Existential Justice in forms of Representation.
When we craft forms of representation of First Peoples lives it is fundamentally important that those forms recognise the place of senior men’s higher practices – law and ceremony.
These matters must be included in order to do existential justice to First Peoples lived realities.
Forms of representation which systematically exclude these higher practices can only make a mockery of First Peoples Ways. To fail to recognise and acknowledge the importance of senior men’s law and ceremonies is to be involved in the established Westernising practices of fashioning false images of First Peoples lives.
Doing this is akin to constructing an external image of the cell (in biology) while systematically excluding the role of the nucleus.
While including a necessary (must have) place for these higher practices in forms of representation may be able to be justified in terms of Western notions of human rights, the basis for recognising these higher practices comes from what is , ultimately, a more important authority – that of life itself.
To spell this out – First Peoples Ways, as encountered by Europeans from 1788 to the present, have been shaped as part of this country since long before the advent of European Neolithic societies. The failure of European authorities to properly recognise these Ways in no way negates them as legitimate.
These First Peoples Ways carry an imprimatur which comes from life itself. They have an existential standing which exists outside of the workings of any European (or other non-indigenous place) authority. They exist as a product of the working of forces operating on a much higher level than those of Westminster Parliaments (for example).
People-without-country are in no position to construct authoritative models of the lives of peoples-with-countries. The Western working class, for example, was created when people were driven off the land upon which they formerly lived and worked. Landless working people may acquire a small block of land, and a sense of identity based on the modern nation-state (their ‘country’) but this does not convert them into peoples-with-countries. There are two entirely different modes of Being.
Modern forms of production of representations include attempts by some to try to justify First Peoples Ways by relying on entirely Western categories and concepts. To seek to interpret – and seek recognition for – First Peoples practices as form of ‘agriculture’ is one example. Similarly the attempts to recognise First Peoples sky narratives as effort by early ‘scientists’ and ‘astronomers’.
Such well-intentioned attempts invariably result in reinforcing a privilege for the clusters of Western concepts which are themselves the product of European history. This is done at the cost of making a mockery of the concepts which are the product of First Peoples lived interactions with their surroundings over a much longer period. Key aspects of First Peoples realities are rendered nonsense in the process.
One of the healing challenges for conceptual craftspeople is to move from a modern point of view and to work towards crafting forms of representation which are bi-culturally balanced. That is, the move has to go beyond ‘post-modern’ as well as going beyond ‘modern’.
While there are non-indigenous people who seek to insert their voices into the places life has reserved for senior lawmen, there is a requirement that they defer to the real authorities on such matters. From proclaiming how things must be, in the 21st C the healing move is to respectfully relating.
This attitudinal shift removes the dominating privileges which Western Ways of life have proclaimed for themselves. In their place the shift has to be from a ‘top-down’ stance to a ‘side-by-side’ mode of cultural partnership. That is, from non-indigenous dominating and manipulating to learning how to relate and to do so be means which systematically recognise the significance of senior men’s higher practices.
The fact is that many Western intellectuals cannot grasp the significance of the higher practices in maintaining a well-tempered cosmos. Their thinking remains grounded in entirely Western unconscious-in-culture; worldview; metaphysic; cosmology (call it what you will).
Consequently they remain within the comfort zones of their own conceptual prison-houses, where (in return for some sort of living) they can fashion the fetishes required to please their modern masters. It is the age of mass production.
The challenge life presents us with in this country is not to render First Peoples lives significant in Western terms but to reform Western thinking in order to better able to recognise (and relate to) First Peoples Ways.
We have to stop looking so hard with entirely Western eyes. Such eyes have a professional deformation.
We have to begin to learn to see with eyes which are properly connected to our surroundings in this country.
This may be a major challenge – but it is not an impossible one.
To a great extent , we (who are not initiated men) can only mark out a space for the voices of First Peoples senior men. We non-initiated cannot complete the picture on our own. We cannot provide the full story. That said, some insights are possible. First Peoples senior men have acted as mentors for anthropologists and others. They continue to try to instill some understanding in our Westernised minds.
Bruce (Japaljari) Reyburn – August 2017