with our approach to our international work, where putting local people first and being led by them — recognising they understand their context and needs better than anyone — is right.
As an international aid organisation, CARE seeks to save lives, defeat poverty and achieve social justice. This means working to overcome many of the systematic and structural elements that contribute to inequality and exploitation. Addressing inequality means understanding the root causes and facing up to all the ways it is perpetuated, intended or not.
Colonisation over centuries was about more than just controlling land, it was fundamentally about power. Who has control over resources, and whose knowledge and way of doing things is considered “right”. There are growing calls to reform the aid sector and, rightfully, put power in the hands of local actors and ensure aid is as local as possible, as international as necessary. This is something CARE Australia is pushing for.
Addressing our global challenges — from climate change to gender equality — requires improved and different ways of working and greater complementarity. Indigenous people already play a valuable role in the assistance Australia provides to other countries. As articulated by i2i Global, an Australian Indigenous-led group of international development consultants: “As the world’s oldest living culture we bring with us resilience, innovation, survival skills and honed instincts.”
So on this 26 January, let’s renew our commitment to reconciliation and social justice, and truly recognise how valuable indigenous cultures are everywhere.