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  • Writer's pictureThe Pendulum

The Forgotten First People

Ava Barros

The European colonization commonly overshadows the diverse history of Indigenous peoples. For hundreds of years American Indians, Aboriginal Australians, and the Khoisans of South Africa have faced genocide, discrimination, and cultural assimilation. Crime rates on Native American reservations in the United States are higher than some of America’s most dangerous cities. Australia is the only country in the British Commonwealth not to have ratified a treaty with its native population, causing Aboriginal Australians to struggle in retaining their culture and fighting for recognition from its government. The Khosians of South Africa were once the thriving majority, and now they are seen as outcasts and receive little to no political representation. In the 21st century, indigenous populations worldwide still battle for justice, equal representation, and their dissipating cultures.

American Indian reservations experience violent crime rates at more than 2.5 times the national average, with some reservations facing more than 20 times the national rate of violence. According to the National Institute of Justice, almost 3 million people in this population have been victims of violence. The New York Times reports that Native American women are 4 times more likely to be assaulted than any other demographic. More than 1 in 3 of these women will be raped in their lifetime, and 2 in 5 will face domestic violence. From the start of European colonization, natives were treated as inferior, and the current criminal justice system still fails to protect this population. Law enforcement reports reveal that drug traffickers, gang members, and their associates that operate on reservations in Indian Country engage in a multitude of criminal activities, including personal, property, and violent crimes, and yet prosecutions remain low. This is due to the complex jurisdictional system on tribal lands which prevents local governments and authority from criminally prosecuting non-Indian offenders for violent crimes. Low rates of prosecutions on reservations by United States attorneys, who have jurisdiction for serious crimes on reservations along with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), have been a prevailing point of friction for tribes. According to federal statistics, the United States government does not pursue rape charges on reservations 65% of the time and dismisses 61% of cases involving child sexual abuse charges due to “lack of admissible evidence.'' The amount of frustration has grown so much that some tribal members have sued the American government for declining cases and prosecutions. The complicated legal system and jurisdictional issues due to colonial ideals result in dangerously low prosecution rates and Native American victims slipping through the cracks of the United States justice system. Even when the authority to prosecute is given to local authorities, it is over its own tribal members for crimes they have committed on reservations, and the authorities cannot sentence those who are found guilty to more than three years in prison. There have been attempts at reform by the US government, but they have proven to be ineffective, resulting in continued violent crimes being a burden on this population. The white supremacy of European colonizers continues to harm Native Americans legally and socially.

The British colonization of Australia began in 1778, and so began the dissipation of its indigenous culture. Years later, the Australian Constitution was established on January 1, 1901, but native populations were not included in this agreement. Reformative actions have been advocated for but have never been or have only been partially implemented. Between 1910 and 1970, government policies of assimilation led to Aboriginal Australian children being forcibly removed from their homes, put in adoptive families, and banned from speaking their native languages. These policies of child removal left long-lasting trauma and loss that continues to affect Indigenous communities, families, and individuals. Today, racism towards Aboriginals remains alive. There are still incidents of violence towards them, especially affecting those in police custody, an over-incarceration of Aboriginals overall, a deprivation of proper health care, and a lack of education leading to economic inequality. Currently, Aboriginal Australians make up 2% of the total Australian population but 28% of adult prisons. Aboriginal children make up 7% of the youth population but 54% of youth detention centers across Australia. This over-incarceration costs Australia about $7.9 billion annually, with costs expected to inflate. Aborigine people also have very poor health care, and their rates for diabetes and heart conditions are significantly higher than the rest of Australia's population. They also have a much higher infant mortality rate and suicide rate. The average life expectancy of an Aboriginal person is about ten years less than the rest of the population. Additionally, the Aborigines’ are victims of economic inequality. Due to a lack of educational opportunities, most are not qualified to work in careers or occupations that can bring them out of poverty. For native Australians today, like so many other indigenous populations, poor living conditions stem from the immense feeling of racial superiority among colonizers that continue to prevail today.

After the National Party gained power in South Africa in 1948, its all-white government immediately began enforcing policies of racial segregation under the system called apartheid. Under apartheid, native South Africans would be forced to live in separate areas from whites and use separate public facilities, limiting contact between the two groups. The Khoisans of South Africa are a distinct aboriginal people who survived colonialism, apartheid, and assimilation of their identity. The evidence is found in the political, cultural and socioeconomic challenges they continue to live in in South Africa. It was only after 1994, the official ending of apartheid, that the Khoisan people were no longer classified as “coloured.” This may seem as a step in the right direction, but they are still not constitutionally recognized, their land rights are not respected, and their indigenous languages are to the point of near extinction. The discrimination of apartheid has left long-lasting impacts that can be seen in the disappearance of Khoisan culture. Despite their earliest presence on the land, they are one of the country’s most persecuted people mainly due to the disruption of grazing patterns, the exploitation of natural resources, and the spread of imported disease. The Khoisan people, traditionally hunter-gatherers, are being pushed off the land they use to hunt and consider sacred due to new laws and lack of representation. South Africa has 11 official languages, none native to the land. Unlike other native groups, Khoisans are not recognized as their country’s first inhabitants, and their identity is almost invisible. Each year their centuries-old land claims get harder to verify, and new generations grow increasingly more indifferent toward their cause.

The discriminatory actions taken by European settlers centuries ago still have lasting effects on indigenous populations all over the world. Each indigenous population has a rich and diverse history that are both currently being overshadowed by high rates of violent crimes and poor living conditions. Today, native populations like American Indians, Aboriginal Australians, and Khoisans of South Africa still struggle with injustice, assimilation, and suppression brought on by colonization. Steps towards reform have been taken but have not been drastic enough to reverse the deterioration of native rights.

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1 Comment

Jan 25, 2021

Very educational and thought provoking!

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