On Saturday afternoon, the Sydney Swans triumphed over the Adelaide Crows at the Sydney Cricket Ground. But Adam Goodes, key player of the Swans AFL football team and one of the sport's greatest champions, was not present at the game. He sat this one out, due to the persistent booing he's been subjected to from spectators. The heckling of the Indigenous football player, which reached a peak the week before at a game against the West Coast Eagles in Perth, has escalated since he performed an Aboriginal war dance in celebration of kicking a goal at a match during the Indigenous round of the game in May.
This display of pride in his heritage, which saw Goodes—an Adnyamathanha man—throw an imaginary spear into onlooking opposition spectators, sparked outrage amongst media commentators and has provoked renewed focus on the on-going debate over Australia's racial divide.
The booing is said to have begun in 2013, after Goodes pointed to a spectator in the crowd, who'd shouted a racial slur. Unbeknownst to him at the time, the perpetrator was a 13-year-old girl. And the jeering has continued ever since, this is despite Goodes being awarded the title of Australian of the Year in 2014, for the work he'd been doing to fight racism, which included being an ambassador for the 'Racism. It Stops with Me' campaign.
So as the debate over Goodes's persecution reaches fever pitch, VICE decided to speak with two of the council members from the Aboriginal youth movement, Warriors of the Aboriginal Resistance (WAR), to get their reaction.
In November last year, WAR was officially launched during the protests held against the G20 summit in Brisbane. They provide a platform enabling young Aboriginal people to "engage in the process of decolonization and the demonstration of Aboriginal nationalism." Since then, members have played an integral part in Invasion Day and Stop the Forced Closure of Aboriginal Communities protests around the country.
And while members of WAR don't agree with Goodes's politics when it comes to his support of the Recognize campaign—the call for constitutional recognition—they're sure as hell going to support a fellow Aboriginal individual, who's being "attacked racially for publicly displaying his culture."
While commentators, such as radio shock jock Alan Jones, have denied the hounding of Goodes is racially motivated, Boe Spearim of WAR said there is no question that it is. He points to the fact that it didn't begin until Goodes called out the young girl for being racist and it intensified after his war dance, "itself an act of Aboriginality." He went on to state that the backlash is, "because Australia's not ready for an Aboriginal man to identify as being proud of his heritage, his culture, and where he comes from."
Spearim, a Gamilaraay man, also disagrees with the mother of the teenage girl in question, when she stated last week that Goodes should apologize for singling out her daughter. "I think the parents should apologize. No one's born racist, they're taught these stereotypes," he said, adding, "They should apologize for putting her in a position where she called somebody out on the basis of the color of their skin."
According to Callum Clayton-Dixon, also from WAR, Goodes overstepped the expectations of white mainstream Australian culture in performing his war dance, because he publicly displayed his Aboriginal identity and this is what's caused the uproar. "It really shows the power of Aboriginal culture as a catalyst for conflict and we believe that conflict is necessary for positive change and a shift in consciousness to occur," he said, going on to say of Goodes's dance that, "although it's a small action in the scheme of things, it has a great knock-on effect."
A Nyaywana man, Clayton-Dixon advocates Aboriginal people embedding and entwining their culture—whether it be through language, dance, or song—into their everyday lives and politics. This acts as a "process of cultural vitalization," after over two hundred years of oppressive colonization. "The expectation is that, Aboriginal people, will die out, whether that be physically or culturally," he said. "These public displays of culture can confront non-Aboriginal people and challenge their position of power."
Clayton-Dixon, who recently re-entered Australia using an Aboriginal passport, explained that underlying the Goodes's debate is Aboriginal people's lack of power. It's the same fundamental problem in the case of the up to 150 remote Aboriginal communities facing closure in Western Australia. "The issue is that non-Aboriginal politicians and bureaucrats are the ones making the decisions because they are the ones in the position of power," he said and went on to pose the question it boils down to. "How can Aboriginal people regain a position of strength, power, and pride through structural change?"
And this is where WAR's and Goodes's politics diverge.
Recognize is the campaign that seeks the acknowledgment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the Australian Constitution, with a view to ending racial discrimination. The campaign, which has the strong backing of Prime Minister Tony Abbot and the support of institutions such as the Australian Football League and Cricket Australia, involves a forthcoming referendum to decide on whether to make the change. And one of the ambassadors of the campaign is Adam Goodes.
But some in the Indigenous community are against Recognize and this includes WAR. Clayton-Dixon told VICE he thinks, "The Recognize movement is a government-funded propaganda machine to push tokenism and assimilation."
WAR does not support the campaign because they believe it's a distraction from the real discussion that the nation needs to have, which is about Aboriginal sovereignty and treaty. Spearim said it's about building, "a proper society where Aboriginal people and non-Aboriginal people can live. Not a society that vilifies people by the color of their skin or by their religion." And whether this political settlement would involve one treaty or a series of individual treaties with each Indigenous nation, Spearim explained, is one issue this discussion would resolve.
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